India is a myriad of multicultural Experiences with great numerous landscapes, heritage and culture. One of the major reasons any government promotes and supports tourism is its enormous positive impact on economic growth and development. The economic development of tourism is mainly because of its contribution to GDP and employment.
The World Travel and Tourism Council calculated that tourism generated 9.2% of India’s GDP in 2018, and this is expected to reach 9.9% GDP by 2028.
India is one of the most ancient civilisations in the world. People here are very God-fearing and devout towards their religion. And in this pursuit, they religiously follow various age-old traditions and beliefs.
Hinduism is the oldest and the predominant religion across India, while other religions like Islam, Buddhism and Christianity are less prevalent. Several major religious festivals, events and pilgrimages in India occur for as many as 2–15 days annually. During this period, lakhs of people visit the religious destination and offer their prayers. These places also witness a huge number of international visitors during those days.
The logistics involved in safely managing such huge crowds and ensuring proper arrangements for all devotees travelling from across the world is a massive challenge for the Central and State Governments. Also, for most of the Indian population travelling for religious purposes, luxury or comfort is not the priority.
They prefer free stays in Dharamshala’s or temples over expensive hotels, so another challenge is providing proper sanitation and hygiene facilities to these travellers. And attracting tourists to remote locations might require better connectivity to these regions to develop into commercial tourist sites. Let’s look into the logistics of some of the most important religious events and pilgrimages in India that witness huge crowds every year.
Tirumala Tirupathi is one such pilgrimage centre where 70,000 people visit on an average daily. The number of pilgrims can go as high as 1,00,000 during major festivals like Brahmotsavam, which is a 9 day-long affair.
After Tirupati Balaji temple was nominated as one of the Swachh Iconic Places (SIP) in 2016, special efforts are being put into making the place cleaner. Since 1 November, 2018, plastic has been completely banned inside the temple.
In 2019, TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams) provided free food, transportation and water services to pilgrims visiting during Brahmotsavam while keeping in check that no plastic items are used for these services inside the temple. TTD diligently checks water pollution by treating 83% of wastewater and using it for non-potable purposes. Tirumala has four sewage treatment plants having a capacity of treating 9.5 million litres per day.
The Kumbh Mela is considered the largest gathering of people in the world. Millions of people gather at four different holy places in the country for this special occasion to take a bath in the sacred rivers. In 2013 around 100 million people attended the occasion.
The 2019 Kumbh Mela had around 150 million visitors. Unfortunately, due to such a massive gathering, stampede incidents occur because of uncontrolled crowd management. Due to contact with so many people in the same vicinity, there is also the fear of exposure to various health-related issues.
Another challenge that arises because of the magnitude of the gathering is waste disposal and pollution. It becomes difficult to regulate such a large crowd, and usually, people are seen disposing of the waste on the streets, making the places look like a wasteland.
Water pollution is also a huge concern. In the 2013 Kumbh Mela, nearly 8 million people are estimated to have taken dips in the Holy Ganges river at Haridwar on its first day. The pollution level at the Sangam at Haridwar increased significantly due to this.
To combat this in 2019, extra water was released into the Ganges from the barrages and dams upstream. This ensured a constant water flow and avoided stagnation of water, which may have led to many diseases. Proper sanitation also becomes a big problem in this scenario. The State Government has constantly been working towards improving the situation and facilitating the devotees in the best way possible by streamlining the whole process.
According to reports, 1,20,000 toilets were installed for the 2019 Kumbh Mela. Around 500 sanitation workers were also deployed for proper management. Another important initiative is to raise awareness amongst the visitors to encourage them to keep the area clean. Taps are installed at various locations to provide clean drinking water to the pilgrims.
Government agencies like the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) are tasked to monitor the water pollution level and take action if it exceeds the required level.
The holy cave of Amarnath is revered by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims worldwide. It is one of the most famous pilgrimage destinations in India. It is considered the holiest shrine in the Hindu culture, and hence the Amarnath Yatra carries a huge significance for devotees.
It is organised every year by the Government of Jammu & Kashmir. The cave remains covered in snow but opens for travel for about 40 days every year. A massive number of devotees from across the globe visit the shrine during this period.
During the Amarnath Yatra, the devotees travelling from across the world are provided with the best possible facilities in a joint effort by the Central Government, State Government Police forces and the Indian Army. Due to these services and facilities provided by the Government, this pilgrimage, which was initially undertaken by only a limited number of people, has now turned into an annual pilgrimage ritual attended by many civilian devotees.
For India’s religiously inclined population, this initiative taken up by the state and the central Government is commendable. The past data suggests that the number of travellers has been increasing rapidly since the involvement of the Government and the establishment of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), with the number of travellers going as high as 6.5 lakhs in the year 2011.
Managing such a large crowd of untrained travellers trekking on a treacherous path, especially during extreme weather conditions, while ensuring each traveller’s safety is not an easy task. Besides these safety concerns, various environmental challenges come into the picture with this kind of huge gathering.
The sudden increase in infrastructure and facilities required to ensure the Yatra’s smooth conduct increases the environmental burden and disturbs the balance of nature at this remote location.
Many religious places in the country are in places where there are very high chances of natural calamities. All possible safety measures to save people during such natural calamities have to be arranged so that the people go on pilgrimages with “tension-free” minds. Proper measures have to be implemented to foresee such disasters so that people can be evacuated well in advance to safer places.
The roads in India are also not in good condition. The journey becomes more tiring because of these roads. So, steps must be taken to improve road transport facilities. Sometimes, people say trains and roads consume lots of time and days get wasted, so it would be better to travel by air, but it is too expensive. The cost is another obstacle people are facing in planning pilgrimage trips.
At some places, Government employees and localities behave harshly with the visitors, thus, spoiling the spiritual atmosphere. All employees and localities have to be educated to treat them in a friendly manner. Many people in such places exploit visitors for money in the name of God. Things like having educated tour guides and using technology to allow tourists to rate them can be helpful.
Maintaining the places neat and clean is of at most importance. Measures have to be taken to keep such places clean. The project of cleaning Ganga launched by our Honourable Prime Minister is an example of such a step. Many more projects like this have to come up.
Government guest houses and lodges have to come up in more numbers at affordable rates to the pilgrims. Enough number of restaurants have to be there. Many people suffer without anything to eat during their journeys. Proper food spots must be built which provide hygienic food at a reasonable rate.
It is essential to create awareness of such places. Things like short videos can be telecasted about the place. Information centres and websites have to be opened to provide visitors all the info regarding the significance of the place, nearby places to visit, hotels and lodges available, temple timings, tickets and costs for various sevas that can be offered at temples, nearby hospitals, nearby police stations, etc. Sitemaps can also be distributed to visitors.
By: Ramakrishna Reddy, Dalipriya K, Roopam, and Kaushik Maji.