Published on : Wednesday, July 25, 2018
The quiet town of Kedarnath in the northern state of Uttarakhand, once a haven for pilgrims, is now a buzz with the sound of helicopters. Hundreds of tourists are ferried on these helicopters throughout the day. Sometimes as many as 300 sorties are made in a single day.
The hill state, specifically the Kedarnath Valley, witnessed horrifying destruction in the June 2013 floods. However, that hasn’t kept tourists at bay. In 2018, an unprecedented 30 million tourist arrivals are expected in the state, many of them domestic tourists to the important Hindu pilgrimage circuit of Char Dham in Uttarakhand.
Uttarakhand, popular for its Hindu pilgrimage sites, attracts spiritual seekers from around the world. Known as Devbhoomi (land of Gods), the state, while recovering from the 2013 floods, is now also reeling under the pressure from unregulated tourism and the infrastructure to support it.
The largely unregulated influx of tourists into the highly disaster-prone state seems to be taking a toll on the fragile ecosystem.
According to a draft tourism policy 2017 of the Uttarakhand government, the number of tourists visiting Uttarakhand has consistently increased from around 11 million in 2000 to 28 million in 2012.
Following the 2013 disaster it saw a dip but by 2015 the number was near 25 million. In 2018, it is expected to break all previous records and cross 30 million tourist arrivals – almost three times the population of Uttarakhand itself. By 2026 the number of tourists is expected to touch a whopping figure of 67 million.
The analysis of tourists coming to the hill state also reveals that among the foreign tourists, nearly 58 percent of the visits were for holiday/sightseeing, 21.9 percent for health/yoga and about 19.4 percent for pilgrimage/religious functions.
But among domestic tourists, the main purpose remains pilgrimage as Uttarakhand is home to several pilgrimage sites like Char Dham – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – and Hemkund Sahib. The report noted that about 44 percent of the domestic tourist visits were for pilgrimage. Uttarakhand’s Char Dham yatra starts in April of each year and ends in November when the temples close for the winter.
As tourists continue to throng Uttarakhand and the infrastructure development continues at a rapid rate, the toll on the natural landscape goes unchecked. Apart from causing environmental issues, this eventually could affect the overall experience of a pilgrim or a tourist. Under human pressure, the land of Gods may never be the same again.