With the Char Dham Yatra season all set to begin on Tuesday, Uttarakhand will be facing many of the old challenges, along with some new ones. These will primarily have to do with capacity constraints and ever increasing arrivals. There is no doubt that, despite the political propaganda, the number of Indians with disposable incomes has increased. With the Char Dhams high on people’s priorities, the pilgrimage continues to enjoy an expanding footfall. In addition to this, of course, are the leisure tourists rushing to the hills for the traditional summer getaway, particularly as the state’s destinations are only a drive away from the NCR.
The 2013 disaster has awakened Uttarakhand to the enormous potential for the unexpected, placing greater pressure on those tasked with the Yatra’s management to prepare enhanced response capabilities – a major task in itself. There is also the usual management of traffic flow, ensuring there are no bottlenecks on the major routes. It has to be ensured that people travel safely. The suspension of ‘cutting’ works on the proposed all-weather roads to prevent landslides is just one of these measures. The effort is to ensure only those with hill-driving skills are allowed to take vehicles on the yatra and that they maintain the strict protocols, such as not driving at night, so that accidents are reduced to the minimum.
There is also the paramount task of ensuring the visit by pilgrims or tourists is as pleasant as possible. This requires the host community to have a whole range of hospitality skills. The tendency to take advantage of tourists has to be checked as it harms the industry in the long run. It needs to be remembered that, despite all the natural beauty and other advantages, the lack of amenities and poor quality of boarding and lodging can take away from the experience. Even the potentially high quality properties of the GMVN and KMVN are poorly maintained, managed and promoted. Every ambitious programme of developing wayside amenities has proved a disappointment. The amenities that exist suffer from inadequate maintenance.
The government, despite some ambitious projects on the anvil, has also failed to develop the launch-pads of Dehradun, Rishikesh, Haldwani, etc., so that the capacities can be increased and the tourists’ experience enhanced. It takes a decade for a scheme, such as the planned ropeway to Mussoorie, to even reach the DPR stage, and at least another before it nears implementation. The hidebound and bureaucratic mindset of those in charge ensures that innovative new ideas are neither recognised, nor promoted. This results in a failure to effectively handle the ever larger number of visitors, and generate proportionately more jobs from the state’s unique offering to the rest of the world.