With hardly six days left for the commencement of Sabarimala pilgrimage, it is going to be an uphill task for authorities to put all amenities in place, at the Lord Ayyappa Temple, where a huge turnout of devotees is expected.
The shrine, nestled in the sprawling Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghats, was witness to violent protests against the entry of women in the menstrual age, when it was opened in October and early this month for monthly pujas.
This is going to be the first 'Mandala Makkarvillakku' season after the massive destruction caused by the August floods, which saw most of the infrastructure facilties at Pamba, including resting places and toilets, totally damaged or destroyed.
As the hill shrine gears up to receive at least 25,000 to one lakh pilgrims a day during the annual season, devotees are a little wary about the facilities at the temple town and nearby areas.
Raghu, a pilgrim, who visits the shrine every year, said Nilackal, which has been converted as a base camp, neither has adequate resting facilities nor toilets for devotees who would be reaching there from various places of the country.
A Padmakumar, President of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the temple, is confident that all the construction works at Nilackal would be completed within five days. "Floods have badly affected Pamba and we have made Nilackal, the base camp. It's very difficult to arrange all facilities at Nilackal within such a short span of time," he told news agency PTI.
"But there was already space for 4,000 devotees to keep their irumudikettu (offerings for Lord Ayyappa carried by devotees on their head). We have constructed three sheds there which can accommodate 10,000 more," he said.
According to the Board, the highest number of pilgrims recorded at Sabarimala was 5.20 lakh for the "Makara Vilakku" day, last year.On rest of the days, the number of pilgrims vary from 25,000 to one lakh.