Having had some close encounters with death and destruction,the stranded pilgrims from Punjab to Sri Hemkunt Sahib in Uttarakhand,who returned were all praise for Army even as they lashed out at the local administration for lack of coordination and the locals,especially dhaba and hotel owners,who unscrupulously fleeced the survivors.
Manjit Kaur,a resident of Abdullarpur basti in Ludhiana who had went on the pilgromage with a group of 24 people,including 10 children,narrated a horrifying tale. We were about 2 km away from Gurdwara Govind Dham when the flood water came rushing in. We climbed another 2 km uphill to save ourselves. The army used ropeways to bring us to Joshimath and provided us food and other emergency items, Manjit said.
She said they again faced apathy on part of Uttarakhand government as it had not arranged vehicles at the camp to drop them to Chamoli. We hired taxis,but the drivers charged double. The dhabhawalas were the worst charging Rs 60 for one chapati from the pilgrims who had lost almost everything in the floods, she added.
Another Ludhiana who returned Saturday,Parminder Ahuja,said: We sat on a dharna before the SDM protesting against the taxi drivers,but to no avail. The bus arranged by the government dropped us 6 km ahead of the gurdwara in Rishikesh where Punjab governments buses were waiting.
Davinder Raju,another pilgrim added: We remained without food for three days and walked barefoot as our shoes were washed away in flood. We hardly had any money left with us and the locals did not even allow us to use toilets at their homes.
Ranjit Singh,a resident of Haibowal Kalan was all praise for the Indian army. It is only because of the army that we have returned alive, he added.
Sukhvinder Singh,a Ludhiana native who was stuck for eight days on the way to Hemkunt Sahib,said,I was en route the shrine when the disaster struck. The situation was deteriorating with the passage of time…We were relieved when Army stepped in. Had they not been here,we wouldnt have survived.
Girish Sharma,a retired Punjab government employee and Sushma,a retired teacher,also talked about being fleeced by the locals.
We were made to cough up Rs 7,000 for a room in a hotel for a night. A packet of bread cost us Rs 100,a water bottle was sold for Rs 70-100,a paltry meal cost Rs 200 per head. In Chamoli,we had to shell out Rs 7,000 for a rickety room to spend a night, informed Sharmas,while narrating the alleged loot of survivors by dhabawallas,hotel owners and other shopkeepers.
Struggling with tears in eyes,they claimed that a large number of bodies had been washed away in the flash floods.
They said that Uttarakhand administration should have forewarned the pilgrims as the downpour was lashing the region three-four days before the cloudburst.
Even after the calamity,the Uttarakhand police callously forced hapless pilgrims to shift from one place to other for escaping responsibility enjoined by area jurisdiction, alleged Girish.
The couple,along with others,trudged through dead bodies,saw gigantic buildings crumble like pack of cards and vehicles,especially hundreds of motorcycles and cars,getting washed away in Alaknanda,Mandakni and in roaring waters of flash floods.
The couple was lucky to pay obeisance ar Kedarnath on June 14 but were stranded in Rampur on way to Badrinath on June 15 and spent night in a vehicle.