Amaranth Yatra: How to make it better and organized
OT, July 16, 2012 02:45 IST
Adfar Rashid Shah
Last year, I visited Baltal during the iconic Amarnath Yatra season for a general sociological observation of the Yatra mechanism, the pattern of pilgrim influx, government arrangements at place and social relations shaped up between locals, police, security forces and more importantly the pilgrims.
At the very onset, I found Baltal was sunk in dust and filled with filth everywhere. Every man had a story to tell. Just one thing was positive that pilgrims were happy with local people who they felt were very hospitable. However they complained about the lack of mobile latrines on the track after Baltal. While interacting with the local shopkeepers, drivers of all kinds of vehicles and others, I observed that many people were not happy with the arrangements.
Most of the people also complained about the media that hardly bothers to highlight general problems beset to one and all there. People said representatives from the media visit on the first day and then they never come.
Role of army
Many Dhaba walla’s and Langur owners complained of drinking water shortage and a limited supply of LPG. Also, I visited the government hospital (health centre) to have an observation of medical facilities available at Baltal. While I reached the premises, I asked a lady who was coming out of the hospital, “Ma’am, may I speak to any doctor here? Very irately she replied in Kashmiri language, “chhe kya daleel chhy” (what is hell with you)?
I got shocked to see the level of politeness, courtesy and credibility and public handling style of employees and later I came to know that she was a doctor. If such is a treatment meted to a researcher, imagine what can be the fate of a poor laborer, a tribal and other downtrodden there.
Bolay Baba who drives lakhs of Yatris (pilgrims) to the holy cave of Amaranth located at 3888 Ft. from the sea level in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal District, is a symbol of forbearance, faith, brotherhood and sustained relations of value among the locals and the visitors.
Source of a seasonal livelihood
If the increased number of visitors brings relief on the faces of some, it has other consequences also.
Parvez Darud, a local pony-walla (horse owner), shared his concern that number of pilgrims is not a problem but the pilgrimage should continue hassle free and not to bring a bad name to Kashmir and the government.
Ghulam Hassan, a Tata Mobile driver, said the chaos still prevails. “We as a driver only get police abuses. They have to manage without any parking and health care facilities here. And nobody is there to take care of the problems which arise due to tourist influx,” he added.
Last year six lakh thirty thousand registered yatri’s visited the cave excluding the unregistered ones. He said: “The ordered passage needs to be restricted on particular routes to the cave and people should not be left to visit the cave in a haphazard manner. Transport facility must be improved to the extent of satisfaction”
It has been ages since the Kashmir valley started hosting Yatra and every year lakhs of pilgrims come to Valley adding to the economy of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. There is a specific board, Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) dealing with the affairs of Yatra and State Governor is the ex-officio head of the board.
Manzoor a small shopkeeper said: “Pilgrims throng to the place like anything, thereby degrading the environs and spoiling the sacred fervor of the place, which should be handled well by the local administration and SASB”.
Also, he said: “The use of polythene and lack of drinking water to us and all locals here is actually the big problem and lack of proper policing in and around Pahalgam, Baltal or other routes or en route the holy cave has still not been controlled strictly, which are the prime concerns”.
Lack of civic sense
The fact remains that general conduct of both pilgrims, visiting pilgrimage centers and workers/ locals towards the environmental and religious sanctity of our pilgrim sites, must be full of sanitation and order which seems nowhere and polluting still continues be it water, air, soil, etc whatever comes around without any collective social responsibility.
Pilgrimage tourism, on one hand is the boon of Kashmiri economy but on the other it has become a problem. Due to the increased haphazard movement and high unsystematic influx of people to pilgrimage centers seems to be quite unconscious and ignorant of natural limits and religious binding.
“They devotees are not well disciplined and they never maintain the sanctity, sanitation and decorum of the sacred places like Amarnathji’s cave,” shared Janzeb Pathan, a local guide. He further said: “After Domail (Baltal’s base camp’s last point), no mobile latrine is available and yatris particularly female ones face a tough time.”
Talking of the famous holy Amaranth cave, thousands of pilgrims and other people visit the place particularly in the yatra season which has just started. The mushrooming of dhabas, hotels, shops and restaurants has added more trouble to the area. Though providing basic amenities, their presence has blighted the shrine premises.
The new practice of air transportation for politicians, top officials and rich pilgrims visiting the holy cave has added to the woes. Moreover, the frequent use of helicopters, tremendous noise, more use of fire has resulted in the increase of temperature which leads to the melting of ice-lingam (shiv lingam), disappointing the faith holders and pilgrims all around since many years.
“Air transport should be totally abandoned for Yatra means yatra by foot and yatra by hardwork, it also affects livelihood of all kinds of labourers be that Dandi walla’s, Pithu men, Ponny walla’s, etc,.” said a local, Shabir Cheche with concern.
Because Shiva believed the Amarkatha is worthwhile to be narrated in the environs alone. As for Shiva it is the highest spiritual journey and one has to give up every earthly support for it then how can pilgrims realize the absolute reality by using all the luxuries and helicopters when even Shiva himself had abandoned everything with him before visiting the holy shrine?
If it is turned to a market it will be violating the religious essence and sanctity of the place.
No doubt tourism and pilgrimage benefits economically the state but people should be contented with one golden egg daily and must not do anything to get more and more and kill the hen. Therefore it is the duty of the government to limit the uncontrolled especially unregistered influx of pilgrims, to instruct pilgrims and warn the workers not to pollute the holy site.
There should be a stringent regulation and audit/inspection of all the departments who serve during the season, lack of regulation and regular checks have lead to a greater chaos and sense of alienation among people and proper arrangements of water, electricity, latrine and health care facilities should be made before the pilgrimage season starts.
Police should control commodity prices strictly and Shrine board members should take a serious note of all issues related to yatri’s, activities of security personnel, laborers, shopkeepers, etc. Issues of traffic regulation, problems of parking and behavior meted to drivers and Ponny walla’s also need to be taken serious note of.
Sanitation of the area
Shrine Board has to take special care of not only pilgrims but local workers as well, after all labourers and other workers together form the yatra as an institution. Also if Government’s Slogan is ‘clean Gulmarg or clean Sonmarg’ why not same for Baltal or Nunwann, which are the basic Yatra points.
(The author is a doctoral scholar of Sociology, at faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Okhla Times.
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