The annual Char Dham yatra in Uttarakhand witnessed the highest-ever footfall this year with over 40 lakh people travelling to the four Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, till Wednesday.
The yatra began on May 3 this year, the Akshaya Tritiya day, followed by the opening of the portals of Kedarnath temple on May 6 and Badrinath on May 8. The yatra will end with the closing of the Badrinath temple, scheduled on November 19.
According to the data provided by the State tourism department, 40,44,205 people took part in the Char Dham yatra this year – the highest number in the four shrines till date. Apart from Char Dham, 1,90,264 people undertook the yatra to Hemkund Sahib, one of the famous Sikh pilgrimage sites.
This year, there is a rise of 35% in the number of Char Dham pilgrims compared to the pre-COVID season in 2019, said officials from tourism department. Over 1.32 lakh people took the chopper to travel to Kedarnath temple, say officials in the Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority (UCADA).
Of the 40,36,357 pilgrims visiting the Char Dham, the maximum 15,25,183 people visited Badrinath temple followed by 14,25,078 in Kedarnath, 6,12,719 in Gangotri and 4,73,395 in Yamunotri.
With a month still left for the six-month yatra to end, the State is expecting at least another two to three lakh pilgrims.
Backbone of State’s economy
According to State’s finance department officials, the yatra is a massive revenue and employment generator for Uttarakhand. The yatra provides direct and indirect employment to over 10 lakh people, including in hotel industry, restaurants/eatery joints, taxi-cabs, priests, mule operators, porters, travel operators and handicraft industry.
“Char Dham yatra brings approximately ₹7,500 crore to the State annually. This is a major contribution to the State’s economy,’ said the officials.
Deluge and after
Giving credit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for boosting the yatra, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said that because of the interest shown by the PM and his frequent visits to the Badri-Kedar temples, the State managed to get the record footfall in the yatra, which is also the backbone of the State’s economy. “The Prime Minister’s vision and faith have helped the pilgrimage centres to flourish, even after 2013 disaster [the Kedarnath deluge]. The PM, on several occasions, had mentioned the construction of Char Dham, Hemkund Sahib as well as Char Dham all-weather road and rail connectivity routes, which has helped State become one of the favourite tourism destinations,” Mr. Dhami said.
He added that Mr. Modi, while visiting Kedarnath last year, had said that the third decade of the 21st century would belong to Uttarakhand and the 40-lakh footfall in Char Dham this year had proved that true.
After the 2013 disaster destroyed the Kedarnath shrine, the State has invested ₹1,000 crore on its redevelopment works. The facelift of Badrinath temple is taking place at ₹550 crore. The renovation work is majorly funded by the Centre.
In 2021, 5,09,503 pilgrims visited Uttarakhand amid COVID-19 restrictions, while 3,21,906 people undertook the yatra in 2020. In 2019, 32,40,882 people went on the yatra, the second highest pilgrim footfall in the yatra till date.