Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

By the river, a year later

The Mandakini near Gaurikund, its calm belying the rage of a year ago. (Tashi Tobgyal) The Mandakini near Gaurikund, its calm belying the rage of a year ago. (Source: Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)
Written by Dipankar Ghose | Posted: June 15, 2014 12:40 am | Updated: June 15, 2014 8:22 am

On the morning of June 17, 2013, the Mandakini’s wrath had swept through Kedarnath and left hundreds dead. A year later, pilgrims trek up again, their faith tinged with fear, but with the belief that the worst is over.

One year ago, five minutes is all she took. She raced through the temple town, unmindful of the damage she was causing to life, property or faith. As water, sand and rock hurtled through the streets of Kedarnath, only the temple remained untouched. Her name is Mandakini, she who flows calmly.

Every ruin has its own soul-shattering story to tell. One deserted room has a pocket-sized notebook left behind in haste. Its pages speak of a family calculating its accounts, vegetables and school fees. Right next to it, in a pile of footwear, is a tiny pink slipper, with flowers on its dirt-caked surface. The river was merciless.

The area near the Kedarnath shrine still has reminders of last year’s flood.( Tashi Tobgyal) Every ruin has its own soul-shattering story to tell. ( Tashi Tobgyal)

One year may have passed, but death still lingers, and not just in memory. On Thursday, three bodies were found under the rubble as a labourer searched for firewood. Unidentifiable, they were burnt besides the Mandakini without ceremony. There will be many, many more.

“For two days, there had been constant rain, but nothing had prepared us for what was to come on the morning of June 17. At 6:55, the river came, and brought with it boulders the size of small hills. I watched from the terrace of my home. Men, women and children were swept away and thrown against rocks like they were paper boats. Entire buildings went under the silt and mud,” says Kesar Singh, a constable with the Uttarakhand Home Guards, posted at Kedarnath.

The area near the Kedarnath shrine still has reminders of last year’s flood. (Tashi Tobgyal) The area near the Kedarnath shrine still has reminders of last year’s flood. (Tashi Tobgyal)

Many conversations at Kedarnath now search for why the Mandakini was angered so. Almost always, a divine plan is part of the answer. Rajendra Pandit, one of the temple’s many priests, says, “Over the years, the crowds had grown to 20,000 devotees a day, and we had become disrespectful to god’s abode. Hotels were built on the banks of the river, and the ecosystem was constantly being challenged. This was a warning.”

There were other ‘divine’ signs. Miraculously, a massive boulder perched itself right behind the Kedarnath temple, neatly splitting the raging river and leaving the temple unharmed. In the ever-growing legend of Kedarnath, the rock itself has become continued…

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