I am returning to the blog writing after a long time, and had thought that I would restart blogging with my most recent visit to the Uttarakhand, the state where I love to return again and again. However, I am writing this mail on a somber note after all the devastation and destruction, and the resulting disaster that the state is experiencing following the nature’s fury. Let me correct myself, it is not all the nature’s fury alone. We, the mankind, have contributed immensely to the havoc that we are witnessing from the comfort of our drawing rooms and the safety of our television screens. Traditionally, disaster experts have divided the causes of disasters as being natural or man-made. After whatever I have read about disasters in India or elsewhere, I am of the strong opinion that practically all the disasters are man-made. I have voiced so in many of the scientific meetings where I spoke on disaster and mental health. We have made our houses or buildings too close to seashores to become easy victims of tsunami; our urban planning is totally unscientific making us sitting ducks during earthquakes. We have not looked after our rivers, which cannot absorb any extra water coming to them, and floods are a common feature every year all over the country without fail even with normal monsoon. This year, I had first thought of going for a trek to Rupin pass, but dropped the idea realizing that I may not be fit enough to undertake this trek; then I thought of Kuari pass as a doable trek, but had to drop it too for some reasons. Then I thought of making a dash to Gangotri to get away from Delhi, and to see mountains and the river Ganga once again. After reaching Rishikesh, the scene at the bus stand was chaotic, too many people waiting to go to one of the ‘dhams’, or even ‘char dhams’, and there were not enough buses. Though I had reached the bus stand as early as 6 am, but could get on to the bus going only till Uttarkashi at around noon time. Most of the buses on various routes were ferrying passengers, who had come from far and wide, to Char Dham. Entry to Uttarkashi was choked with buses, SUVs, and cars. Most of the hotels had no vacancy, even for a night. I was coming to Uttarkashi after a gap of more than 15 years, and it took me by surprise. It looked a different town; there were too many vehicles on the road, there were houses and hotels everywhere. From the centre of the town, you could see neither greenery, nor the hills, but concrete all over. I left Uttarkashi early next morning at 7 am by a roadways bus. As it exited from the centre of the town, the town never seemed to end. There were building on the entire stretch of the road, which had become narrow and narrower due to encroachment by the guesthouses and hotels. Many of these hotels, guest houses, or resorts were half protruding on to the river, with a portion of their foundation going into the river bed. It was obvious that no planning had gone into conceiving these properties, and all safety norms were violated.
We were just 3 km short of Gangotri, when we got stuck in traffic jam. There were so many vehicles waiting to go in the town, and equal number of vehicles trying to get out, that there was complete chaos. The vehicles were so jam packed that none on either side could move. Besides the frustration of being stuck, when I was just waiting to leave the cramped bus with rickety seats, I was also experiencing hunger cramps, having had just two cups of tea since morning. It was getting to be 2 pm, with no letting up in jam being in sight. I had no choice but to walk the next stretch of my journey carrying my own backpack. Once I got near Gangotri town, the signals appeared on the mobile, and I informed Pandit Manoj Jib of my arrival, who immediately came to receive me and escort me to my guest house. The Gangotri town looked so different from what I had seen 18 years ago. So many guest houses, shops, and eating joints had sprung everywhere. Most of the guest houses were packed to capacity. There were serpentine queues to have darshan at the temple. Previously one could go to Gaumukh and Tapovan freely without requiring any permit. But with Gaumukh glacier receding at an alarming rate, the number of visitors and trekkers has been restricted to 150 only. The number of ponies has also been limited to 15. It is said that earlier the entire stretch of 4 km between Bhojwasa and Gaumukh was littered with tea and food stalls, with trash reaching the mouth of the glacier. During our earlier visit, we had trekked from Gangotri to Tapovan with a night halt at Bhojwasa. Hence this time I was not very keen for any kind of trek. I had planned to leave Gangotri on the morning of 14 June, but with public transport being limited, and too many visitors and pilgrims, I decided to leave on early morning of 13th itself giving myself enough margin to spend one night at Uttarkashi, if needed. It had rained quite a bit on the night of 12th. Though it had stopped, the driver of the Commander jeep forewarned us rain and traffic jam on our way to Uttarkashi. He did not halt even for us to have some tea or snacks. We made good progress, but just 20 km short of Uttarkashi, we stopped due to massive landslide because of rains of previous night. People were there for as much as 8 hours. We also had to wait for 4 hours before road was cleared. After that I got connections to Delhi in quick succession to reach here on the morning of 14 July. I think I made to Delhi just on the nick of time, because from next day onwards, news started trickling in of the rains causing wide spread landslides and roadblocks. I am not writing anything about the death, destruction, and fury of massive water flow, since the media seem to have put its act together, by attracting attention of citizens and governments. Government scrambled to save lives of stranded people, but the real heroes have the defense personnel who have been relentlessly trying to save people’s lives, stranded in remote corners and recesses of mighty Himalayas. I shall like to end the post by quoting following lines from my post on Roop Kund: Going to mountains has always been a humbling experience for me. We are always talking about the fragile eco-system and environment, but when you see nature at close quarters, you realize the might of nature too. One feels so small and insignificant before the hurtling and gurgling rivers and huge waterfalls, and mighty and grand mountains. I always believe in and owe our existence to the benevolence of nature; and would dread its fury. Going to mountains is to express my reverence to the omnipotent nature.