After taking on the government in
over the land acquisition bill following his return from a 56-day sabbatical, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi will display his trekking skills when he heads to Uttarakhand on Thursday to visit the Kedarnath shrine.
The portals of the shrine, one of the Char Dhams or four holiest pilgrimages, will be thrown open on April 24 after being closed for winter.
According to the Chief Minister’s office, Rahul will reach Jolly Grant airport in Dehradun on Thursday morning. From there, he will fly to Gaurikund, located en route to Kedarnath.
From Gaurikund, Rahul will trek around 21 kilometres to the hill-top shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.
“He will spend the night at Lincholi base and head towards Kedarnath on Friday morning,” said Surender Kumar, the spokesperson for chief minister Harish Rawat.
Rahul will be accompanied by Rawat, state Congress president Kishor Upadhyay and Ambika Soni, the central Congress leader in-charge of party affairs in the state.
The Congress leader was widely criticised for taking a sabbatical at a time when the Congress was mobilising opinion against the controversial bill that seeks to ease rules for acquiring farmland for industry.
The state government believes Rahul’s visit will send a positive message across the country about Uttarakhand being a safe destination for tourists and pilgrims.
Devastating flash floods in the state in 2013 killed nearly 5,000 pilgrims and dealt a blow to the tourism industry. Official figures suggest that the impact of the disaster continues to loom large over pilgrims visiting the Char Dhams - Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamnotri and Gangotri - in Uttarakhand.
The number of pilgrims visiting Kedarnath fell drastically from 3.12 lakh in 2013 to 40,182 in 2014. Some seven lakh people in Kedar valley are directly or indirectly associated with activities linked to the Char Dham pilgrimage.
The government is expecting that the number of pilgrims visiting the Char Dham will increase this year by four to five lakhs. The portals of Yamnotri and Gangotri were opened on April 21 while the portals of Badrinath shrine will be thrown open on April 26.