It is time to sum up my reflections and feelings about the Vaishnodevi Yatra that on one hand satisfied cravings of my soul and of spiritual journey but on the other hand left an indelible question mark about the management of places of great religious importance.
Taking into account the rough estimate of around 40,000 pilgrims taking yatra everyday, I may say that the Shrine board is not suitably prepared to manage this inflow of tourists and pilgrims. As we had walked to the holy shrine and after resting for 2-3 hours at a eating joint had taken the return journey, I am sure that our visit had not burdened the shrine board with much responsibility. But this is not the case with average pilgrims who have to wait for hours in a queue and have to spend a night at some place in or around the Bhawan.
Is the Shrine board equipped to tackle this inflow of pilgrims everyday? Are they suitably prepared to provide a place to rest and sleep to all those who trek more than thirteen kilometers steep ascent to the Bhawan?
Well, the answer is plain and simple “No”. Despite a large number of toilets on the way, at reasonably distanced points, the condition cannot be said to be satisfactory! In fact it is not about the ratio of pilgrims to the toilets but the cleanliness which remains the issue.
And what pained me most is the attitude of the people who consider themselves to be state guests of the shrine board and expect the shrine board, alone, to keep the place clean! It seems that we don’t have any civic duty whatsoever.
As we started back at 2-30 a.m. and by the time we reached Ardh Kuwari, it was almost morning so we had a good chance to see how we, as civic people, behave. During the day everyone puts on a mask of being elite, educated and well mannered but at that morning hour people were caught off guard, bereft of the mask that they would have put on during the day!
I could see endless used disposable cups, plates, soft drink bottles, papers etc. lying on every possible space. It seemed as if no one had even tried to put the waste in the bin which lay at comfortable distance. People were sleeping amidst rubbish and dirt.
The few toilets at the Ardh Kuwari were full to brim and it was a person with a strong heart who could enter the toilets. The morning hours necessitate the use of toilet for everyone but the long queues outside and the stink inside made it a task next to impossible. The kids and old people were seen relieving themselves out in the open.
I wonder what could shrine board do except to construct more toilets but could someone teach basic civic sense to our own people! My friend had a heated argument with a mother of a toddler who would not put water to flush off the shit of the child. When caught and reprimanded for the same. her only defense was, “it is the duty of the toilet cleaner.”
The sweeping personnel had a hard task cleaning all the rubbish and what they did after collection was a nightmare for the fragile environment of the Trikuta hills. The burnt all the waste in the open. The dreadful fumes coming out, sure, would be harming the lungs of the gullible pilgrims as well endangering the eco-balance of the place.
The horse dung and urine on the path was another of the problems that needs to be taken care of. More so as I saw a number of pilgrims walking the path barefooted. May be it was a religious compulsion for them but I thought of the infections that they may harbor on account of it.
Another aspect that needs some very urgent steps concerns the pilgrims. I came across a woman of sixty who was weeping inconsolably. Her mother about eighty years of age was missing since a day. This woman could do nothing except getting her message announced to her mother through public address system to reach the announcement booth. But as the old mother could neither understand Hindi nor English the problem to reach out to her had compounded.
There was another case of some pilgrims who had lost contact with their young daughter-in-law along with an infant son. My friend tried to help them as best as she could but left them to their fate later on. As mobiles do not work in this area, people have no way to connect to one another if they lose track of one another, which in most cases they do.
I am sure that all missing persons meet their very own in a day’s time at the most but the anguish and the pain caused to the concerned cannot be ever compensated. The Shrine board must come up with a suitable plan to deal with this problem. And as for the pilgrims are concerned especially the ones coming from far flung non-Hindi speaking areas, each one of them must have all details written in Hindi and English with them along with a phone number where someone would provide complete details.
Needless to say that the problems are many and no one has anything to do with them once they are done with the Yatra. I talked to people who were grumbling but would they ever approach the right persons about the problem? No, as elsewhere in the country, everyone’s problem is no one’s problem.
Let Goddess take care of all our problems!