Char Dham Yatra: Things to keep in mind if you plan to go on the pilgrimage

According to reports, over 120 pilgrims have died while undertaking this year’s Char Dham Yatra, owing to health-related issues. Addressing the loss of lives, an expert committee has suggested mandatory health check-up for those aged 50 and above. The Char Dham Yatra, which began May 3, comprises a tour to the four holy shrines of Kedarnath (3,553 metres), Badrinath (3,300 metres), Yamunotri (3,291 metres) and Gangotri (3,415 metres). While deaths due to cardiac issues and breathlessness enroute the high-altitude pilgrim sites happen every year, the toll this year has been unusually high, reports say.

Talking to The Indian Express, Dr KS Chauhan, chief medical officer of Uttarkashi district, had said all the pilgrim deaths reported in the district were of devotees travelling on foot. “There is an elevation on these trekking paths and when people keep walking, they do not realise the sudden decrease in oxygen level. People keep moving without enough rest and then complain of dizziness. Most people who died had problems like hypertension, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Some also had recovered from Covid in the past years,” he said.

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The expert committee said that over 60 per cent of the pilgrims were suffering from serious ailments and co-morbidities, and Uttarakhand State Health Secretary Radhika Jha also stated that health check-ups on the yatra route are being done, and those found unfit are being advised to return. They have indicated that extreme cold conditions and breathing issues combined with post-Covid complications, and other co-morbidities like heart ailments, and high blood sugar levels may have resulted in the deaths.

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As such, as part of the government’s precautionary measures, specialty doctors and a team, 112 ambulances service, along with air ambulance on the route have been made available.

Addressing the same, doctors mention that lingering fatigue and heart-related discomfort are increasingly being found in people who recover from Covid-19. “Heart attacks and strokes have become more common in adults and the elderly because of post-Covid increase in thrombotic events. This can be one of the contributing factors in older adults who have had covid and commenced the Char Dham Yatra without getting certain checkups done,” said Dr Sandeep Gore, Director-Emergency Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.

kedarnath The Char Dham yatra includes Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamnotri temples. (Express Archives)

Things to consider if you plan to take the yatra

It is extremely important to ascertain your overall health and fitness, and even get a full-body checkup done before taking the yatra. Older adults who go for the yatras, sometimes, are not fit enough for such rugged terrains, and hence, they must train a little — ideally, from six months before the trip, said Dr Gore.

*Pilgrims should rest a day or two before starting the arduous journey.

“People with heart ailments or other underlying medical conditions must consult a doctor before embarking on the journey. Weight-related issues must also be addressed six months prior. Also, before starting the journey, keep all necessary medications and medical equipment, like pulse oximeters, handy for better observation and timely medication,” Dr Gore advised.

*Those looking to undertake the pilgrimage “must improve their overall fitness by doing regular aerobic exercises like brisk walking, swimming, cycling, etc”.

“Work towards bringing your weight to normal ranges of BMI. It is also advised to consult doctors before the yatra and start a prophylactic medicine named acetazolamide to prevent high-altitude mountain sickness. One must understand that Kedarnath and Yamunotri are proper high-altitude treks, and one has to do hiking activities from 2,500 metres to 3,500 meters,” said Dr Gore.

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