Sabarimala (Kerala): Five days after the Sabarimala pilgrimage season opened, some unsavoury reports about prasadam and fleecing of pilgrims have come in, but administrators say it is just media sensationalism.
As one climbs the hill from the base point at Pamba to reach the temple atop, traditional crackers being burst is the first point of fleecing pilgrims.
A Rs.5 fire cracker is being sold for Rs.10 to pilgrims.
At the temple atop the hill, besides snatching a glimpse of Lord Ayyapan, the ruling deity, and paying him obeisance, the next important duty for all pilgrims is to collect the famed prasadam, consisting of 'appam' and 'aravana' (a pasty liquid which tastes similar to payasam).
A group of pilgrims from Thrissur was surprised to find the prasadam at the Ayyapan temple was infected with fungus.
In another incident, police seized bottled drinking water on Monday that was past its expiry date.
"We have found that people bursting crackers are overcharging. Hence we have displayed a board that one cracker is for Rs.5 only," said an official appointed to oversee the functioning of the pilgrimage.
A Bailey bridge built by the Madras Engineer Group (MEG) of the army on the diversion road linking Sannidhanam with Chandranandan Road, at a cost of Rs.90 lakh for pilgrims in the last season appears to be deserted.
The temple is run by the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB) and is a major source of revenue.
The aggregate revenue earned at Sabarimala in the 2011-2012 pilgrimage season was Rs.174.20 crore, up from Rs.153 crore the preceding season.
Speaking to IANS, TDB commissioner N. Vasu said the media was blowing things out of proportion.
"The bridge is kept for crowd control and today there is no need for sending pilgrims on their return journey (on it). As and when the crowd becomes voluminous, we will do that," said Mr Vasu.
He denied that water bottles past their "use before" dates were being supplied.
"We have given a contract for water to two companies and such a thing can never ever happen. Maybe bottles that were confiscated belonged to other companies who were selling them illegally. We are preparing appam for thousands of people. If anything is of poor quality, we immediately withdraw it," added Mr Vasu.
The pilgrimage season opened on Friday and would continue till Jan 15, the first day of the Malayalam month, with a break for a few days in December.
Situated in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level, the Sabarimala temple is four km uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district.
It is one of the most famous Hindu pilgrim centres in the whole of India.
The temple, which bars the entry of women who have attained puberty, is accessible only on foot from Pamba.