Friday last, the 16-day pilgrimage to the Manimahesh Lake in the Bharmour Valley in Chamba district, sacred to Lord Shiva, concluded. The pilgrimage is considered just as arduous as Uttarakhand's Char Dham Yatra.
There was a six-fold decline in the number of pilgrims, as compared to previous years, officials said.
The yatra, which concluded Friday, was undertaken by 76,222 pilgrims, who included 10,534 women. Last year, over 500,000 people undertook the pilgrimage.
Sub-divisional magistrate and pilgrimage in-charge Jitender Kanwar said there was decline in the arrival not only of pilgrims but also tourists.
"This may be due to intense rains in the Kedarnath-Badrinath sector that unleashed death and destruction," he said.
Kanwar also attributed the decline in arrival of the pilgrims to the shorter duration of the yatra this year.
"Last year, the pilgrimage was of 45 days; this time, it was just for 16 days. This might be the reason for the low arrival," he said.
Officially, the pilgrimage was from Aug 28 to Sep 13, but devotees started trekking on the route even before this, Kanwar said.
"According to our estimates, around 50,000 devotees visited the lake before the onset of the official yatra," he said.
Every year, the Manimahesh pilgrimage begins on the eve of Janmashtami festival dedicated to Lord Krishna's birth and concludes with Radhashtami (the birth of Lord Krishna's consort Radha).
Officials said even during the annual "Chhari Yatra" or the procession of Lord Shiva's mace, which started from the 1,000-year-old Lakshmi Narayan temple in Chamba town to the Manimahesh Lake a week before the culmination of the pilgrimage, there was notable decline in the participation of sadhus or ascetics.
Taking a lesson from Uttarakhand's disaster, the state government this time made it mandatory for devotees to get themselves registered for the yatra.
Every year, devotees undertake the arduous 14-km trek from the Hadsar base camp, 65 km from Chamba town, some 450 km from here, to the oval-shaped, glacial-fed Manimahesh Lake, located at an altitude of 13,500 feet, from where they can see Mount Kailash, believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva, and offer prayers.
During the pilgrimage this year, three people died. There were six deaths last year.
--IANS (Posted on 15-09-2013)