Uttarakhand’s two shrines where most pilgrims are stranded — Badrinath and Kedarnath — have witnessed almost a four-fold increase in visitors in a decade, a Right To Information (RTI) reply showed, hinting at the ecologically unsustainable growth there.
Figures provided by temple trusts showed a huge influx of pilgrims on visits to Kedarnath and Badrinath between 2003 and 2012.
In Kedarnath, the number grew from 1,69,217 tourists to 5,75,040 and in Badrinath it went up from 1,34,010 to 5,95,020. Interestingly, during the same period, the influx of foreign tourists to these shrines witnessed a 10-fold fall.
Uttarakhand government officials said the leap in religious tourism in recent years could be attributed to several companies, which offer affordable packages to visit four dhams.
One can visit Kedarnath and Badrinath with boarding and lodging for anything between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 15,000 and all four for less than Rs. 20,000.
This has obvious implications. The Uttarakhand government’s own data shows a five-time increase in vehicle registration in the state with 70% of them devoted to passenger ferrying services even though the condition of last mile connectivity roads remains in tatters.
The central government was not oblivious to the impending danger either. A Planning Commission report on tourism for the 12th five year plan had a section on religious tourism, which addressed many of these issues.
It said that the “challenges which need to be addressed” included better last mile connectivity, proper hotels and solid waste management at religious sites, most of which are close to water bodies.
MS Reddy, vice-chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said religious tourism in Uttarakhand needs to be regulated the way Amarnath Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir is done with a cohesive disaster mitigation plan.