Though pilgrims die owing to heart difficulties every year on their trek to Uttarakhand’s high-altitude shrines, the toll is exceptionally high this season, when the yatra began on May 3 with the opening of the Yamunotri and Gangotri temples. The return of the ‘Char Dham yatra’ after a two-year hiatus caused by the Covid virus is a positive development for thousands of people whose lives are dependent on it, but the deaths of 78 pilgrims on their route to Himalayan temples in less than a month is cause for alarm.
Kedarnath, with 41 fatalities, has the largest number of pilgrim deaths out of the 78 reported so far.
In the afternoons, the weather in Kedarnath of Uttarakhand frequently deteriorates. In no time, a brilliant sunny day gives way to gloomy skies with sporadic showers. Because there are no rain shelters within a three-kilometer radius of Kedarnath, pilgrims frequently get soaked and succumb to hypothermia, he claimed.
According to data from prior years, around 90 Char Dham devotees perished in 2019, 102 in 2018, and 112 in 2017 during the full season, which lasts approximately six months each year from April-May to October-November.
Pradeep Bhardwaj, who heads Six Sigma Healthcare that provides free medical facilities in Kedarnath of Uttarakhand, attributed the high number of deaths to a combination of factors, including absence of an acclimatisation mechanism, weak immunity of pilgrims most of whom have Covid history, precarious weather and inadequate arrangements considering the heavy rush of pilgrims.
“As most of the pilgrims are not used to such high altitudes they should be given a break in their journey at lower heights to help them acclimatise themselves with the kind of weather they are going to confront in higher altitudes.
“They are not able to cope with the abrupt climatic change that they experience after coming from lower altitudes to the Himalayan temples located averagely at a height of 10,000 to 12,000 ft,” Bhardwaj , a qualified doctor told PTI.
He said many pilgrims do not come with proper clothing as they are not aware of the extreme cold conditions prevailing in the high altitudes.
“We have noticed that many of those who died on the way to Kedarnath in Uttarakhand died of hypothermia which is caused by extreme cold conditions,” he said.
Weak immunity of pilgrims who have Covid history is another reason for the high number of casualties, he said.
Health checks before the pilgrims begin the arduous trek to the temples is also a must.
There should be more community kitchens on the way to Kedarnath than there are, Bharadwaj said, adding that 50,000 pilgrims are coming in place of 10,000 and there are just three community kitchens to cater to them.
Drawing a comparison, he said there are 130 community kitchens on the way to the Amarnath temple which is also visited by people from across the country like Kedarnath.
Health screening of pilgrims before they undertake the journey to the high altitudes should be done on a larger scale , Bhardwaj said.
Kedarnath-Badrinath Mandir Samiti chairman Ajendra Ajay said the pilgrims have ignored the health advisory issued by the state government.
“Pilgrim footfall at the Himalayan temples is much higher than their carrying capacity which is causing inconvenience to them.
“Despite the government’s advisory that they should not undertake the journey if they have Covid history and suffer from post coronavirus complications, they are setting out on the pilgrimage throwing all cares to the wind. It is proving fatal especially in the case of the elderly,” Ajay told PTI.
(With agency inputs)