New Delhi: Computerised draw of lots for selecting pilgrims for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra was held here Wednesday, in which for the first time, preference for fresh applicants or route choice of senior citizens was incorporated into the software, MEA officials said.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale presided over the draw of lots held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan and also urged pilgrims to help "protect and preserve" the fragile environment in the Himalayas.
Ministry of External Affairs organises the Yatra from June to September each year through two different routes - Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand) and Nathu La Pass (Sikkim). Known for its religious value and cultural significance, it is undertaken by hundreds of people every year.
For Kailash Mansarovar Yatra 2019, the ministry received 2,996 applications, out of which 2,256 are male applicants and 740 females. As many as 624 senior citizens had applied for the yatra.
For Lipulekh route, there are 18 batches with 58 pilgrims per batch and for Nathu La, 10 batches with 48 yatris per batch. Two liaison officers will assist each batch of yatris.
"It is our hope and endeavour that we provide the first chance to those who didnt had the chance to go to the yatra, the first-time applicants and we give priority to them. And, of course, to senior citizens as well," Gokhale said.
He said, consistent efforts have been made to make the Yatra website as pilgrim-friendly as possible.
"We also have a helpline now for applicant yatris. And, emails received from them are regularly monitored and applicants are suitably advised in a time-bound way," he added.
A senior official said, the Nathu La route is less arduous compared to Lipulekh route and so preferred by senior citizens.
"Earlier they would tell us their route choice while applying for the yatra, and we would try to accommodate their request in the overall process. This year, we have incorporate the preferences of first-time yatris and the senior citizens in the algorithm of the software used for the draw of lots, which is for the first time," he said.
The Yatra involves trekking at high altitudes of up to 19,500 feet, under inhospitable conditions, including extreme weather, and rugged terrain, and may prove hazardous for those who are not physically and medically fit.
Gokhale urged yatris to strictly observe safety norms, for themselves and also for their fellow pilgrims.
The yatra is organized with the support of the state governments of Uttarakhand, Delhi, and Sikkim; and the cooperation of Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN), and Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (STDC) and their associated organisations provide logistical support and facilities for each batch of Yatris in India.