Junagarh (Gujarat), Nov 24: Every year hundreds of thousands of devotees walk around the Girnar Parvat. They walk around for 37-kilometre on-foot to perform the Parikrama or circumambulation of the hill.
During their pilgrimage, the devotees spend at least three days in forests that fall in pilgrims' route. But their stay in the forests, pose an environment threat.
Over the years, this large-scale consumption by thousands of devotees has led to rapid deforestation in this area.
The piligrims depend on firewood from the jungles from the Girnar mountain to prepare their daily meal. Apart from felling trees, they also leave behind non-degradable (polythene bags or plastic water bottles) material.
Over 800,000 devotees converged this year during the annual three-day ritual.
Hindus, Jains and Muslims regard Mount Girnar as a sacred hill. The young and old alike take up this Parikrama Yatra. The sole redeeming feature of this annual event is that people of all faiths cutting across their religious beliefs meet and take part in the ritual of Parikrama.
"Earlier, whenever we used to go to Sasangir or Somnath, we used to stop our cars here. There used to be a check-post to get the vehicles registered and get the permits issued. Now you can see, there is nothing. You cannot believe that this used to be a check post. It has now gone 15 kilometres off from this side. So bad has been the deforestation," said Chirag, a local resident.
Hindu devotees believe that climbing Girnar barefoot earns one a place in heaven. Also during the three-day Yatra, with the pilgrims camping in the forest area, animals feel quite uncomfortable by the human intrusion, as most of the time people leave behind the buring wood without dousing it properly.
"Too much disturbance is caused due to this Parikrama and such a large number of people in the forest area. There is a lot of dust and noise, and lots of disposable materials, most of them non-biodegradable that get accumulated in the Parikrama path. Lot of pilgrims go into the forest and cut branches of trees for wood to warm themselves or to cook food and prepare tea," said Amit Kumar, Conservator of Forests, Girnar Range, Gujarat.
The Forest Department says it is helpless and cannot prevent it, as it hurts people's religious sentiments.
Everyone feels it is better to leave the sleeping dogs lie and take no action. Meanwhile, the environment is getting worse day-by-day. By Sharada Maheta