Sabarimala (Kerala): Nearly five million pilgrims are expected to visit the revered Ayyappa temple here when it opens Monday for a two-month pilgrimage season, officials said.
Located on the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats 914 metres above sea level, the Sabarimala temple is four kilometres uphill from Pamba river in Pathanamthitta district, around 100 km from Thiruvananthapuram.
VS Jayakumar, the executive officer overseeing the temple affairs, told IANS that more than 4.5 million pilgrims visited the temple during the last pilgrimage season.
"This time we expect a 10 percent increase in the numbers," he said, adding that temple authorities were providing better facilities vis-a-vis healthcare and other amenities.
Although the temple is open on the first few days every month of the Malayalam calendar, the peak pilgrimage season begins on the first day of the Malayalam month in November and ends on the first day of the Malayalam month in January.
The more serious pilgrims undertake an intense 41-day penance during which they avoid non-vegetarian food, wear black clothes and avoid sandals before the pilgrimage.
A huge chunk of the pilgrims come from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, said Jyotish K Nair, a pilgrim who has climbed the hallowed 18 steps that leads to the sanctum santorum more than 30 times.
With the passing of time, the once arduous trek to the temple top after a dip in the Pamba river has now become more pilgrim friendly.
Earlier the track to the temple was tough and passed through forests. "Today, you have oxygen parlours on the way to the hill top. Moreover, now there are cemented steps," said another devotee, P Jayachandran.
Some pilgrims, however, still use the forested track.
Devotees can now book the time of their prayer on the net. This season, more than half a million have done that.