The Kedarnath temple was opened for the pilgrims at 6am on Sunday morning amidst chanting of mantras by head priest Raval Bhima Shankar.
Members of the temple committee, officials, locals and pilgrims —about a 1,000 in number — were present to witness the reopening of the temple after the massive disaster that the area experienced during the cloudburst of June last year. Some of the pilgrims had come back to the temple to thank Lord Shiva for saving their lives in last year's tragedy at Gaurikund, where they had to abort their yatra and return home.
Earlier, the track for pedestrians from Gaurikund to Kedarnath was 14km long, but now the pilgrims have to trek more than 16km to reach Kedarnath. The old 7-km track from Gaurikund to Rambara has been restored, while a new track has been laid from Rambara through Lincholi for the Kedarnath temple. The old track from Rambara to Kedarnath had been completely washed out and a new track was laid on the other side of the Mandakni river. A makeshift bridge has been built at Rambara to cross the river.
Though the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) Uttarkashi have worked hard to make a path through the glaciers and snow from Lincholi up to Kedarnath, yet the last two kilometre of the track are still muddy because of the constant melting of snow on both sides of the track.
The yatra is regulated this time around and only 1,000 pilgrims have been allowed to go ahead from Sonprayag, the last stop for the vehicles. The biometric registration for Kedarnath pilgrims would be done at Rishikesh and Guptkashi.
Over 5,000 people were dead or missing in last year's floods, including pilgrims from various parts of the country. When water from the Chorabari pond broke loose, it brought along with it boulders to the Kedarnath temple. Though the boulders did not damage the temple much, water rushed from both sides of the temple to Rambara about 7km away, and washed out everything in its path.
Though some progress has been made over the last one year, the size of devastation can still be seen here.
With the start of the pilgrimage, Kedarnath valley has once again rejuvenated. Expressing happiness over the first day turnout, Badrinath-Kedarnath temple committee CEO VD Singh said it was much more than their expectations. "The crowd was bigger than expected and there was much enthusiasm among the devotees. It is an indication that the fear psychosis gripping people outside the state in the wake of last year's tragedy is subsiding gradually. The crowd of visitors is likely to swell as the snow begins to melt," he said.
Ganesh Tiwari of Guptkashi said that if the pilgrimage picks up momentum, it would go a long way in healing the wounds of last year, and everybody is keeping their fingers crossed for the yatra to continue for the next six months.
However, the locals are still jittery about the turnout of devotees. They feel that the pilgrims would be cautious and avoid the yatra altogether. The locals are awaiting more devotees before they stock up for the yatra season.
Along the route of the yatra, arrangements for a round-the-clock langar have been made by the temple committee near the shrine to cater to visitors. Makeshift tents have been pitched at several places to accommodate more than a thousand people.
Badrinath portals to reopen on Monday
After the Kedarnath shrine was thrown open for pilgrims on Sunday, the portals of another Hindu shrine — Badrinath — situated in the foothills of Garhwal Himalayas would be thrown open to devotees on Monday. The temple, one of the revered shrines in Uttarakhand, was closed with the onslaught of winters in November.
It is believed that for six months humans pray to the god and for the next six months gods pray at the shrine.
The portals of Yamnotri and Gangotri shrine were opened on Friday. The Char Dhams — Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath —attract thousands of tourists from across the nation. After last year's deluge, the state was forced to stop pilgrimage midway. However, the portals of Kedarnath and Badrinath were opened in October last year, but few pilgrims visited the shrines.
(With PTI inputs)