Pushpa Singh Chauhan seems like a natural good samaritan. But her kindness,effort and persistence stand out as they form a stark contrast to reports of some shopkeepers,hotel owners and transporters fleecing pilgrims stranded in Uttarakhand after the flash floods.
A grocery shop owner in Ganeshpur village,Pushpa,39,and two of her friends were struck by the plight of pilgrims stuck in the nearby Maneri area as the Bhagirathi was flooded. The visitors were running out of money and the local hotels and dhabas had no supplies to feed them. And the district administration was yet to reach them.
Pushpa and her friends returned to Ganeshpur and mobilised other women and decided to open a langar or free community kitchen at a place called Garampani. The place is located at the beginning of the final climb to Uttarkashi town and pilgrims stranded in the flood-ravaged Bhagirathi valley reach Garampani on their way back.
This is the eighth day of our langar here. We have fed at least 800 pilgrims every day since June 18, Pushpa told The Indian Express on Tuesday. The flooding and landslides have cut off road access to Garampani and it can be reached only after a 4-km trek from Gangori,the entry point to Gangotri.
Like she has been doing for the last seven days,Pushpa reached the langar on the Uttarkashi-Gangotri highway along the Bhagirathi on her motorbike Tuesday morning. She and a colleague were carrying a sack of potatoes for the kitchen. At the makeshift store,she checks the availability of wheat flour,rice,vegetables and edible oil.
Her team,comprising of one woman from every family in Ganeshpur,is busy cooking. Many of them know what it feels like to be hit by a natural disaster. Ganeshpur was badly affected in the 1991 Uttarkashi earthquake and saw 48 people die.
After the earthquake,we know how it feels to live under the open sky, said Pushpa,adding that every Ganeshpur family was contributing to help run the langar.
Besides feeding pilgrims,Pushpa has also been ensuring pilgrims face no problem continuing their journey. She ensured that the Nepali porters who carry bags of pilgrims do not overcharge. She shared her phone number with all pilgrims and asked them to call her if the porters demanded extra.
She did the same with transporters who brought pilgrims to the Heena area,about 3 km from Garampani. She made frequent trips on her bike to make sure the drivers did not charge more than the normal fare of Rs 15. She said some drivers were charging Rs 30 or 40 and she threatened to report them to the RTO.
Although most pilgrims have been evacuated from the Bhagirathi valley,she says the langar will continue for another three days as there must be some pilgrims still in the valley.
She now has to pay for the groceries bought on credit from local shops. That is not a problem. We will handle it easily, she said,referring to the donations from the villagers.