The summer rush in the Uttarakhand hills this season getting heavier. As the mercury rises in the plains, tens of thousands of tourists are flocking to the hills on a daily basis cramming roads and highways with serpentine snarls being a constant feature at top tourist destinations like the Char Dham shrines, Mussoorie, Nainital and Corbett Tiger Reserve.
From Mussoorie to Nainital and Kedarnath to Badrinath, tourists and pilgrims are coming in packed trains and buses even as long traffic jams and accommodation problems persist at all these places.
Kedarnath, located at a height of 11,755 feet in the Garhwal hills, has the capacity to accommodate less than 5,000 people. But the Himalayan shrine is receiving footfalls of 20,000-25,000 pilgrims almost everyday, said M.P. Thapliyal, Chairman of Kedarnath-Badrinath Temple Committee.
This means a tourist has to wait for hours to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Kedarnath for offering prayers.
"Almost all the hotels and guest houses are booked for weeks together in Uttarakhand," said a Tourist Department official.
"People must come prepared knowing very well that the tourist rush is very heavy this time in Uttarakhand," the official warned. People are even forced to sleep in the open due to lack of accommodation facilities.
Similar scenes are being witnessed at other three Char Dham shrines - Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri which are more than 300 km away from the holy city of Rishikesh, from where the ascent to the hills starts.
However, S.P. Kochhar, the owner of Mudhuban Grand Hotel in Mussoorie and also the President of the Mussoorie Dehradun hotel association, asserted that the mismanagement of tourism is creating problem in the state.
"The tourism is for leisure and pleasure. We need good management to deal with the heavy tourist rush. If there is bad management, then we are helpless," said Kochhar.
Director General (DG) Law and Order Ashok Kumar said he is closely monitoring the traffic problem and asserted that police is on high alert in the wake of the tourist rush.
The traffic problem is being compounded by the ongoing work on the Char Dham highway project between Rishikesh and Badrinath road.
"I wasted more than five hours to reach Badrinath because of the long traffic snarls at various points especially near Rishikesh and Joshimuth," said V.K. Saxena, Executive Director of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), who came to Badrinath last week.
The long traffic snarls is also due to long queues which are witnessed at petrol pumps in the hills. "The reasons are multiple. One big reason is infrastructure. Till the work on Char Dham project is completed, such type of situation will continue," said Ashok Kumar.
Even in the plains of Haridwar and Rishikesh, the situation is no different. "During the weekend the traffic rush is very heavy. But we are trying our best to deal with such situation," said Haridwar SSP Janmeyay Khanduri.