Is a pilgrimage to Badrinath, Kedarnath worth it?

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: In the unprecedented rain that poured in Uttarakhand last week, pilgrims and the government were caught off-guard, resulting in large-scale death and devastation in the abode of the gods: the temple towns of the Himalayas.

With the rivers in spate, roads and dharamshalas washed off, bridges broken, over 50,000 pilgrims, many of them from the Southern States, are said to be stranded in various places such as Kedarnath,  Gauri Kund, Badrinath, Joshimath.

The death toll officially stands at 150, but the casualties may well run into thousands if relief doesn’t reach pilgrims who are stranded. The weather, hilly terrain, official apathy and inadequate infrastructure have all added to the problem and despite the heroic efforts of the Army the toll may rise further.

This brings in its wake the following questions.

Should the elderly take up such a pilgrimage at all?

I know my question will raise hackles among quite a few. Consider this.  In a country, in a culture which doesn’t particularly value human life, especially those of women and elderly, where State governments fight over the most trivial of things, should the weak of limb take up such a pilgrimage at such enormous risk?

The weather is inhospitable, the dizzy terrains can even scare away the boldest of Formula 1 drivers. The rickety private minibuses and state road transport bus services with sometimes cleaners at the wheel are hardly dependable while negotiating ghat sections, even a small variation in weather can cause landslides, affecting food and medical supplies to these temple towns.

Under such harsh conditions is it safe for the elderly to venture into such trips that take anywhere between two and three weeks? How do their families feel when they see on television the heartrending scenes of people being washed away?

True, the pilgrimage is a part and parcel of Hindu psyche and has been handed over from time immemorial. It is the very essence of one’s living, so to say. It brings a sense of completion of one’s worldly life and prepares for moksha.

Still, is it better to introspect in times such as these whether it is is worth the effort?

# Shouldn’t the government fund these visits as they do for visits to Mecca?

If visits to Badri, Kedar are subsidized by the government, the vast majority can take a flight to Delhi and take helicopter rides to the temples and complete the entire trip in a week’s time. Perhaps it is not a pilgrimage in the strictest sense of the word, but surely it is a lot safer for the traveller and for the nerves of those waiting back home.

Shouldn’t the government offer subsidized rates and facilities to Hindus too? Parity demands that Hindus too should be given an equal opportunity like their Muslim brethren.

Considering the strain on the government and defence forces that such disasters and relief and rehabiliation efforts take, isn’t it better to run safer subsidized pilgrimages than incur huge mindboggling costs in relief operations?

If the government can run the Kumbh Mela with pinpoint precision for over a month, complete with food and medical facilities why can’t they think in similar lines?

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39 Responses to “Is a pilgrimage to Badrinath, Kedarnath worth it?”

  1. Amit M Says:

    Why only pilgrimages?

    ANY event in a country where human life is not valued, safety standards not enforced, and where order, discipline and basic concern for other human beings is absent has such a potential for disaster.

    Rock shows, melas, political rallies, marathons, the list is endless as are the risks- fire, stampedes, terror attacks.

    To me a pilgrimage may seem a pointless reason to take such a risk, to someone else, my attending a crowded auto expo may seem equally pointless.

    Who is to decide?

    Banning something (either officially or within a family circle) is not the answer. The answer is to enforce basic safety regulations, provide adequate infrastructure, issue early weather and situation alerts, and instill in us all somehow the practical benefits of showing some basic concern for people around us in a crowd.

    (Of all those points, I fear the last one will take the longest to happen!)

  2. the colonel Says:

    first it is not unprecedent rain.

    it is a disaster managed by greed by all parties.

    as usual just call the army.

  3. Deepak Says:

    Well people should understand the situation and not travel to these places during monsoon season. Govt. should not subsidise any religious place tours and it is impossible for everyone to travel by helicopter too. Its upto people – clearly they are aware of the risks of travelling in monsoon to such places, if they knowingly take the risk, there is not much Govt. can do. However, more than the tourists, the plight of localites who have lost everything is tragic. Govt. should do something for them immediately.

