Mumbai man recounts close shave with death during Uttarakhand pilgrimage
These images clicked by Ajit Thakkar from his hotel in Sitapur, a few km from Gaurikund in Uttarakhand, show how the river Mandakini swelled up in hours to swallow almost everything that came in the way, including cars, homes and many lives
My wife Rasala and I had gone on the trip as part of a tourist group with AK travels. We reached Kedarnath on June 15, and spent most of our day at the temple, before returning to Gaurikund around 9 pm to wait for our buses to take us to the hotel in Sitapur, a few kilometres away. It had started raining while we were waiting, but we weren’t really worried by that.
We were supposed to go to Badrinath the next day, but we had to cancel our plans and stay in the hotel. All the roads were blocked due to a landslide that had occurred the previous day. Even then, we did not worry. We stayed in the hotel for one more night, and it kept raining.
We first heard the sound that sent the alarm bells ringing at 1 am, early on Monday, June 17. It sounded like a roaring that kept getting louder. Looking out, we spotted the floods rushing in. The water came crashing down the hill, bringing huge boulders down with it. It was absolutely terrifying.
The hotel owner, who met us at 2.30 am, told us that his other hotel near Gaurikund had gone under the floods. He warned us that if we didn’t get out now, we could meet the same fate here. The floods had completely ravaged the building’s lower parking lot, taking with them all the vehicles that had been parked there. Some drivers had been sitting in a bus down there. They didn’t survive.
Two tourist buses and the kitchen car were stationed in the upper parking lot. We scrambled into those buses and stayed there for what seemed like the most terrifying five hours. Some of our fellow travellers were completely distraught. They were convinced that we were going to die there. Everyone was holding hands, singing bhajans, doing whatever they could to convince themselves to stay optimistic. We tried to calm the others down. We tried to fake optimism and told them that we would be alright, even though we too feared the worst ourselves.
For five hours, we were all convinced that we weren’t going to make it. Finally at 6 am, the floods abated, and the sun came out. The sight of the sun was the best thing we had laid our eyes on. We cheered as if we had won a contest. We could finally return to the hotel, and stay there for the night.
Our tour manager Ajay Gastani made sure that we all got something to eat. Once the floods had subsided completely, we were joined by a bus full of people from Delhi, who had suffered a greater ordeal. They hadn’t eaten for over a day, so we shared what we had with them. We spent that night in the hotel. No one slept a wink, afraid that the floods would return. We sat side by side and gave each other strength.
We finally left the next day. So many rocks blocked the road that we had to spend hours just helping locals clear it up so that the buses could move. It took us 40 hours to reach Haridwar. It was extremely shocking to see just how much damage a single day of floods had caused. On the way back, we saw corpses of horses, strewn on the ground. We felt safe only after we reached Haridwar.
The number of people the IAF has airlifted since June 17
The number of people still stranded in the hills of Uttarakhand
Rs 10 lakh
The amount donated by Tihar Jail inmates along with jail staff