'I thank the army for a second life'

“We were told by some army personnel that they had orders only to rescue people stranded in Kedarnath and Badrinath, as many VVIPs were stuck at these locations. But seeing our group’s plight, they escorted us to safety. I am really thankful to them for evacuating us from Govindghat,” said Delhi resident Yogesh Joshi who along with 60 others pilgrims reached the Capital after seven days.

Lucky escape: The stranded pilgrims, including Yogesh Joshi (inset) making their way through the rocky terrain

It was 26-year-old Joshi’s first pilgrimage and he had planned to visit the holy town of Badrinath. But the tragedy that unfolded before his eyes last week has traumatised the young man so much that he doesn’t want to speak about his experience. Mustering the courage, he narrated the sequence of events that have led to his second life.

Govindghat road that caved in

“We left Delhi for Rishikesh on June 13, and reached Govindghat, which is 19 kms from Badrinath, after two days on June 15,” said Joshi, adding “It had already started raining when we were on our way to Govindghat, and our group had initially thought it would be wise to utilise the private choppers to reach at least half way to our destination. After that we had planned to use mules for the remaining 2-km stretch to reach Hemkund.”

“On June 16 at 11 pm, the raging waters engulfed a power station located near our hotel. It was then that our tour operator decided that we needed to evacuate the hotel. We all started moving towards the dharamshalas that were located up in the hills and when we reached the main road of Govindghat, we saw the river water gushing down with tremendous force, sweeping away mountainsides, roads and anything that stood in the way. We started crying and at that moment I felt death was over us. I saw at least 100 people being washed away in the waters. It was the worst thing that I have ever witnessed.”

Saved by the army
The group then came across some army personnel and it was decided that the senior citizens should be led to safety first. Nine persons, including Joshi and the tour operator, decided to stay back. But with no place to stay, they took shelter in a bus. And with no food available, they had to starve for twodays.

The group had decided to meet up at Joshimath and continue their trek to Chamoli. However, the road leading to their destination had crumbled due to the landslides and with the help of army personnel, they reached Chamoli by trekking 23 kms through a rocky terrain.

“When we reached Chamoli on June 19, the army had laid out refreshments for us, and after two days we had some food to eat. But fear still prevailed, and hence we wanted to leave for Ramnagar via Jim Corbett, since the direct route was fraught with dangers,” said Joshi.

The group finally reached Delhi on July 20. “The incident has put fear in the hearts of all the devotees. Even five days later, those scary nights continue to haunt us, leaving sleepless at night,” said Joshi.   

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