In a move aimed at popularising Uttarakhand as a round-the-year tourist destination, the first winter chardham yatra (pilgrimage) began on Sunday from Mukhva, a low-altitude village in Gangotri that forms a part of the Himalayan state’s fabled religious circuit.
The yatra has been initiated in keeping with chief minister Harish Rawat’s recent decision to extend the chardham yatra to winter to promote off-season tourism in the state, CM’s media in-charge Surendra Kumar said. “Apart from Gangotri, the winter chardham pilgrimage will also be organised in low-altitude areas of three other dhams (holy shrines) of Badrinath, Kedarnath and Yamnotri,” he told HT.
“The idea aims at promoting the state as a year-round tourist destination because tourism happens to be the mainstay of the locals,” Kumar said. Officials, however, clarified that low-altitude areas had been identified as destinations of the winter chardhams for several reasons.
“First, being at a relatively low altitude, winter is not harsh in those areas. They also have a religious significance. It is believed that all gods from the chardhams migrate to these areas where they rest in winters,” said additional director, tourism, AK Dwivedi.
Kumar said winter chardham destinations are endowed with unique scenic beauty besides being ideal spots for outdoor activities like trekking, hiking and bird watching. “Those spots owing to their clear sky during winters are also the potential sunshine tourist destinations apart from being the ideal spots of wellness tourism, thanks to their bracing climate,” he said.
Dwivedi identified them as Mukhva (Gangotri), Kharsali (Yamnotri), and Madmaheshwar/Joshimath (Badrinath). The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) had already prepared tour packages for the winter Chardham destinations.
“Hotels, potable water and electricity are available there,” Kumar said when asked about the facilities available on the route to the destinations. Asked about the condition of roads that had been washed away by the last year’s devastating flash floods, he said that wasn’t much of a problem. “Most roads have been reconstructed…However, the area is vulnerable to landslides,” Kumar said. “So, as and when a road gets blocked due to a landslip, we have arrangements in place and the debris will be removed within no time,” he added.
Sources, however, said the winter chardham yatra “may have begun but it was neither planned properly nor is the budget available for it.”
“I am not sure how many pilgrims or tourists will participate in the pilgrimage because it couldn’t be properly publicised due to the non-availability of funds,” a source in the tourism department said. That the winter Chardham yatra has not been properly planned becomes clear from the way the CM has cautioned the officials. “Organise the yatra in a manner that people don’t laugh at us,” he was quoted as saying to a TV channel.