Can the centuries old `Char Dham Yatra’ (pilgrimage) in Uttarakhand help develop the entire ``majestically beautiful’’ Central Himalayan region into a full-fledged tourism destination?
Well, the fabled annual pilgrimage of Hindus has much more potential than just that, according to tourism experts.
``The Char Dham Yatra can not only help develop Uttarakhand into a full-fledged tourism destination, it can also bring closer the people of Kumaon and Garhwal despite their disparate cultures’’, said Kedar Singh Fonia, a well-known tourism expert who had also been the Tourism Minister twice in UP and Uttarakhand. "The annual pilgrimage can play the twin roles provided it is also allowed to pass through the Kumaon region’’, he told HT.
The `Char Dham’ Yatra, in which, according to Fonia, about 10 lakh Hindus participate annually, started centuries ago. The progenitor of this hallowed tradition was Adi Guru Shri Shankaracharya, an 8th century saint who established the famous Badrinath Temple, an important pilgrimage destination of Hindus in Chamoli district.
Believed to be the abode of Lord Vishnu, the holy place, which is situated at a height of 3,133 metre, is one of the four destinations of Char Dhams in Uttarakhand. The other three (destinations) are Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamnotri.
Incidentally, Badrinath is one of the four religious destinations (Char Dhams) the Shankaracharya had established in four corners of India. The rest three are Rameshwaram (south), Dwarkapuram (west) and Jagannathpuri (east). It is believed that the great seer established the Char Dhams to unify the Hindu society.
``Like the Char Dhams established by the Shankaracharya in the country, the Char Dham yatra in Uttarakhand can bring two of the region’s culturally disparate people (Kumaonis and Garhwalis) together, provided it (Char Dham yatra) is also allowed to pass through Kumaon as well’’, said Fonia. ``That would mean that lakhs of people who participate in the annual pilgrimage would also visit a number of natural spots dotting the Kumaon hills’’, he added.
``This kind of exposure would not just bring about a turnaround in the people’s tourism based economy. It would also help promote Uttarakhand as a tourist destination as a whole’’, said Fonia who has explained in his latest book as to how the pilgrimage could be routed through the Kumaon hills. The reprint of `Travelller’s Guide to Uttarakhand’ came out in paperback recently.
In his book, octogenarian Fonia says, Haridwar, known as the `Gateway to Garhwal’, is not the only route through which devotees can reach the Char Dhams. The famous religious destinations (Char Dhams) can also be reached via the famous hill station of Nainital and Tanakpur in Kumaon, it suggests. In fact, according to the book, from Nainital pilgrims can reach `Char Dham’ not only via Ranikhet and Dwarahat but also via Almora and Kausani. Similarly, from Tanakpur pilgrims can reach Badhrinath and Kedarnath via Champavat, Lohaghat, Pithoragarh, Patal Bhubneshwar and Bageshwar—Kumaon’s four beautiful natural spots.
``Similarly, pilgrims visiting the `Char Dham’ via Haridwar can also return via Kumaon’’, said Fonia adding, both ways, it would be ``a smooth journey most of the hill roads in the State (Uttarakhand) now being quite smooth.
This kind of arrangement would boost the locals’ income from the tourism activity he said. ``Its bound to happen as visitors, be it pilgrims or tourists, now literally splurge on their itinerary because the post globlasised India has witnessed a massive increase in the people’s per capita income."