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Uttarakhand floods: Families tell their tales of courage and fear

by Alka Pande  Jun 22, 2013 13:08 IST

#Chamba   #Dhanaulti   #Flood   #flood relief   #flood victims   #Rishikesh   #Uttarakhand  

A narrow escape

When Roli and her husband Amit Kumar Singh began their brief holiday to Uttarakhand with their three-year-old daughter, they had no idea what they were heading for. They had booked themselves in a resort at Chamba village near Tehri Dam.

“On June 15, we started from Lucknow in our I20 for Chamba. From Haridwar onwards the road was choc a bloc with traffic for over 30 km. Most of the cars were from Delhi, Haryana and Noida. It was raining heavily and we had to stay back in Rishikesh that night.” One can hear the excitement in Roli’s voice when she starts recalling the eventful holiday she had.

The journey began the next day.

“We were told that there had been a landslide near Fakot. The police was stopping everyone from moving upwards. But when we contacted the resort, the management there said that we could go as there was no problem at their end. Ours was the last car to go through."

Roli and Amit had big plans for their holiday. But the moment they arrived at the resort, all plans were crushed under the landslides.

“The moment we arrived at the resort the news came of landslides on both sides of Chamba – Rishikesh side and Dhanaulti side. Now we were stuck. Other families staying at the resort left the day we arrived. We were the only guests there. We couldn't move out of the resort since it was raining so heavily," they recall.

Staying for three days grounded in the resort, Roli and Amit started their journey back on the 18th when the sky cleared up a bit. "Although we could not go out anywhere, did not see any place, yet we came back home happy, and why not, at least we could make our way to home safely!" they said.

(Roli is a housewife and Amit works in the judicial security services section at the High Court).

Rescue workers carry an injured victim in Uttarakhand. AFP

Rescue workers carry an injured victim in Uttarakhand. AFP

Walking back home:

It was a long overdue trip for the Gupta family, especially the elderly ones who wanted to go to Kedarnath. Parashuram Gupta, the personal secretary to a Principal Secretary level official in the Home Department of UP government, booked a mini bus. On June 12, a group of 15 members including Gupta himself left for their abode.

All arrangements (with provisions) were made for a 15 day trip to Yamunotri, Gangotri and the final destination was Kedarnath temple.

“It started raining when we arrived at Yamunotri. We had to take shelter in a lodge at Janaki Chatti. Water was flooding the outside area and inside (the lodge) there was a flood of people. Thousands of travellers had taken shelter in that lodge,” says Gupta, narrating the harrowing tale of his journey. “We had taken food and other necessary things for the whole journey, but it was finished within two days of staying in the lodge. There were so many people and when you see so many hungry people you cannot eat alone. We were sharing."

Gupta and his family, as well as thousands of other devotees stranded in the mountains, could not resume their pilgrimage. But they kept waiting for nature’s wrath to calm down before they could find their way back to their homes.

“It was such a bitter experience. It was like being locked in a jail with no facility around. All approach roads were damaged. We inquired from the government authorities as to how long it would take for the roads to be repaired and usable again. They said at least 10-15 days. That was the time we decided not to wait for any help to arrive but find our own way. So we started walking down," recalls Gupta.

Leaving the vehicle that they had hired to take them to Yamunotri, Gangotri and then to Kedarnath, Gupta and the other 14 members of his group had been walking on broken roads for last 24 hours.

“We must have walked 17-18 km so far”, says Gupta while his son Sushobhit back home is keeping a track of the family’s welfare over the phone.

Waiting turns into desperation:

Some had been lucky to at least get a chance to walk back home. But there are many who are still missing and the family members are pleading everyone to tell them about their welfare.

Anupam Shukla, who works in a private MNC in Lucknow, is one such person. His mother Kiran Shukla, working in Sales Tax office, sister Shivangi Shukla, a housewife, her husband Ajay Shukla, the UP Nirvachan Adhikari posted in Bareilly; and their two children ( two and half year old daughter and nine year old son) along with Ajay’s parents are still missing with no information about their whereabouts.

Anupam is pleading for information about his mother, sister and the other family members. “They had arrived at Kedarnath temple on 15th and checked into a guest house in front of the temple. I talked to my mother that day and she sounded thrilled. She said ‘It is such a nice place I can have round the clock darshan of the deity.”

Her happiness could not last long. Anupam contacted them again on 16th when they all sounded a little scared. There was no electricity in the guest house. They told me, “it appears like we have got stuck and it seems difficult to get out of the situation”. My mother asked me to pray for them.”

“On 17th my mother told me that some pond or water body has given way and that has damaged the guest house and cracked its walls. This was the last time I heard from her."

“Next day my sister’s husband called to let me know that they have shifted from the guest house and have taken shelter in houses next to the temple. He also told me that there were at least 1000-1200 others in that area who had taken shelter there. Since then I have no idea of where they are."

Anupam has shared his number with police control room and many other strategic places asking every to contact if there is any information about his family. “I am worried about all those who have got stranded there but my family is my priority.”

After waiting for 4-5 days to get some news about the family now Anupam’s elder brother has left for Dehradun to search for the family. On Saturday, Anupam is also going to see if he can get some news.

Power also gets a taste of nature’s fury

A ruling party MLA Gomti Yadav is also stuck in Badrinath. Yadav had gone to Char Dham pilgrimage on June 9 in a group of over a dozen people. The weather suddenly changed on the weekend when Yadav along with his troupe arrived at Badrinath. Since then he and his gang has found shelter in a lodge. Foregoing his tantrums, the MLA for last one week is staying along with other 50 people on a small lodge and eating the same food as others.

Gomti Yadav an originally BJP member joined the SP after the Samajwadi Party offered him an assembly ticket from Bakshi Ka Talab just before the last assembly elections in 2012.

Humanity gets washed away in floods

One thing is common among all who are either stuck in the flood’s fury or who have managed a safe trip to back home – the inhumanity and callousness of the traders in Uttarakhand. “People go to such journeys praying for the welfare of the humanity and the locals residing there are fleecing the pilgrims that too in such a calamity, when, on the contrary they should have thrown open their doors for the people in distress”, says Kailashnath Hathyogi, a mahant and an activist. Kailashnath had also gone to Char Dham Yatra and after spending five days in a shelter is on his way back to his ashram.

A packet of biscuits which costs Rs 10 otherwise is being sold at Rs 100-150. A cup of tea which is normally for Rs 5 or 10 is costing Rs 45-50. The hoteliers and owners of inns and guest houses are demanding double and triple the normal tariff. The private chopper services are trying to strike deals with hapless victims for lakh and more for one trip.

“The situation could have been a bit better in case the government had made proper arrangements but the governments seem to have lost any sensitivity. Although it is not the time for such criticism but there was no response or reaction from either the Uttarakhand government or the Uttar Pradesh government, initially. The help started quite late”, says Anupam, who is still waiting to hear some good news about his mother and sister and her family.