  4. Info Says:

    Governments are by Netas and Babus. They are busy looting the public to care for mangoe people. All parties rule INDIA THROUGH DIVIDE AND RULE. Hence they fight amongst themselves to garner Muslim votes. When they run out of this option, OBC SC MOST BACKWARDS OBC cards come handy. Nobody cares about Indians.

    Rajinder Kumar Sandhir

  5. mysore peshva Says:

    going on a pilgrimage or any other trip is a personal choice, whether smart or foolish. the state ought not to interfere in that choice.

    consequently, the state ought to have no role in supporting or discouraging anyone going on a pilgrimage or any other personal trip. that is not any role of the state as defined in the constitution.

    specifically, the haj subsidy has no basis in the intent or letter of any of the three articles that constitute religious or linguistic minorities — articles 29(1), 30(1) and 350B(1). the subsidy is entirely an executive decision, reflecting grassroots (read vote bank) politics that the supreme court may well find unconstitutional.

    the haj subsidy ought to be summarily discontinued and that spending diverted for more legitimate purposes — such as programs that help muslims integrate better into the democracy.

    i am surprised that instead of calling for the removal of the haj subsidy, the writer has suggested that hindu pilgrims be given a similar subsidy! perhaps the writer wants to be fair-minded, but his suggestion is simply foolish — it will only perpetuate the silly and distracting politics of the haj subsidy. i am sorry that the writer does not seem to understand the role of government or care for indian taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

  6. Ask Says:

    No.Sir. Its not safe. They should remain indoors…

  7. Sanjeeva Says:

    It is rather surprising to read this post from an enlightened person like ERR sir! I am sure ERR sir has heard the following joke:
    A: I never travel by bus .
    B: Why?
    A: My grand father and later my father died while travelling by us.
    B: Oh, I am not going to sleep on the cot in future ever.
    A: Why?
    B: In my family, my great grand father onwards all have died while sleeping on a cot!……
    You should have rather pointed out constructions of big buildings (hope some of them are not unauthorized) right on the banks of the river.

  8. mel0309 Says:

    I agree with Sanjeeva. It is the flouting of environmental standards that have exacerbated the situation. Of course, our politicians will give the nod to anything that increases their bank balances. I wish that those who flouted environmental norms, despite the CAG’s strictures, can be held to account and be punished. But the big guys can get away with murder whilst the petty thief is caught and goes to prison.

  9. Iqbal SINGH Says:

    I still remember what happened during khumbh post independence. Only after that tragic disaster things have started working for khumbh arrangements….

    In my opinion the responsibility rests with both centre and state.

    Peoples choices should not be interfered with..

  10. harihara Says:

    The very title shows the market culture’s ravages into the thought word deed and personality of the hindu and the devastation of value. The temples are lighthouses of knowledge and order on the one hand and the prerana to greater achievements in whichever walk one treads in life . The divinity symbol resting therein is the crystallization of the consolidated, cumulative, ever increasing love for truth and beautyof the millions of devotees treading the tough path with single minded concentration for the darshan form time immemorial. It is the lack of passion and interest , the lack of scientific/engineering approach, and the chalta hai approach of the market oriented hindu commoner, rich person the achaaryas and mutts and of the temple administrations, which causes such calamities and on that one starts deriding the purpose of the whole excercisele as in this article. It is of immediate necessity that the hindu organizations put their money and as NGO make totally modern infrastructutre of safety and organize the darshans in an orderly way. Every hindu has to contribute by money , power and pelf towards this jeernoddhara as a recovery and return to cultured way of life

  11. Vinay Says:

    Mysore Peshva, rightly observed.

    ERR is making the usual Indian mistake of defining “secularism” as “equal importance to all religions”. Hence he wants subsidy for Hindu pilgrimages in addition to Muslim ones.

    The real definition of secularism is “no importance to any religion”, and most Indians forget that.

  12. tkb1936rlys Says:

    one more subsidy for the bankrupt Govt. when do we get out of freebie craving? bala

  13. asha Says:

    UKhand is a environment disaster..need to probe how many congee land mafia are involved in de-nuding the land and building resorts there..this includes the national damaad

    Also look at MSM glossing over the fact that the Clown Prince is holidaying in spain when his ailing mother has to oversee(?) relief operations and bench warmer PM appeals for public to contribute toward relief fund while his ministerial colleagues loot the nation.

