As the academic year draws to a close and schools shutter their doors, a unique phenomenon sweeps across Bhutan. Many Bhutanese from across the country are rushing out on a sacred journey to Dorjiden where the Kagyu Monlam Chhenmo is underway.

This annual migration is a departure from the ordinary for many Bhutanese, who exchange the monotony of village life for a transformative journey to revered Buddhist sites like Bodhgaya, Varanasi, Manali, Resalwar lake and other holy Buddhist sites. With meagre possessions, a handful of utensils, and provisions, families venture forth, driven solely by their unwavering religious conviction.

Coming straight out of remote villages, the destinations many of these pilgrims embark upon, with nothing but religious conviction in the journey they undertake, are overwhelming confrontations indeed for the pilgrims, some of whom have not even been outside the confines of their small towns, not to talk of education and exposure.

The scant information they glean from village mates who had visited earlier little prepares them to tackle, on their own, the snarling traffic, the complexities of bustling metropolis enroute, the weather and an altogether different cultural entity.

The Bhutanese pilgrims are thus a very vulnerable lot. We have heard stories of them being harassed, cheated, misled, travelling in over-crowded trucks and buses, forcefully stranded enroute and suffering mis-treatment. At the pilgrim sites, they make do in crowded tents where sanitary arrangements are poor or almost non-existent, posing a grave danger to their lives and those of their folks back home in case of a disease outbreak.

Seen in this light, even as pilgrimage is a private affair, there is an absolute necessity to inform and organise the pilgrims—be it at the village, dzongkhag or national level. Whether it is to arrange transport, or accommodation, or travel itinerary, they would be much better off, safer, if there was a mechanism whereby they know where to turn to for guidance.

The number of pilgrims already runs into thousands and the need for such an arrangement will only grow in future as more people can afford to undertake pilgrimages with the rise in their income.

And no mishap, big or small, is likely to deter them from visiting these sacred places which for most is the chance of a lifetime. They are driven by faith, and in faith they draw their courage and strength from.

As the pilgrimage tradition continues to thrive, it is the responsibility of the nation to shepherd its faithful through the complexities of the modern world, allowing them to embark on their spiritual journeys with confidence and security.