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Kedarnath opens doors to pilgrims.

More than 1,000 devotees visit shrine on reopening day

MORE than 1,000 devotees attended the portal opening ceremony of the Kedarnath shrine on Sunday in Uttarakhand's Rudraprayag district, nearly a year after the June 2013 flash floods that wiped out hundreds of lives besides damaging the centuries- old temple.

The devastating monsoon disaster had turned Kedarnath into a ghost town. Strong water currents carrying rocks and boulders had descended on the Kedarnath town and washed away anything that stood on its path.

Bodies littered around the shrine had made it worse for relief workers, last year.

But on Sunday, the Mandakini Valley echoed with Vedic chants in praise of Lord Shiva at about 6 am after the portals of the Kedarnath shrine were thrown open to pilgrims. Located at an altitude of 3,581 metres, Kedarnath is considered as one of the holiest shrines by the Hindus.

Sunday's enthusiastic turnout also triggered the hope of an early recovery of religious tourism in Uttarakhand.

Divya Sheela

Apart from the usual rituals this time, the pilgrims also offered prayers to a huge boulder that had got stuck behind the Kedarnath shrine and protected it from the ravages of the flash flood. The boulder, about 12 feet in height and 20 feet in width, is now known as 'Divya Sheela' . Many pilgrims were seen taking photographs of the huge boulder.

The Badrinath Kedarnath Temple Committee ( BKTC), which manages the shrine, is now planning to promote the 'Divya Sheela' as a pilgrim attraction. "We decorated the boulder with garlands for the opening ceremony. And in the future, we will deploy a priest who will tell the devotees about its role in protecting the temple during the devastating flash floods," BKTC chief executive officer B. D. Singh said.

The BKTC has made arrangements to provide free accommodation to the pilgrims and operate round- the- clock langars ( community kitchen) in Kedarnath.

The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam ( a unit of the Uttarakhand government) will offer similar facilities.

Meanwhile, the signs of last year's calamity are still visible in the affected area.

The low pilgrim turnout from September to November 2013, after which the shrine was closed for the Kedarnath doors to pilgrims winter break, had shattered the confidence of the tourism industry in this part of the world. This time, the hospitality industry is looking at the pilgrimage season with high hopes.

The pilgrimage season normally remains open for a six- month period.

The Uttarakhand government has constituted a Special Task Force, comprising members of the state police and the Uttarakashi- based Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, for reconstructing trekking routes and fixing other tourists facilities for pilgrims.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:May 5, 2014
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