The sought-after medicinal drinking water, distributed among pilgrims at the famed Lord Ayyappa temple here while trekking, is now available in bottles, thanks to the COVID-19 vigil.

In the wake of the widespread virus outbreak, the Travancore Devswom Board (TDB), the apex temple body which manages the hill temple, has launched a new system of distributing the specially prepared drinking water in separate steel bottles to avoid the risk of the disease spread.

According to TDB officials, pilgrims can pay a deposit of Rs 200 to receive a steel bottle in which they can collect medicinal drinking water from the Anjaneya auditorium in Pamba, the base camp.

When the steel bottle is returned to the counter after the darshan, the deposit amount would be refunded, they said.

Besides this, water is also distributed in disposable paper glass at various points like Pamba, Charalmedu, Jyothinagar and Malikappuram in the trekking route, as part of COVID-19 precautionary measures, they added.

The medicinal drinking water, distributed among Lord Ayyappa devotees during every pilgrim season, is prepared by boiling herbal articles like ‘chukk’ (dried ginger), ‘ramacham’ (vetiver) and ‘pathimukham’ (sappanwood) .

Used paper glass, abandoned by devotees, is collected and disposed in an eco-friendly manner.

Medicinal drinking water is prepared at the distribution centres itself, they said adding that the employees who distribute it wear mask, face shields and gloves, adhering to COVID protocols.

Currently, there are three to four employees working on a shift basis at the four medicinal water distribution centres at Sabarimala.

A total of 55 temporary employees were working eight hours a day there, the officials added.

Dhanu S Krishnan is the Special Officer for the medicinal drinking water programme.

The annual two- month-long Mandala-Makaravilakku season at Sabarimala began on November 16, adhering to strict Covid-19 guidelines.

It is the first annual pilgrimage season at the hill temple after the coronavirus outbreak.