A wrinkled face on the road side tea stall in Rudraprayag looked in anticipation as I walked towards it. There was hope in his eyes which the catastrophic floods in June 2013 in Uttarakhand, India had wiped off. The last year catastrophe had severely affected their livelihoods which is substantially dependant on the massive holy tourism to pilgrimages. The decrepit Kedarnath valley has lot of painful stories buried under it and after one year the repercussions had begun to emerge.
I was on my first solo trip ever in the Himalayas. During the last 5 days of my solo travel, I had seen the Himalayas which was capable of satisfying every cliché it has been honoured with. I witnessed the Himalayas which was in everyone’s dream and in every old classical Bollywood movies. However, while descending to Rishikesh from Gwaldam, I decided to take few turns from Rudraprayag to have a glimpse of the “lost Himalayas”.
While I was waiting at Rudraprayag to head towards on the Kedarnath route, I could see the confluence of holy rivers of Alaknanda and Mandakani. The holy rivers seemed to be silent but the power of their rapid flow was clearly felt. I could only imagine the scene when it changed its course last year. After waiting for an hour at tea stall, I finally found the ride on the Kedarnath route. I didn’t had any destination in my mind, I just wanted to see the remnants of the floods and how the region had progressed in last one year.
The friendly “pahari” (a term of local people) driver- Ramesh Joshi kept the conversation going on and proudly boasted the story of how he escaped last year’s catastrophe and travelled for four day to reach his village through the jungles. He remembered the glimpse of furious Ganga taking down whatever comes in his way. He too lost his vehicle in flood but was glad that he could survive all the odds. I guess this is the story of lifetime which he shall share with his children and grandchildren.
A few kilometres towards Kedarnath, the signs of disasters began to appear making the ride too bouncy. The roads and the mountain were eaten up by the floods and landslides. There was hardly any space for the car to pass but Ramesh skilfully tackled all. After a long bumpy ride, we reached Chanderpuri beyond which no proper connectivity was available.
I ambled around only to find debris, rocks, piled up vehicles etc. The local faces around looked dull and void trying figure out their lives after disaster. I tried interacting with some local ladies about last year floods and most of the eyes wept in grief. One of the lady told me that most of men in the nearby villages were in Kedarnath during the floods and most of them are still untraceable. Their life had all changed in this one year. Every day they hoped their loved ones to return adding more wrinkles to their faces. I felt perturbed but there was nothing I could do change their feelings. The floods had not only washed the Himalayas but also heart and lives of the people.
Later Ramesh signalled for returning back to Rudraprayag as it was getting dark. On my way back, the images of the “lost Himalayas” and the locals made me feel dejected. Being on solo travel, such things tends to affect more on your core.
I left the “lost Himalayas” with disheartened feeling but with one strong word “HOPE”. The famous lines from movie “The Shawshank Redemption” crossed my mind at the same time – “HOPE IS A GOOD THING, MAY BE THE BEST OF THINGS, AND NO GOOD THINGS EVER DIES”…… I hope that the “lost Himalayas” get flourished soon to it earlier glory and the dull faces turn into happier ones.
By K. Mathpal.