Continued bad weather and damaged trek route have a toll on the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage this year with more than half a dozen pilgrims returning midway through the yatra and nearly 1,000 mule operators and porters losing their jobs.
Seven pilgrims had to return after waiting for the weather to clear so that choppers meant to ferry them from Pithoragarh to Gunji base camp could take off. The 10th batch of pilgrims had to wait for 10 days for the weather to clear, to be ferried in IAF choppers from the Naini-Saini airstrip to Gunji, the last base camp on way to the Lipulekh Pass.
The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN), the nodal agency for the Yatra, had to write to the External Affairs Ministry not to send fresh batches of pilgrims after the 11th batch until the backlog of pilgrims waiting at base camps and rest houses was cleared. Airlifting of pilgrims became necessary as the trek route to Gunji which was badly damaged in a natural calamity could not be repaired in time, KMVN GM TS Martolia said.
Pilgrims, who returned after completion of their Yatra, said the trek route is always preferable as helicopter sorties are heavily dependent on the weather. 'Several batches of pilgrims got unexpectedly delayed on way to Gunji. Tired of waiting for several days some had to withdraw midway,' yatra incharge at TRC Pithoragarh Dinesh Gururani said. The weather has often been bad since June 15.
The trek route to Kailash-Mansarovar could not be continued after the first batch due to heavy landslides at Nazang on way to Gunji from Dharchula. 'It was a decision of the Government of India to send pilgrims by IAF choppers from Pithoragarh to Gunji for their safety as the trek route was not in usable condition,' Martolia said.
Nigam officials said there was no alternative available this year but the KMVN has always preferred the Yatra to be carried out through the trek route as it was less dependent on weather.
' It was an essentially alternative arrangement this year, otherwise the Yatra is good from trek route as it gives seasonal jobs to porters, horse and mule owners, wayside shopkeepers, souvenir sellers and several others in villages along the trek route,' Martolia said.