The annual pilgrimage will start on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya on April 22 with the opening of Gangotri and Yamunotri Dham gates. Portals of Badrinath will open on April 27.
This year’s yatra will be held against the backdrop of the land subsidence in Joshimath, about 45km away from Badrinath, and it may prove a challenge for the authorities. Known as the ‘gateway to Badrinath’, Joshimath is the last major halt for pilgrims travelling on the lone route to the holy city.
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Since January 2 this year, at least 868 houses have developed cracks in and around Joshimath. Fractures are also visible on the roads and agricultural fields of the hill town, located at 6,150 feet. The authorities have decided to use the Joshimath route for the yatra as the Helang by-pass project – around 9km before Joshimath – is still in the “initial stage”. The by-pass project was stopped after the Joshimath issue was reported last month.
Meanwhile, chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and tourism minister Satpal Maharaj exuded confidence that the Joshimath issue will not have any impact on the yatra. “We had 45 lakh pilgrims last year and we expect a bigger turnout this time. We’ll make all the required arrangements for pilgrims’ safety,” Dhami said.
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On April 20, prayers will be offered to Bhairavnath. The palanquin of Lord Kedarnath will then leave Omkareshwar temple of Ukhimath the next day and stop for a night halt at Vishwanath Mandir in Guptkashi. Thereafter, night halt for April 22 will be in Phata and in Gaurikund on April 23. On April 24, the palanquin will reach Kedarnath and the doors will be opened for pilgrims the following morning at 6.20am.
Priests, members of Shri Badrinath-Kedarnath Temple Committee and other stakeholders were present at Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath on Saturday to decide the date for Kedarnath portals. It has been a tradition to announce the date on Maha Shivratri.
Last year, around 45 lakh pilgrims — a record — offered prayers at the four revered shrines. Each shrine reported “all-time-high footfalls”, as per state officials, with Badrinath receiving 17.6 lakh devotees, followed by 15.6 lakh in Kedarnath, 6.2 lakh in Gangotri and 4.8 lakh in Yamunotri.
The high number of pilgrims last year had triggered major debates among experts — scientists as well as environmentalists — on the carrying capacities of these pilgrimage centres, located in high Himalayan zones that have been called “fragile”. The pilgrims and tourists had brought with them a correspondingly high number of vehicles and left behind mountains of garbage that took days to be cleared, some of which ended up being dumped into the Ganga and its tributaries.