Fewer than 700 pilgrims arrived in the city in the first week of the pilgrim season
Scenes of black-clad pilgrims dancing to the beat of drums, decorated vehicles moving in and out without interruption, and seasonal shops crowded with visitors … Erumeli becomes a hive of activity when the annual pilgrimage season to Sabarimala takes off. But not this year.
The Temple City, the main base station for the Hill Sanctuary, appears deserted, with fewer than 700 pilgrims arriving here in the first week of the season. This is in stark contrast to the roughly 25,000 pilgrims who passed through the city daily the previous season.
“The closure of the forest roads to Sabarimala, the daily limit on the number of pilgrims and the condition that they must produce a COVID-19-negative certificate made 24 hours before reaching Nilackal prompted devotees to bypass Erumeli and head for directly to the hill shrine, ”said a senior official from the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB).
The decline in the number of visitors to the two temples of Ayyappa and the Nainar Mosque has left the streets here, which usually throb in the spiritual frenzy of Petta Thullal, desolate. It also appears to have a huge impact on local businesses, with most restaurants, shops, parking lots and even sanitary complexes, which only operate during the two-month season, remaining closed.
For example, TDB could only rent 15 of the 74 items auctioned this season, while auction revenues, which crossed ₹ 3 crore last time around, have not even reached ₹ 10 lakh.
“After the e-auction and open auction elicited a close to zero response, we had to donate some of the essentials such as parking, sanitary complex, coconuts and batteries at a very low price. A few seasonal shops have also been opened and are being run more as an offer to Lord Ayyappa than for profit, ”said Krishnakumar Warrier, Deputy Commissioner, TDB.
Jamaat too hit
The Erumeli Jamaat, which has a parking lot and sanitary facilities, as well as the household units that make a living making items for pilgrims have also suffered losses.
The KSRTC, which recorded around ₹ 3.5 crore from its special Sabarimala services through Erumeli last year, is also facing a crisis.
Compared to the 80 timetables operated with 35 buses the previous season, KSRTC has only operated a handful of services in the Kottayam-Erumeli-Pampa sector so far this season.