Every year the Jagannath Rath Yatra brings a lot of merriment and a sea of devotees to the holy city of Puri considered as Lord Jagannath's abode on earth.
The festival, however, will be different this time as the number of pilgrims and devotees would be cut down considerably after the recent floods played spoilsport and snapped transport lines connecting West Bengal and Orissa.
Hotel and guesthouse owners, travel agencies and even priests are a crestfallen lot this year, with only a few tourist bookings on record even as preparations for the Rath Yatra were already complete.
The recent floods which breached a vital bridge over the Keleghai river in West Bengal's in West Midnapore district between Kharagpur and Bhadrak has resulted in the cancellation of several trains to Puri.
At present only one train is running between Howrah and Puri, which prevents the tourists from Bengal and the Northeast, who form the bulk, from reaching the pilgrim town.
Only a day left before the Rath Yatra takes place, hotel-owners are worrying that there will not be many visitors this year.
"Generally all hotels, lodges, guesthouses, holiday homes are totally booked. But most of the tourists from West Bengal and other states have cancelled their bookings as the only train running between Howrah and Puri is taking around 24 hours to reach Puri instead of the usual 10 hours," Deepak Sahu, a hotel-owner, told PTI over the phone.
He said to partially offset the problem, they were offering huge discounts for the Rath Yatra period, but still there were no takers.
Owners of one of the oldest and biggest hotels in town, Puri Hotel which boasts of 200 rooms, told PTI that this year was going to be the leanest in memory considering that six to seven lakh people visit the pilgrim town every year.
They expressed surprise that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, member of Parliament from Puri Brajakishore Tripathy, and local legislator Maheshwar Mohanty have not taken up the matter of resumption of normal train services on the Puri-Howrah route with Railway Minister Lalu Prasad.
"The Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath is the most important event in Orissa. It is high time that Patnaik or Tripathy told the
railways to speed up work and start normal train services at
"Otherwise 'Bahuda', return of the chariots from the house of Lord Jagannath's aunt to the temple on July 12, would also be affected," they said.
Puri district magistrate R R Patnaik, however, said like every year this year too preparations for the Rath Yatra were going on as usual and the district administration had made the same arrangements.
"Special permits are being given to bus owners to ply between Kolkata and Puri, so that more tourists from West Bengal could attend the Rath Yatra," he said.