India party leader Rahul Gandhi makes flood tribute pilgrimage

Kedarnath shrine on Sunday 15 June 2014
Image caption Kedarnath temple is a major pilgrimage centre for Hindus

Senior Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi has visited the Hindu shrine of Kedarnath in northern India two years after flash floods devastated the region.

Mr Gandhi, who trekked 16km (10 miles) to reach the shrine on Friday, said he hoped others would follow him to boost tourism in Uttarakhand state.

Hundreds of other pilgrims are also visiting the renovated shrine.

More than 5,700 people are believed to have died in the floods.

Four thousands villages in Rudraprayag district were affected.

The shrine is situated in the Himalayas, about 11,755ft above sea level near Chorabari Glacier, and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Mr Gandhi was among the first pilgrims to visit the temple on Friday when it opened for pilgrimage.

Image copyright BBC Hindi
Image caption Rahul Gandhi walked 16kms to visit the shrine on Friday morning

"I wanted to walk the distance as a tribute to the people who died in the tragedy in 2013," NDTV quoted him as saying.

He began the trek on Thursday and spent the night at a government-run shelter the news channel reported, adding that he turned down the offer to use a government helicopter to fly to the temple.

Mr Gandhi recently returned from a nearly two-month-long sabbatical and has been uncharacteristically active in politics since then, leading his party in its campaign against the government's controversial land reforms policy and the issue of internet freedom in India.

Meanwhile, hundreds of other pilgrims have arrived from across India and Nepal to visit the famous shrine, reports BBC Hindi's Shiv Joshi in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand state.

Authorities have constructed new roads leading up to Guptakashi, near Kedarnath, and lodges and hotels in the area have been refurbished to accommodate the visiting pilgrims, our correspondent adds.

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