Jam-packed routes and poor facilities worry the pilgrims

The number of pilgrims to the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple has been rising consistently since the beginning of the Makaravilakku festival season.

The pilgrims escaped near-stampedes more than once when the temple was opened in the afternoon of December 30 after being closed for three days following the Mandalam festival. The Rapid Action Force swung into action to manage the mammoth crowd.

Poor planning and coordination among the police force at Pampa, the Sannidhanam and Nilackal has made the pilgrimage a miserable experience to many. The pilgrims coming from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have to wait for hours together inside the thickly packed barricades along the zigzag path leading to the Sannidhanam. Supply of drinking water and biscuits inside the barricades has gone haywire.

The pilgrims taking the Karimala and Pullumedu paths have to face more difficulties as the eateries run by the eco-development committees of the Forest Department have been allegedly fleecing them.

The camps run by the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sanghom at Azhutha, Karimala and Valiyanavattom, which supply free food and drinking water, have been a solace to the weary pilgrims. Anti-social elements had drained the main water tank of the Sanghom at Karimala a few weeks ago. Neither the Forest Department nor the district administration has made any inquiry into the vandalism and taken steps to supply water to the pilgrims visiting the camp.

The authorities have failed to provide any basic facilities to the scores of pilgrims coming through the Pulmedu route, which has been seeing a rising pilgrim inflow.

Though the Sanghom has been running a camp at Uppupara on the Pulmedu route for the past several years, the Forest Department is yet to give clearance for it this year. The surrounding forest tract is likely to witness an unprecedented crowd for worshipping the Makarajyoti on January 14. The spurt in the pilgrim inflow is in spite of the ban on vehicle entry beyond Kozhikkanam in the backdrop of the stampede of 2011.

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