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Implement Alternatives

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It is natural to be concerned about the carrying capacity of the Char Dhams in the face of the ever increasing number of pilgrims arriving after opening of the portals. The pilgrimage season – extended now due to better quality roads and facilities – is a major source of income for the state. Unfortunately, as always, market growth outpaces regulatory measures, which complicates matters further in the Himalayan topography. The ability of pilgrimage sites to bear not just the burden of visiting crowds but also the amenities developed for them such as hotels and restaurants – at the destination and along the routes – is greatly challenged. Uttarakhand is having a difficult time playing catch up.

As these are pilgrimage sites, people cannot simply be turned away. The easier access, and increased disposable income among the middle classes, has meant that not just the number of visitors has grown, but also the vehicular traffic. The parallel expansion of tourism destinations has meant that people can also, if they so wish, choose pleasures other than the spiritual.

It is also a fact that unless there is local employment from all these sources, the remaining population of the hill state will migrate to the plains. This should be a voluntary decision and not forced upon people by adverse circumstances. It is the duty of the government to ensure retention of the population as much as possible. Hence, alternatives need to be developed to absorb the visitors – pilgrims and tourists – in a sustainable way. An example of this would be rejuvenation of the original trek to the dhams. People can be told that one needs to be spiritually prepared to fully receive the blessings of the Deities, which is best done by walking up the mountains and through forests. The number of youths willing to undertake these actual pilgrimages would be quite considerable. This will also benefit the villages on the way, instead of just the halts by the roadside. The facilities need to be improved, but not made luxurious.

Also, tourists should be given the alternative to park their vehicles at selected open spaces on the pilgrimage routes and go up in good quality buses provided by the government. This would be of great convenience to all and the traffic jams of the present would be avoided. In fact, this facility should also be offered in Dehradun to tourists headed to Mussoorie. There are other innovative ways that can be worked out to ensure that everybody benefits all round. All it requires is sincere intent.