Despite a health advisory being issued for the Chardham, situated in the upper Garhwal Himalayan region, 203 pilgrims have died so far due to harsh weather and health-related issues, according to official data.
The Chardham Yatra began on May 3 on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya. Most of the devotees died due to heart attack. The harsh mountainous weather also exacerbated the health condition of many people, especially the elderly pilgrims, who were provided with all kinds of medical aid, including air ambulances.
According to official figures, till June 26, 203 pilgrims who were on Chardham Yatra had lost their lives. Of these, 97 people, the maximum, died in Kedarnath. Fifty-one people died in Badrinath, 42 in Yamunotri, and 13 in Gangotri.
Asked about the high number of deaths, state health minister Dhan Singh Rawat said that his department is constantly monitoring the situation and conducting health check-up of devotees.
He said that health guidelines are being disseminated through all media, including social media, so that devotees follow them and their journey remains smooth. Deaths during the arduous Chardham Yatra are nothing new, but this time the figures are relatively higher.
In 2019, just above 90 people succumbed to the health conditions aggravated by a harsh weather, while the number rose to 102 in 2018, and to 112 in 2017. However, these figures are for a period of six months from the start of the yatra in April-May to its closure in October-November.
The reason for unusually high number of deaths is believed to be the arrival of more number of devotees this year.
The rush has apparently been caused by the two-year suspension of the yatra forced by the COVID pandemic, with a huge crowd of devotees descending there now from across the country, as well as abroad.
According to official estimates, in a span of just two-and-a-half months, 2.5 lakh devotees have visited the chardhams.
The Uttarakhand government has issued a health advisory for the people planning to come to the chardhams – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri -- located at an altitude of 10,000 ft – warning them against extreme cold, low humidity, low air pressure, and a lack of oxygen.
They have been asked to start the journey only after they clear the health check-up. Apart from this, in case of any problem, they have been advised to immediately reach the nearest health centre and contact the helpline number 104.
The authorities have advised the very old, sick, and those who have contracted COVID in the past, to avoid the yatra, or postpone it for some time. Pilgrims have been suggested to take a day's rest en route before reaching the shrine.
They have been asked to carry warm and woolen clothes, drink water during the journey, do not go hungry, take intermittent rest during long walks, and to not exercise in high altitude areas.
The state government has issued health advisories on the basis of the report of an expert committee constituted for this purpose, which found that most of the people who died during the yatra were above 50 years of age, and many of them were infected with the coronavirus in the past.
Officials said that health check-up of devotees is being done continuously on the Chardham Yatra routes and so far 3,76,547 people have been screened.
Out of these, 96 pilgrims were sent back.