Last weekend we had a reunion of our school. 24 years have passed since we all passed X th. But the fun, banter and bonding we had last week were the same as it were 24 years back. Those were the days. Summer of 89, the year we passed out was very special. It was a long vacation without any worries. I remember all the indoor and outdoor games played with friends, swimming, a great Mumbai trip, Wimbledon won by Becker vs Edberg, Ashes (though many compare 2013 ashes places same as 89 when Aussies were weak and Pommies stronger), good academic result and admission to junior college of choice, few Sahyadri night and monsoon treks and to top it all a Himalayan Trek . My romance with Himalayas started then. I have already described in my last post here about my latest visit in May 13, so the Himalayan memories are fresh. And then this tragedy struck last Monday.
I had a wonderful experience of Kedarnath in 89. The place is divine. I had a chance to do a Pooja abhishek along with a Gujarati family who had six passes and one of them was unwell. So i filled in. The entire landscape is great with snow capped Kedar dome at the backdrop with the glaciers all around. Then the place had very few dharamshalas and hotels. Things were manageable and pristine. The entire road from Gaurikund till Kedarnath is narrow with horses, human taxis plying menacingly. We had stayed at Rambada at the half way. The weather was cold. Our trek started at place called Ghuttu which is on the banks of Bhillangana which meets Bhagirathi. We trekked till a heavenly place called Panwali , then to Trijuginarayan, Sonprayag, Ukhimath, Gaurikund , Kedarnath to Chopta, Tunganath, Govindghat, Ghangriya, Hemkund sahib, valley of flowers, Badrinath and Mana pass was the last destination. This Garhwal stretch was amazing. It’s actually a land of God. But today did it face wreath of God, no it was manmade tragedy caused by nature’s fury.....
Now imagine the situation of those trapped at Kedarnath that night. Imagine if you are trapped at such location due to torrential rains, and gushing Mandakini destroying everything around, amidst landslides, beneath the debris of falling houses, in company of the dead bodies, braving cold, without lights, and no one to help. You either survive by luck or face an insect like death. It would have been a dance of death. Those with their lifelines strong survived rest perished. Some of those dead were lucky to have their bodies found and had cremation. Out of them some got luckier to be identified. Then the survivors had bigger ordeal. They now had to overcome lack of food, water and cut off from world due to landslides and rivers. That is where our civilian disaster management agencies failed. We don’t have any such plan. We are not even prepared. Thanks to Army, many of the survivors had a rebirth. They were evacuated due to tireless efforts of army, air force, ITBP. I do not imagine state of India if these two institutions: Defence and Judiciary would have been weaker. We would have been living in hell like Pakistan. And this must have been the fate of others who were trapped in Hemkund, Badrinath, Gangotri as well. I have not till now heard about places in Kumaou and Har Ki dun where i had trekked. Hope they are doing better now. Many places in Himachal luckily escaped the situation except for Kinnaur. I am so familiar with this region that my heart still bleeds. Those who want to help can contact me offline for what we can do within our capacity.
I used to always wonder how environmentally sensitive places could sustain uncontrolled tourism. Every company in every town in India of all sizes are promoting Char Dham yatra. Imagine the number of tourists coming to the area and support staff needed. Add to that increasing local population and migration due to commercial activities. Then they have to be accommodated. Now add to that construction work, cutting of trees and hill slopes. Himalayas are the youngest mountains and some terrains are really treacherous. Ahead of Mana where we went, there is a moraine where even if your cough can trigger avalanches. I had a chance to see avalanche there in 89. Now add to that tinker of water beds and construction of dams which has resulted in seismic activity which then have further impacts.
I am sharing a photo which is claimed to be taken in 1882 for survey purposes by Britishers. It must have been heaven then. Even in 89 we had witnessed places like Tunganath and Panwali which had similar look as in the photo. Earlier people used to stay at Gaurikund, do a single day trek to Kedarnath to return back. Thus only mandir people used to stay there. Such ecological practices are must in the region. Roads are accident and landslide prone. Ideally only limited vehicles should be allowed on certain roads. Construction activity should have strict control and should follow expert norms. Dams again are a tricky issue and there are debates about them. But feel that at least we should spare Himalayas and its ecology and leave it undisturbed. But then again development vs environment debate is universal and i don’t want to sound like ‘well off’ environmentalist protesting Dams or nuclear plans but would need the power generated by same plants/dams. In Pune also we have people protesting about new roads and tunnels only if they are in your neighbourhood as they want to get disturbed by vehicle noises and pollution. With these measures the tragedy could have minimized. But i still feel for all pilgrims and locals. There is a thought process that government’s apathy to provide facilities and control as it was matter of majority faith. Had it been minority pilgrimage, government would have moved in with more funds, better management etc. I include Sikh pilgrimage Hemkund to be part of majority pilgrimage. But then which government would not like to milk the cash cow of tourism to its maximum? Let’s not put any unsubstantiated religious arguments as we all know how governments since freedom have went all out to appease the so called secularists starting with Gandhiji till Rahul Gandhi.
But the there is need to revamp our disaster management. We saw how our intelligence, police etc failed to control 26/11. It took army 3 days to flush out the monsters. We saw Government inaction and inefficiency again during various floods, famines and other manmade disasters. Army has been the only saviour which acted. Government in this case didn’t respond for first few days. That could have saved many survivors who died of exertion, hunger , diseases etc.
So lesson learnt are
Let us not damage environment by tinkering with nature
Let us control the tourism activity in such regions
Let there be an efficient and work disaster management body to coordinate such situations
And next lesson is for ugly politicians to stop politicizing relief work. Let all parties unite such time instead of blaming. It all started when Congress which sees red in everything Modi does. He was merely there to help with his efficient govt machinery. The 15000 figure sounds unrealistic but then that was never published by Modi. It was media who claimed that. Some people accuse modi propaganda machinery for that number but after lot of study i never found source of that number. Less said about Pappu and his loyal dogs, is better.
Last lesson is for media. Don’t create circus out of tragedy. Though some instance it helped tracking survivors but please avoid sensationalism. And this lesson is for social media as well.
All said and done is for future, but for now its rescue and rebuilding. Those who want to do something are welcome. Lets unite and fight for the devabhoomi. Please....
Authur runs a blog http://nayakgiri.blogspot.com
pls mail us if you intend to help Uttarakhand: firstname.lastname@example.org