BHUBANESWAR: With two days to go before the annual sojourn of The Trinity starts, the beeline to Puri has begun. The State Government, which is expecting a footfall of three millions during the festival, is counting on Indian Railways to ferry a majority of tourists and pilgrims to the holy town.
From July 18 till Suna Besha, the Railways will ply at least 218 special trains to Puri to meet the tourist rush. Special trains have been introduced for the first time from many parts of the State to facilitate arrival of domestic tourists in large numbers. Trains are being run from Bhawanipatna, Rourkela, Keonjhar and Bangiriposhi apart from Jagdalpur.
Last year, the Railways operated 85 special trains which carried about 1.85 lakh travellers. This year, the Nabakalebara festival is likely to see over 4.5 lakh being ferried by the rail route.
In the recorded history of Rath Yatra, Indian Railways has played a major carrier of devotees to Puri. The year 1912, the first Nabakelebara festival after rail links were established with Puri, saw an unprecedented number of tourists, according to the then District Magistrate Pandit Rama Ballav Mishra’s letter to Commissioner of Odisha.
While the rush was expected to be huge, the Rath Yatra was attended by about three lakh people around 103 years back. The pilgrims were supplied with drinking water by local authorities but an outbreak of cholera was reported which claimed over 1,000 deaths in July and August, documents recording the Rath Yatra reveal. The inadequate arrangements at Puri, Sakhigopal and Bhubaneswar railway stations for pilgrim traffic led to serious overcrowding and contributed to the cholera spread.
However, over the decades, the infrastructure has improved significantly and so have amenities. This year, expecting a record turnout, the East Coast Railways has come up with a massive Rail Yatri Complex near Puri station where 10,000 travellers can be accommodated at a time for free of cost. With 70 toilets and other basic amenities, the Railways is looking to use this shelter as a crowd holding centre. Another temporary accommodation is also coming up near the parking area.
CCTV surveillance, dog squads and additional lady RPF personnel are being deployed at the station as well as at tourists’ complex. Plans have been made for emergency exit in case of exigencies.
“We have been working in coordination with the district administration and police to ensure full security as well as basic amenities for devotees,” Chief Public Relations Officer JP Mishra said.
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