Pilgrims on Thursday started trickling into Odisha’s temple town of Puri, with two more days to go for the century’s first Nabakalebara Rath Yatra.
From the morning, the state’s brand new first modern bus terminus at Malatipatapur, 7km before Puri town, started receiving thousands of pilgrims from across the country. Hundreds of other men, women and children with bags over head or shoulders were seen walking along the newly refurbished 70-km long Bhubaneswar-Puri national highway to reach Puri.
The administration has made arrangement of free bus service from the bus terminus to carry pilgrims to the town, where vehicular inflow has been restricted till the Rath Yatra is over on Saturday. Vehicles are being diverted to other routes to be parked at 27 newly constructed parking lots.
“I have come after a gap of a decade. I did not want to miss the Nabakalebara Rath Yatra because another such occasion may not come in my lifetime,” said 63-year-old Prabir Shah from 24 Pragana of West Bengal before boarding a free bus to the town along with his wife.
The tourist hub has about 500 hotels, 200 lodgings, about 100 ashrams and dharamshala. All have been filled up. The administration has erected 33 Nabakalebara villages (tourist shelters) across the town to accommodate the tourists.
The state government officials expect more than 30 lakh tourists during the 10-day celebration starting with Nabakalebara Rath Yatra on Saturday. Crowd management will be a huge challenge for the administration, though hundreds of clean drinking water outlet, more than 2000 tube wells, 3000 toilets and bathrooms have been constructed at the bus terminus, tourist shelters, parking lots and other places.
“We are expecting huge crowds and are ready for it,” said inspector general of police Soumendra Priyadarshi, who is specially deputed as an officer on special (OSD) duty to supervise the Nabakalebara Rath Yatra.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has deputed four ministers and an army of bureaucrats to supervise the smooth functioning of the festival. There will be more than 10,000 police and paramilitary personnel including 50 top officials maintain law and order.
Puri has been kept on a five-layered security cordon. The Bada Danda (grand road) – where the three chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra roll on to their way to Mausima Temple (aunt’s temple) – has been divided into 14 security zones.
More than 200 close circuit television (CCTV) cameras have been fitted across the city with an integrated surveillance control room near the Jagannath Temple to keep a close watch on the happenings.
More than 2000 volunteers from nearly 70 non-governmental organizations will help the administration and police officials to ensure that the tourists do not face any problem during the festival. The administration has kept 250 doctors, over 900 paramedic staff, 30 ambulances and 30 temporary first aid centres at its disposal to cater to the pilgrims.
The biggest headache for the administration, however, is the faulty sewerage system of Puri chocks water outflow to deluge the town even with a drizzle.
Renovation of the sewerage system at a cost of Rs.80.45 crore over an area of 16.84 sq km area of the town was taken up over a year ago. It is not yet complete, with heaps of drainage wastes seen at several places. The administration has kept 14 5-horse power pipes to draw out the water from the Bada Danda.