The Uttarakhand government, which is struggling to push Char Dhams as a safe destination for tourists post 2013 deluge, got Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to make the hardsell.
Rahul Gandhi reached Jolly Grant airport in Dehradun around 12.10 pm on Thursday where chief minister Harish Rawat and his cabinet colleagues welcomed him.
Sporting blue denim, grey T-shirt and sneakers, Rahul Gandhi was unlike a ‘neta’ when he reached here, en route to Kedarnath shrine.
He started for the shrine around 1.40 pm even as the battery of Congress leaders was still warming up to trek 20 km on foot.
Accompanied by Rawat and state Congress chief Kishor Upadhyay, Gandhi interacted with local businessmen and quickly moved up the hill.
Congress leaders, including Upadhyay, gasped midway. They asked for horses to complete rest of the route, said sources.
The CM also interacted with the locals, including those who ferry pilgrims on their horses and mules. He also enquired about the arrangements made by various government agencies on the Kedarnath yatra route.
Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamnotri and Gangotri are Char Dhams (four shrines) in state. The portals of Yamnotri and Gangotri opened for pilgrims on April 21 while the portals of Badrinath shrine will open on April 26. Kedarnath will open on Friday morning and Congress vice president will participate in the opening rituals.
The 20-km stretch from Gaurikund to Kedarnath shrine passes through ravines. The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering had spent several months reconstructing the road to the shrine that was damaged in 2013 flash floods and killed over 5,000 pilgrims in the Kedar valley.
Before leaving Gaurikund, locals of Gauri village handed over a memorandum to the Congress leader demanding immediate restoration of Gaurikund and better employment opportunity.
Ganesh Tiwari (35), a lodge owner at the Kedarnath who lost his business in the 2013 disaster, hoped Rahul Gandhi’s tour would send a positive message across the nation.
“Business has dipped like anything. Last year very few pilgrims came. Our economy and future depends on the course of pilgrimage. We shared our woes with him (Rahul),” said Tiwari. He was also trekking with the group of locals to Kedarnath.
The sky was clear when Rahul started off for Gaurikund but by evening the weather turned hazy.
Sources said Rahul was quick on his feet and was supposed to reach Kedarnath the same day. It began raining by noon and Rahul was asked to stay at the base camp in Lincholi, said Surender Kumar, the spokesperson for the chief minister. The Kedarnath shrine is 6 km from Lincholi base camp.
“Rahul expressed happiness over the restoration works,” CM Rawat was quoted as saying in a government note.