press trust of india
SONPRAYAG (U’khand), 22 JUNE: Having gone without food or water for nearly a week, scores of pilgrims are on the verge of death, while others who managed to reach Sonprayag on foot have complained that rescue operations are yet to reach those stranded between Gaurikund and Kedarnath.
Many pilgrims have already died of hunger and many are searching for the dead bodies of their kin in the jungles over Gaurikund, Bhairavchatti, Junglechatti and Garurchatti, said several pilgrims, who somehow managed to reach Sonprayag from Kedarnath on foot.
In Sonprayag, an ITBP officer said their first pedestrian rescue team has reached Gaurikund and has begun to shift pilgrims stranded in high altitudes to lower areas.
The Indian Army, ITBP and NDRF have made temporary ropeways over the merging point of Songanga and Mandakini to rescue pedestrian pilgrims coming from Kedarnath.
Commandant of NDRF’s eighth Battalion Manish Kumar who is supervising rescue operations, which started on Thursday in Sonprayag through temporary ropeways, said so far over 2,500 pilgrims have been evacuated.
He said the process is taking time because the ropes have to be changed after every couple of rounds due to presence of rough rocks in the area.
Sonprayag looks like a haunted town in the wake of the tragedy. Once the Mandakini river flowed to 100 metres down but now it has turned into a heap of sand and boulders, a pilgrim said.
Dozens of hotels, lodges and shops located here have turned into tons of debris lying all over the place.
The trek for Kedranath used to begin from Gaurikund, which lies 5 km beyond Sonprayag, but now an about-4-km-long stretch between the two places has been badly damaged by landslides triggered by the deluge.
Sixty-year-old Gulabji Chaudhry and 45-year-old Bhanwar Singh from Ujjain (MP) were killed on Wednesday when they fell from the hills while trying to grab the food and relief material being air-dropped at Mandakini-Songanga sangam in Sonprayag.
Recounting his nightmarish experience, a pilgrim from Odisha said he was in Junglechatti, only four km from Gaurikund on the night of 16 June when the calamity struck, but what he saw in the course of his short journey from Junglechatti to Sonprayag is going to haunt him for a lifetime.
“Bodies were scattered all over and their relatives were too exhausted to even cry over them. I was myself helpless and would always regret not being able to help them when they needed it,” he said.
Lack of coordination and basic understanding of the geography of the hilly terrain among government agencies engaged in the operations was visible everywhere between Guptkashi to Sonprayag, some residents said.
Rope bridges have been put up by the ITBP and NDRF in Sonprayag through which several hundreds of pilgrims have been evacuated so far.
Meanwhile, thousands of people have also been evacuated in helicopters to helipads between Sirsi to Nalachatty.