Sitting at her small gift shop near Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar, Janki Devi seems clueless as to how she will meet her daily expenses as the usual pilgrim rush has decreased in the temple town. She is among several other shopkeepers in Haridwar who were expecting huge rush due to Kanwar Yatra that has been cancelled by the Uttarakhand government amid fears of third wave. According to official estimates, around 30 million Kanwariyas reached Haridwar and Rishikesh two years ago in just two weeks.
“Kanwar Yatra gives ample business to cover expenses for months and a chance to plan for the future,” says 46-year-old Janka Devi. She offers bells, ‘prasad’, bangles, vermilion at her shop. For hundreds of shopkeepers in twin temple cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh, religious tourism is the only way of livelihood.
Some traders blamed the Tirath Singh Rawat government for the mismanagement at Kumbh Mela in April that led to the surge in Covid cases.
Umashankar (goes by one name), who has a gift shop in Haridwar, said, “Kumbh gave us some business but was not enough. We were looking forward to Kanwar (Yatra).”
Before the Covid pandemic, Uttarakhand used to witness high tourist footfall for three important religious events — Kanwar Yatra, Char Dham (Badrinath, Kedaranath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri) and Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage.
Since last year, Kanwar and Kailash Mansarovar events have stopped taking place. Although the Char Dham Yatra was recently permitted for the residents of three districts but the High Court stayed it in view of the Covid situation.
Like Kanwar Yatra, Char Dham is another pilgrimage that supports the livelihood of lakhs of families across seven districts of Garhwal region. Although the Char Dham pilgrimage was held with restrictions last year, local businessmen complained that it was eyewash.
Rajesh Mehta, a Badrinath-based hotelier, said Covid has left him with no choice. Mehta borrowed loan from a bank this year to expand his hotel in hope of a good business. “One business supports several families and with me several other families have gone jobless,” he said.