Gangtok, 17 Jul:

The annual 'Bol Bam' pilgrimage, a month-long festival dedicated to Lord Shiva and observed in the Hindu month of Shrawan, has been hit hard by the ongoing crisis in the Darjeeling hills.

“This time we are getting very few enquiries for this annual affair,” said one driver, Ashish Rai.

With uncertainties regarding safe passage of vehicles along NH 10, devotees are happy observing the traditional practice of offering water to the deity in nearby temples.

“I take the Bol Bam journey every year. However, this year I missed it because I always take my family along with me and the chaos I hear about almost every day along the highway makes this a risky proposition. Travelling with your family in a taxi could be dangerous, leave alone taking our private vehicle!,” says Kiran Gurung, citing the example of the recent vandalism of Sikkim registered vehicles in Siliguri and other parts of Darjeeling/Kalimpong hills along the highway.

Similarly, many devouts complained of astronomical amounts demanded by drivers for reserving a taxi for the annual pilgrimage.

“What we used to pay for the reservation has now doubled,” says a member of a spiritual organisation 'Shiv Yog', Ravi.

Some have cancelled their trip to Baidyanath Temple in Deoghar, Jharkhand and have opted for Jalpeshwar Temple in Jalpaiguri due to a relatively low budget.

While for some, even the Jalpeshwar Temple in Jalpaiguri is a distant dream with the travel fares burning a hole in their pockets.

“We cannot go anywhere this year due to the risk and money factors involved,” said a street food vendor, Pintu.

However, this has resulted in higher footfalls in Shiva temples in the State.

With the observance of the first Monday - a holy day marked for Lord Shiva - by the Hindu Nepalese today, the temples witnessed a large congregation of devouts.

“Each year, there are more and more people interested in observing the holy month of Shrawan and this year the numbers are the highest,” said a local priest in Shiva Temple, Jalipool, located in the outskirts of the capital.

There are also reports of large gathering of devotees from other parts of the State in major Shiva temples and sites including Kirateshwara Temple in Legship and Chaar Dhaam in Namchi.

Shiva temples in the capital also witnessed a sea of devouts queuing in lines to offer water to the Lingam - a representation of Shiva.

In the holy month of Shrawan, Monday is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Tuesday is dedicated to his consort Goddess Parvati.