  14. Faldo Says:

    The question in the heading is relevant. However, the two other sub-questions in the post might not be the right ones to ask.
    I am of the opinion that the Central and state authorities should have a strict travel advisory for pilgrimages and take all steps to restrict the inflow, things they can carry and the duration of stay so it is manageable. There could be a formal registration process and even a small cess charged for this. If need be there should be a shutdown of some of the places during bad weather seasons.

    Whether it is the elderly or the young such journeys are a personal choice. However, an advisory and regulation of visitors could make this a more manageable experience.

    Religion specific subsidies would raise a red flag but grants could be given to specific pilgrimage centers to better serve the devotees and provide facilities to visitors at reasonable rates. Typically, remote areas do not have a lot of resources and even normal amenities tend to be costlier.

  15. Gaampa Says:

    Any place of mass congregation is a mine field for disaster. The peculiar problem with India is it’s teeming population. Any accident will have causalities twice of thrice that of world average.
    The Garwal region of Himalayas cannot take the over load of visitors who have exponentially increased over the last decade with people getting affluent, increased mobility etc. State doling out subsidies for such travels will just add more problem to the existing crowding. And sending people on religious trips should be last on any state’s agenda.
    The aged are the ones who crave for the “once a life time” pilgrimage.
    I have been to the Chardham three times (the last two visits forced on me by elders who wanted a guide). The last time I went, the serpentine queue of vehicles on the narrow hilly roads were really worrisome. I trekked from Gangotri to Gaumukh and was shocked to see how much the Gangotri glacier has receded.
    The recent cloud burst reminded me of a similar burst over Leh in 2010. The New Scientist magazine covered it.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19323-fatal-cloudburst-devastates-himalayan-desert-town.html

    No country has answers to fury of nature. Be it America, India or Bhutan. No act of “well – preparedness” is ever sufficient.

  16. Sanjeeva Says:

    I am sorry I made light of the remarks of ERR sir that is a pilgrimage worth it. After reading today’s news papers, I should say it is not worth of it. Not because I am scared of natural disasters (which can happen anywhere anytime), but the apathy and callousness shown by the local people, who reportedly sold biscuits and water bottles at 100 rupees and food for 5000 for a group of five persons. Whenever any disaster occurs, before police or official machinery, it is the local people who are supposed to come to the rescue and help first. It was disheartening to read about the greed and apathy shown by local people.

  17. harihara Says:

    the author makes trader and marketist like recommendations and not that of a seeker; Let us remember that elders should visit the symbol of truth to reinfortce their soul’s journey to its ultimate goal; Government has nothing to do with the facilities except taking care of law and order and ensuring that the infratructure is as per modern and evolving engineering standandards,of comfort and safety; the infra is to be built and maintained by the devotees only repeat devoties only using proper NGOs Engineering etc and putting in the funds . Let there be no doubts and silly discussions on the roles. It is sad the title of the article is the deepest in ignorance.

  18. Suma S Says:

    It’s 100% a man made disaster. Sadly, there are many more, unchecked.
    All the illegal lodges within 100 mts of the river are owned by Cong-I crooks.
    The contracter’s mafia that built the poor quality dams, funded the current CM’s election.
    Initially just 12, after public outcry, only 40 choppers deployed while the IAF has over 700 helicopters.
    All the people affected are Hindus who got no Haj type subsidy.
    More than 5000 have perished but the Cong-I claims only 500
    Golden spoon Rahul baba is holidaying in Spain, while canny Advani continues to aim self-defeating potshots at Modi.

  19. Balaji Says:

    This is really a bad post from Churumuri posted in the heat of the happenings at Uttarakhand.
    I have personally undertaken the Kailas-Mansarovar Yatra organised by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India in association with the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam. Each batch of Yatris is accompanied by a Civil Servant of the Jt. Secretary level (salary fully paid by the Government). Any Govt. employee or even an employee from Public Sector undertaking, who undertakes the trip on his/her own merit is given a fully paid month’s leave to undertake the trip. Further, the ITBP accompanies the yatris until the Indian border and their service, which isn’t paid by the yatris, is priceless. They even carry the dead body of the deceased if the death happens anywhere in the trek. Again, all these aren’t paid for. In addition to all these support from the central Government, many state government offers cash support to yatris from their state. So, to state that the Government does not support enough is a massive understatement of facts. Moreover, spiritual yatras like these are to be undertaken by one’s own funds or funds from relatives and NOT from public money. It would equate to subsidising rich at the expense of the poor.
    It stands no comparison to what the Government gives for Haj – limited to only subsidy on flight tickets.

