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Lockdown effect | A yatra without yatris!

11:50 am | | Comments 2

Chardham yatra is one of the India’s major pilgrimage and it is second time in last eight years that  it has to be shelved. Last time in 2013, it was due to an altogether different reason as Yatra has to suspended and finally called off due to devastating floods in Uttarakhand. But that year, Yatra started in usual manner with all customs and rituals, but met a catastrophe on 16th & 17th June when extremely heavy rainfall and sudden melting of glaciers created a havoc like never before. Thousands of lives were lost and villages after villages were washed away. So, that year Yatra didn’t resume. Now this year again Yatra has been suspended because of lockdown due to Corona pandemic. The temples have been opened but routes are closed for yatris as no travel is allowed for this purpose. 

Janaki Chatti during the normal Yatra days every year
Pilgrims on way to Yamunotri

For a state, which is heavily dependent on tourism for its revenues, this is a big blow because, all along the Yatra route thousands and thousands of people sustain on this pilgrimage for their year long livelihood. Well, having said that fact is that tourism sector everywhere in the world has been the most severely affected with lockdown and travel restrictions. Here, we are chronicling the events and occasions, that we have missed this year to lockdown. And, Chardham Yatra is top among them. 

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Chardham Yatra is an ancient Hindu pilgrimage to four major religious sites in Uttarakhand- Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, all four dedicated to different deities. Yamunotri and Gangotri are source of rivers Yamuna and Ganges respectively, while Kedarnath is dedicated to Shiva, Badrinath is dedicated to Vishnu. Yatra is generally done in the same order, starting from Yamunotri and then following to Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. Two temple among these two- Gangotri and Badrinath are at road-heads, while two others Yamunotri and Kedarnath require a descent high altitude trek to reach the temples.

Yamunotri temple alongside the river
Yamuna temple at Kharsali

Yamunotri temple opens every year on Akshaya Tritiya (this was on 26th April 2020 this year). Every year, when the temple closes just before the onset of winter (on second day after Diwali festival), idol of Goddess Yamuna is brought down to Kharsali village. Kharsali village is across Yamuna river at Janaki Chatti, from where the trek starts. So, on Akshaya Tritiya Yamuna’s doli (palanquin) is taken from Kharsali to Yamunotri. Uniyals of this village have been historically entrusted with performing puja at Yamunotri. 

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Ganga Doli being taken from Mukhba temple to Gangotri in normal years. Photo: Pallavi Sharma Duffy
Ganga doli following the band on way to Gangotri. Photo: Pallavi Sharma Duffy

Similarly, temple at Gangotri also opens on the same Akshaya Tritiya. Just as in case of Goddess Yamuna, the idol of river Ganges is also brought down to Mukhba every winter, second day after Diwali. Then, a day before Akshaya Tritiya the doli of goddess Ganges is taken from Mukhba, located in Harshil valley, for an overnight stay at Bhairon temple in Bhairon Ghati and then taken to Gangotri on the auspicious day. Semwals of Mukhba are responsible of prayers at Gangotri temple. This year, following the social distancing norms only 21 priests were only allowed to take part in the temple opening prayers at both the temples. Similarly number of people accompanying the doli were also drastically reduced. Common people were not allowed to join. Thus, opening of these two temple marked the opening of Chardham Yatra for this year, but a Yatra without Yatris as the pilgrimage is still banned due to coronavirus pandemic.

Markandey temple at Bhagirathi river
Mukhba temple and the village in Bhagirathi valley

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The temple at Kedarnath shrine was opened on 29th April 2020 after all the religious rituals. People say, that it was perhaps the first time in their memory when there were nor people at the time of the prayers- no pilgrims, no local people. Administration had not allowed people to move towards Kedarnath. Just 20 people from temple staff and 15 from police and administration were present there. Ironically, this year Kedarnath region has experienced heavy snowfall and even on the day of temple opening, there was more than 4 feet snow around the temple route. 

Around Gangotri: Harsil – A mystical gateway to the other world

What it used to be! Kedarnath temple in normal days. Photo: Pallavi Sharma Duffy

As with other two temples, doli of Lord Kedarnath is also taken from Ukhimath to Kedarnath temple every year. This journey takes around three days. First night it stays at Doli Phata and second night at Gaurikund. Gaurikund to Kedarnath is a 14 km trek. This year Rawal of Kedarnath temple was struck in a lockdown. He was at Nanded in Maharashtra and reaching Ukhimath for him was tough. Moreover it was also told that he was having the crown of the lord, which was essential for the temple opening prayers. He reached Ukhimath on 19th April but was then kept in mandatory quarantine unto 3rd May. 

Kedar top in the background, temple town under the shade and trekking route to Kedarnath on the left. Photo: Pallavi Sharma Duffy

Last of the four dhams- Badrinath was opened on 15th May and thus all the four temples of the Yatra were now open. Badrinath Rawal, who are Namboodris of Kerala also reached Uttarakhand from Kannur on 20th April and was put into quarantine. Initially temple was scheduled to open on 30th April but then owing to all difficulties of lockdown and for necessary rituals, Tehri King decided to change the date to 15th May. It is being said that for the first time in history, the traditional date of temple opening has been changed. Date is normally decided on Basant Panchami every year. On 5th May the ritual of extracting oil, known as Gadu Ghada, was performed at Narendranagar Palace of the Tehri king. Only 11 people were present this year during the temple opening ceremony at Badrinath. Every one was wearing masks and social distancing norms were duly followed. 

Badrinath temple in usual days

During the ceremonies at all the four temples this year, the usual fun and fervour was missing. Musical bands were absent and so were the traditional singers and other performers. Everywhere, ashrams, shops, restaurants, hotels… everything is closed. This is also a huge setback for all other associated activities, as it if going to affect the livelihood of thousands. A big miss on India’s travel calendar, as we still don’t know that when will the pilgrims or travellers be allowed to go on route. Usually most people will try to avoid the peak monsoon and try to do their yatra before the onset of monsoon in the state.

Alaknanda river and area around Badrinath temple. In the background are the shades where yatris normally queue up during peak season

Had you planned to go to Char Dham yatra in Uttarakhand this year? Will you still be going if the restrictions are lifted? Share your views with us in the comments section below.

It becomes very crowded on Yatra routes during the normal Yatra season at all shrines

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Comments

  1. rimpal says:

    nicely narrated …i will try my best to go.

    1. swamiupendra says:

      Thanks a lot Rimpal ji

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