June 21, 2013 4:14:21 am
For the last few days,Siddiq Gandhi has been busy making calls to Delhi and Uttarakhand to ensure a safe return of the pilgrims who are caught in the cloudburst. None of Gandhis family or friends is trapped in the deluge that has swept off several lives and homes in Uttarakhand. A Muslim tour operator,Gandhi has been trying to bring back Gujarati pilgrims on Chaar Dhaam yatra,who have been trapped in the hills.
Since Wednesday,Gandhi has been in constant touch with the District Collector of Vadodara as well as his contacts in Delhi to ensure that tourists from Gujarat – regardless of the location or their original travel agent – are safely brought back to their homes in the state. On Wednesday,he arranged for 10 special buses through his contacts in Uttarakhand to evacuate stranded Gujarati pilgrims from Haridwar via an alternate route as the main road to Delhi has been snapped. While the exact number of pilgrims from the city and the state,who travelled to Uttarakhand,is still unavailable,about 450 pilgrims are returning on the 10 buses on Friday.
Gandhi is among many Muslim tour operators in the state who conduct tours to Chaar Dhaam – the most revered pilgrimage for Hindus. Most tour operators to Chaar Dhaam are Muslims. Our Hindu brothers trust us to take them safely through the tricky hills where their revered shrines are located. We hire trained escorts and specialise in the Hindu yatra, says Gandhi,adding that they do not undertake tours to Haj and Umra as they do not have the expertise for the same.
Each bus cost these operators more than 100% of its normal fare,but they have decided not to charge the tourists for additional costs. Gandhi says,This is not the time to think about the loss in business. We just want the people to return safely. The buses will go across to many major cities in Gujarat,including Ahmedabad,Rajkot and Himmatnagar,dropping off people in their respective cities. If the pilgrims come back safe,I will be at peace.
Lalabhai Jirawala of Jirawala Tours and Travels has kept 25 buses on stand-by in Vadodara to fetch the stranded pilgrims. He says,The collector has told us to keep buses available. If they signal us to fetch pilgrims,we will not hesitate. Lalabhais travellers had a lucky escape as they left just a day before the cloudburst. The spirit of Gujarat goes beyond religion. It is about being united together in times of crisis, he says.
Syed Rizwan,an escort with a group of passengers in Haridwar,says the passion for conducting tours to the shrines in the hills is beyond business profits. People who make religion everything must come and see how close we came to death here. We were not asked which religion we belonged to. It is more satisfying to see the tourists safe, he says.
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