Looking at the increased footfall of pilgrims to Kedarnath, the state has decided to grant permission to five more private operators to fly to the famed shrine, Rudraprayag district officials said.
The Kedarnath shrine was the epicentre of the June 2013 flash floods which left over 5,000 dead and thousands displaced. Since then, pilgrims have shown an increased inclination to use the ‘safer’ air route. The choppers cut a treacherous trek – which spans across around 14 km and criss-crosses steep mountains and rivulets – to a less than 10 minute air ride. And the rates have been fixed at a nominal Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 per person to and back from the Kedarnath shrine.
Chopper services to Kedarnath are being offered at 16 helipads in the district along the 30-kilometer stretch between Guptkashi and Sonprayag, en route the Kedarnath shrine.
At present, nine private operators have permission to function in the valley, with almost 280 chopper sorties being made to the mountainous shrine every day.
According to the district administration, 1,400 to 1,500 pilgrims are taking the air route to the Himalayan shrine per day ever since the portals of Kedarnath opened on May 9. Once the five additional operators become functional, the number of pilgrims flying to the shrine is likely to go up to 1,700 to 1,800 pilgrims per day, said Rudraprayag district magistrate Raghav Langer.
“With the heavy footfall of pilgrims, both helicopter operators and devotees wishing to fly are feeling the crunch. Hence, permission is being granted to four to five more operators for catering to the high demand (for choppers),” Langer told HT.
According to local reports, chopper services to the temple are said to be booked till May 30.
According to Yatra Prashasan Sangathan, Rishikesh, which is looking after Char Dham operations, a total of 26,052 pilgrims had already visited Kedarnath till May 15.