Trickling tragedy: Body on a boulder,mule trapped among rocks

Relief workers have been distributing masks with the rice,dal and lanterns

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | Sonprayag,sitapur | Published: July 3, 2013 2:23 am

The naked body of a young man is wrapped around a boulder. The Mandakini river that brought him down from somewhere in the Kedar valley gushes by his side,now deceptively calm.

About 300 metres away,a mule that was also carried by the river is stuck between savage rocks,still miraculously alive.

Sonprayag town,which was bustling with tourists and business until two weeks back,now has a few damaged hotels,battered shops,smashed cars stuck in the debris,and a few other relics from its past — a four-poster bed gnashed against the rocks,a green suitcase lying half open,wash basins,shoes and lots of slippers.

A few people come here every two or three days,trekking down through the savage rocks from Gaurikund,to see the state of their lost or damaged property. The road that once connected the two towns is now totally destroyed and rocks continue to fall on the path.

The few people who came on Tuesday stand wearily at the edge of the road,looking down at the body of the man. “He looks like a young man,his body is still firm after all these days. There were a lot of others,they came down in a decomposed state,and the dogs made it worse,” said Pramod Pawar,a young man from the village.

Whenever a body is sighted,the stench follows. Relief workers have been distributing masks with the rice,dal and lanterns.

They are more worried about the mule,which seems to have managed to survive by eating barks and leaves of trees washed down by the river. Pramod and a few other youngsters brought two ladders on Tuesday. They said it would be their third attempt to save it,always attempting to reach the mule through a different path through the boulders,careful to avoid the river.

They have heard someone from Dehradun has offered Rs 20,000 for saving the mule. “Our business is gone,and with the yatra closed for another year or more,we don’t know what we will eat when the little relief that is coming here stops. We have to think of ways to sustain ourselves. A mule is very useful,and it will be good if we can save the poor animal’s life,” said Vikas Shankar,whose hotel Devbhoomi was washed away in the floods.

However,their third attempt also failed as a few policemen rush to stop them.

Below the mountain that has Kedar at the top,there is another mountain the river created – one of sand,muck,mud,and rocks. Policemen and locals say there is no count of the number of bodies stuck below this mount.

“When you looked up at the mountain,from here,the mountain seemed to be littered with people. They were dragging themselves,walking,crying. We helped the Army put together a footbridge,but before that,first the river,and then the recurring landslides brought down so much – people,buildings,shops,animals. This debris has many horrors beneath,” said Praveen Kumar,a sub-inspector at the police post in Sonprayag that was also washed away by the river

People of Trijug Narayan gram panchayat have seen many bodies. No one tries to give a number. But with more heavy rains forecast from Thursday,villagers are worried that there could be more bodies in the rivers besides fresh destruction.

“When pilgrims were running down from Kedarnath,many walked through the jungles on the opposite side. We helped Army personnel drag trees to put together a bridge,but the mountain and the jungles were littered with bodies. There will still be many stuck under the rubble,” said Kunwar Singh,who has a dairy business in the village.

Thousands of famished,weary pilgrims and locals walked down this village and trekked down another 16 km to reach Sonprayag,villagers recall. None of the villages here have had any electricity or water supply since June 16.

“Government relief has started coming in choppers this week. But we try to give priority to the 20 families who lost their men in the floods. They were all youngsters,many teenagers who had gone up to Kedarnath to ferry pilgrims on mules,” said Surya Prasad.

Saroj,the wife of one of the dead,Mata Ram,and a mother of three,says she is not interested in relief. “What do I do with the grains? Every time I hear of a body being sighted,I shudder thinking it is my husband. How can I eat like this?”she asks.

Bodies seem to have been carried by the Mandakini across villages in its path.

Locals say about 10-15 bodies were lying near Sitapur village on June 19. Until two days ago,people say two bodies were still lying there. “One was of a woman,and another of a boy,or perhaps a young man. Who knows if they were related? But they were washed down here together,” said Prakash Lal,a resident of Sitapur.

Asked what happened to the bodies,he replied: “The river took them,or it was the dogs. We are worried the dogs here will go mad,they have tasted so much blood.” Locals said the state animal husbandry department also removed carcasses of at least a dozen mules from here.

People here are worried about the growing number of flies. Diarrhea cases have been reported in Sitapur and Rampur. State health department officials say they have been distributing chlorine tablets and bleaching powder.

For medical facilities,pharmacists are posted at Sonprayag and Trijug Narayan to attend to common ailments. A team of doctors sent from Dehradun to Rampur have now returned. For serious ailments pharmacists refer villagers to government hospitals in Phata or Guptkashi.

With no water available,people in Sitapur are drinking water from a small rivulet adjoining the Mandakini. The power supply is still not restored,so men have resorted to carrying torches at night to keep checking the height of the river.

“I will never forget that night of June 16 when I flashed my torch down the bank after I heard rumbling noises from the river in the middle of my sleep. It was a pool of cars as the parking lots nearby were washed away and they were being carried in circles. I cannot sleep now at night,I keep flashing my torch through the night on the river,” said Lal,whose house was washed away.

The police has set up a base at Char Math,about 7 km from Guptkashi,and is planning to despatch new teams to Gaurikund and Kedarnath to make arrangements for cremation of bodies stuck between Rambada and Kedarnath. The police plans to set up two camps in the two towns and also escort PWD teams who will start work on clearing the roads.

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