Dehradun/Pithoragarh: Protests erupted on Friday in Uttarakhand's Kumaon region over a pact signed between India and China seeking an alternative route to Mansarovar through Nathula in Sikkim, even as Chief Minister Harish Rawat opposed it saying the move would hurt religious sentiments of the people.
Locals engaged in businesses related to the annual pilgrimage, which goes through the traditional route of Dharchula and Siyalekh in the state, burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protest against the move and alleged that it was a conspiracy to finish tourism trade in the Kumaon belt.
"It is a conspiracy to finish tourist trade in Kumaon region which is based on this Yatra," said Bittu Karnataka, a Congress leader in Almora.
In Pithoragarh, Congress workers and local social activists also protested against the decision and claimed that the move would severely hamper tourism trade in this border district as there are no employment opportunities other than this.
"Agreement with China over an alternative route to Mansarovar through Nathula goes against the religious sentiments of people throughout the country as it is not in keeping with the centuries-old scriptures which recognise only the traditional route for the pilgrimage passing through Uttarakhand," Rawat said in a statement issued in Dehradun.
The Chief Minister also appealed to the five BJP MPs from Uttarakhand to take up the issue with Modi and convince him that seeking an alternative route for the pilgrimage would be tantamount to going against the sanctity of the traditional route and riding rough shod over the religious sentiments of people across the country.
Instead of seeking an alternative route to Mansarovar, it would be better to strengthen the infrastructure along the traditional one passing through Uttarakhand, he said.
"It is due to Kailas Mansarowar Yatra that the deserted border valleys of Darma, Vyas and Chaundas, at Indo-China border, have gone vital, as the locals who had left the villages due to absence of employment have returned," said Bhuperdra Thapa, traders union president in Dharchula town.
Agencies attached with the pilgrimage since it began in 1981 from this route, said the yatra was kick-started from this route as it happened to be not only traditional but also a religious route.
This is the only route recognised by age old Hindu scriptures and any attempt to find another route would mean showing disrespect to scriptures like Manaskhand and the sentiments of Uttarakhandis, Rawat had said in the letter.
There is a belief, as mentioned in scriptures like Manaskhand, the religious gains from Kailas Mansarovar pilgrimage?can only be achieved from the traditional route as it is habituated by several deities and Goddesses who belong to the family of Lord Shiva.
"Before reaching the lord, these deities are to be worshiped to make the pilgrimage gainful," said D K Sharma, an officer of Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN), the nodal agency for conducting Mansarovar yatra since it resumed in 1981.
According to KMVN, it will lose over Rs 3 crore annually if the route of the yatra is changed from here. It said the Centre grants Rs 32,000 per pilgrim against catering charges on track routes and traveling charges from Delhi to Dharchula for those who take up the pilgrimage from this route.
"Besides, enroute Gunji over 2,000 porters, pony owners?and villagers, who take up small businesses during four months of the yatra, will also lose out on their livelihood if the route shifts from Kumaon region," a KMVN officer said.
Rawat had opposed the proposal for an alternative route to Mansarovar even when it was first made by Modi to China at the BRICS summit in July this year.
"The route going to Mansarovar through Uttarakhand via Chota Kailash and Om Parvat, though difficult, is the only traditionally acknowledged route which was taken by Rishi Permanand Ji Maharaj as many as 21 times to reach there.
"Even noted historian Rahul Sankrityayan preferred this difficult route rather than the one through Kathmandu in Nepal to reach Mansarovar and finding any other route via China will hurt the sentiments of people of Uttarakhand," the Chief Minister had said.