Pashupatinath officials estimate 1 million visitors on Mahashivaratri next weekMore than 700 sadhus from India and Nepal’s Tarai have already arrived in Kathmandu for the annual festival. Experts urge caution even as the Omicron virus variant is on the wane.
The Pashupati Area Development Trust is making preparations to welcome around one million visitors to the annual Mahashivaratri festival at the Pashupatinath temple next week.
While health experts have suggested taking extra precautions as the Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, the trust, during a press conference organised in Kathmandu on Tuesday, did not mention if it plans to implement Covid safety measures during the festival.
Pashupatinath is a highly revered Shiva temple in Nepal and also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This year the Mahashivaratri festival, which is celebrated on the basis of the lunar calendar, falls on March 1.
“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we could not open the temple for the last two years. Now that the pandemic is on the wane, we expect more than a million visitors this Shivaratri,” said Milan Kumar Thapa, member-secretary of the trust.
A retired official of the trust who was present at the press conference on Tuesday said the trust should have addressed the pandemic-related concerns of the public.
“Maybe they don’t want to impose any restrictions hoping that more people would visit the temple. But certain health protocols are a must,” said the official requesting anonymity.
Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku said the risk of Covid-19 infection is now low but the trust should be very careful about managing the crowd. “It should make certain health protocols for the festival,” said Pun.
On Tuesday, Nepal reported 476 Covid-19 cases with three Covid-19 related fatalities in the past 24 hours. The nationwide death toll since the start of the pandemic has reached 11,928.
Likewise, Kathmandu Valley recorded 126 new infections in the past 24 hours. Of these, 101 cases were confirmed in Kathmandu, 10 in Lalitpur and 15 in Bhaktapur districts.
“Most of the people are vaccinated here, and people have already had multiple infections so they have developed a certain level of immunity against the disease. But the trust should still impose social distancing and mask requirements, and make sanitisers available for visitors,” said Pun.
The trust plans to spend Rs11 million in Mahashivaratri festival arrangements. In 2020, it had allocated Rs 7.5 million for the festival.
Last year due to the virus threat very few people had visited the temple during the Mahashivaratri festival. This year the temple, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, was closed from January 19 due to virus surge and reopened on February 11 allowing only 50 devotees at a time.
This time, over 700 sadhus from India and Nepal’s Tarai have already entered Kathmandu for the festival. The trust has allocated Rs2.8 million for their food and accommodation, and to give them gifts including shawls and dakshina [donation].
“I think the trust should screen especially the sadhus coming from India for Covid,” said the retired trust official.