DEHRADUN, INDIA, April 22, 2015 (Times of India): Anil Shukla prays a lot these days. The 39-year-old father of three, who performs pujas for pilgrims at Kedarnath, has been praying fervently that the weather Gods remain benign, and the Char Dham Yatra, which began on April 21, draws in a lot of pilgrims this year. “The last two years were terrible. Earlier, we used to earn between US$3,100 and $4,750 for the six months that the yatra was on, but our incomes dipped to below $790 after the 2013 tragedy. This year at least, we hope that things look up,” he says.
Like Shukla, there are many people across Uttarakhand who are voicing similar sentiments. According to state tourism department officials, the yatra provides direct and indirect employment to almost 50,000 people, and has the potential to earn revenues to the tune of $79 million to $158 million. This would make it not only the hill state’s biggest annual religious extravaganza but also a massive employment generating exercise.
“The economy of a few thousand villages and some towns is dependent on the Char Dham Yatra,” says Ravi Chopra, director of the People’s Science Institute, a non-profit organization that takes up environmental and disaster mitigation issues. “I would estimate that there are almost 20,000 service providers for Kedarnath alone. These include priests, dhaba owners, chaiwallahs, mule operators, porters, snack sellers, sweepers … the list is endless.”
* The Char Dham Yatra is an annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The yatra began on April 21 this year with the opening of the Yamunotri shrine followed by Gangotri on April 22; Kedarnath opens on April 24, and Badrinath on April 26. Huge floods caused thousands of deaths of pilgrims in 2013 and immense loss of buildings, roads and bridges.