  20. Pavithra Says:

    @balaji
    Either you are a pot-bellyed Govt employee who gets (poor tax payers paid) a royal , paid Himalayan vacation in addition to all the bribes you accumulate or you are a shameless, Cong-I spokesman (of the kind that was caught having sex in his legal chamber yet rehabitated!) or you are a Haj beneficiary in disguise or you are just another dodo because of whom the UPA thrives & loots ruthlessly.
    Fyi, my neighbour just managed to reach Delhi. His extremely disturbing experiences & tragic stories of total irresponsibility by the govt, speaks volumes of the rot in our society. And shocking ignorance by narrow-minded folks like you.

  21. Gowda H Says:

    While the ‘Media Cell’ of the Cong-I is angry & screaming at Modi’s 1 day visit that resulted in 1000s of pilgrims from Gujarat being rescued & major charity work initiated, not a single Cong-I leader has been able to answer the irresponsible behaviour of Prince Rahul, who CONTINUES his Spanish vacation! Whatz more, just a single chartered jet to Madrid or Barcelona and back to Delhi costs 45 lacs!

  22. E Says:

    This is amusing to read: “I have personally undertaken the Kailas-Mansarovar Yatra organised by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India in association with the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam. Each batch of Yatris is accompanied by a Civil Servant of the Jt. Secretary level (salary fully paid by the Government). Any Govt. employee or even an employee from Public Sector undertaking, who undertakes the trip on his/her own merit is given a fully paid month’s leave to undertake the trip”

    No wonder this country is in such an unholy mess!!

  23. Yiftertheshifter Says:

    Badrinath, Kedarnath , and not to talk about Benares and Ganges (swallowing sewage water flowing freely into it) and thousands of saints born, preached and gone, and yet the degeneration of the politics and the society accelerates. Goddesses galore, but any young female walking in the street is a good game for rape. Holy men are setting up universities, run them and to what purpose? Every one wants to emigrate anyway.

    Those educated and honest-not many left in this category who should know and do better join the crowd as they cannot beat them. Yes, blame our colonial masters who left the country 66 years ago!!

  24. Balaji Says:

    @pavithra – Thanks for those wonderful words where everything you have described was not about me! Also, wonder how someone undertaking the KM Yatra can also undertake the Haj trip? I wouldn’t mind that either, if possible :)
    For a true pilgrim, none of these difficulties matter. Traditionally, all these places are meant to be trekked and not driven to. Today, due to the pressure of what you call as ‘Pot-bellyed’ folks, the Government was forced to lay roads for their cars and SUVs to pass through. Moreover, none of these ‘pot-bellyed’ pay for any of these privileges. So, how much facilities does the Government needs to provide for what you call as ‘Pot-bellyed’ folks?
    A true pilgrim would see these as a ‘test of Lord’ and put up with these and a true trekker would take it as another challenge. None of them would look up to the Government to rescue them at the expense of the local people! The media is only focused on the tourists and pilgrims but who cares about the locals?

  25. girinath Says:

    Trust belied

  26. kaulabhairav Says:

    http://kaulabhairav.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/kedarnath-rudra-tandav/

  27. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Keep on blaming politicians, congress, haj subsidy, bureaucrats, rich people, religious leaders, mutts etc. Keep on enduring the death and suffering without learning anything. As long as your family has escaped to live another day all is fine, this is our way. As the colonel said, the army is there to bail us out eventually. Why should anything change?

  28. harkol Says:

    I am an atheist.

    But, assuming the concept of god is indeed right, then he is ‘sarvantaryami’ or Omnipresent.

    If correct, then the whole concept of going to a particular spots for ‘finding god’ is ridiculous. The folks who do so, betray their own lack of understanding of their own religion – for all religions agree on one thing – that of god’s omnipresence.

