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The pilgrim's progress

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SPIRITUAL JOURNEY Prayers with sightseeing
SPIRITUAL JOURNEY Prayers with sightseeing

What is touted today as pilgrimage tourism is an old and traditional way of travel to sacred places. The Halai Bhatia community recently visited temples in Kerala and travelled in the old style

It's the day of the tourist. As travel and tour industry becomes more service-oriented and modern a typically Indian and traditional mode of tourism still flourishes. The recent visit to Kerala by a group of travellers belonging to the Halai Bhatia community from Mumbai is an interesting example of a pilgrimage undertaken in a traditional manner. This group of 300 out of which 70 per cent were the elderly, was visiting famous temples like Guruvayoor, Padmanabha swami and Varkala. For the Halai Bhatia community, Varkala is a prime place of worship as it associated with Shri.Vallabhacharya. It is one of the 84 `bethaks' or sacred spots in India which was visited by Shri Vallabhacharya and his followers hope to make a pilgrimage there sometime in their lifetime. And so they took a trip that not only spiritually uplifting but one that took them across green and scenic Kerala. Many ladies and a senior member, Vallabhbhai Kapadia, who has joined every trip undertaken to date were also part of the pilgrims. Says Kirit Bhakta, on the experience of travelling together, "We have had the opportunity to observe the change in attitude of different generations of our members over the years on these trips," and this one he thinks is no different.Such trips are arranged with great attention to detail by the members of the Mahajan and not by professional tourism experts. "Generally an advance party is sent out to the places to be visited," says, Kisan Sampat. This party gets in touch with the local Mahajans or friends and relatives who help out with the planning and conduct of the trip. In this case the advance party had started working almost six months before the final travel commenced. Service is generally voluntary in organising such trips as done by Kochi businessman, Balkrishna Vithaldas. The local `mahajan' in Mattancherry arranged the accommodation while cooking and visiting local places of interest was also arranged. The Halai Bhatia group generally prefers to travel with their staff and is particular about their food preferences. So, besides their staff, twenty lady cooks travelled with them to provide the right kind of meals and to ensure that there was no wastage. "We see to it that the kitchens are spic and span," says a member. "As there are many elderly people in the group they have specific dietary requests, so we make sure that the food is as desired. We have a fairly lavish menu with sweets and savouries so that the trip is memorable," he adds. Travelling together ensures taking care of each other in the group resulting in great compatibility. "Since everybody is known to each other in the group we take care of them as we would do for our parents," says an organiser. Because of such considerations these pilgrimages are enriching and satisfying. As not all the members of the `Mahajan' are equally well off, for some this is an opportunity to fulfil cherished dreams. "They do not accept sponsorship for the trips because," says one from the group," our belief is that if we go on a pilgrimage we hope to spend our own money." So the trips are arranged in such a way that everyone enjoys and gets maximum benefit out of them. It is also a form of service rendered by the community to its individual members.PRATIMA ASHER

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