    Having said that, I believe pilgrimages in olden days were the equivalent of ‘vacations’ of today. Just as religion was law of those days, defining their way of life, religious practice also provided a vent for daily frustrations in the form of pilgrimage ‘vacations’.

    In fact, most of these temples/mutts were constructed in places which are visually spectacular in many ways. Today, when folks have other options for vacationing, pilgrimage may not be as relevant.

    However, the danger can present itself anywhere you travel or live. It could be within ones own city, or any other place you visit. That can’t be the reason for not doing pilgrimage/vacation. If Danger accepted as an argument, then the same argument goes against doing any vacation in most scenic tourist destinations.

  29. Balaji Says:

    @E Very much true! It is indeed amusing that a ‘secular country’ rarely differentiates between one’s personal priorities and public priorities!

  30. Lobo Says:

    Pushed to the limits by senior Cong-I crooks and their spokesmen, caught with their pants down, the ‘Papu Rambo’ made a stealth, hurried departure from Madrid and finally surfaced in Dehradun! Obviously along with his mummy ;-)
    Now the ‘Parivarthan Campaign’ can be re-run on all channels, after all: there are crores pending to be spent for PR, while helpless folks are literally helpless & dying by the 100s!

  31. asha Says:

    UKhand CM Bahuguna is clueless on how to handle a massive crisis like this and hence is busy shuttling to delhi and giving TV interviews instead of over seeing the relief operations. In another development the secular state of Kerala has not moved its butt to help Malyalee pilgrims affected by the disaster. Yes this is the same secular government that took a unanimous decision to provide terrorist madani ayurvedic treatment in bangalore jail.

  32. Srinivas Says:

    While no one cares about the pilgrims from the Cong-I controlled Karnataka, Kerala or Andhra, the Golden Spoon Prince, his cartel and crooked flunkies are now chasing Modi’s swift actions!
    One can only hope that the next Govt will swiftly establish fast-track courts to ruthlessly punish all the politicians & their hand picked babu’s, so that our kids future can at least be a bit better!
    For now, aside to man-made tragedies, gigantic scams, completely irresponsible ministers, shameless party spokesmen & shocking corruption, we are faced with record-breaking low growth, high inflation & a Rupee that is completely out of control!
    Oh yes, they are also spending crores to advertise ‘Parivarthan’ & enjoying the scenes from their doomed, glass houses :-(

  33. FirstReality Says:

    Is going to badrinath worth it?
    In retrospect, hell no. Anyone who thinks otherwise must be suicidal.

    Even otherwise, I suggest keeping yourself limited to just doing the bare minimum that’s required for survival like getting milk from shetty angadi and going to office etc.

    Then again, one might have a passion for chaos…

  34. Anonymous Guy Says:

    FirstReality, Going to office etc. in Indian city requires a certain tolerance for chaos. Badrinath yatra is just an amplification of Bangalore traffic.

  35. FirstReality Says:

    Yup.
    Only difference is – for going to office you need a tolerance to chaos since there is not much option not to go.
    Going to Badrinath (or anything else that’s non essential for survival) requires you to have a passion for chaos.
    Btw, how come this sudden realization or are you a different anonymous guy or you are back in India? :)
    I remember hearing different views last year.

  36. Miss Squeaky Clean Says:

    Why are you asking this question Churmuri?

    If you are a hotshot Indian politician, or journalist (from TOI or any of the TV channels), then a pilgrimage to USA, Swiss Alps, UK, Paris, would be more worth it.

    However, desi folks have to have their pilgrimage at badrinath only, as they don’t have the corrupt income that top politicians and journalists have.

  37. Anonymous Guy Says:

    FirstReality, Yes, Badrinath trip is an ultimate adventure if you are so inclined.
    I took a break and visited India for an extended time this year. Mostly did getting milk from Shetty angadi type activities, so no sudden realization, not sure what views you are eluding to.

  38. Nastika Says:

    Is it worth it? Yes.
    Why? Because it is there !

    PS: No other reasoning is plausible.

    ~*~

  39. FirstReality Says:

    Anonymous guy – views that I am “alluding” to are almost the same as yours I guess. Just that I have given up my hopes about India. So I don’t talk much unless it involves some humor or rich sarcasm.

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