Exploiting Nature – Serial Losses or Collateral

By Bhuvi M

More than a year has passed by when flash flood drowned the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. It was the after effect of handful of greedy over public & ecological interests. Traversing backwards in memory here is spine chilling account:

Cloud bursts resulting in flash floods and landslides in Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gaurikund area of Uttarakhand state of India on 15th to 17th June 2013. Thousands of people have got hurt, pilgrims stranded, hundreds have lost their lives, residents rendered homeless, thousands missing. The means of livelihoods have been lost and there has been massive destruction to infrastructure and property. Otherwise one of the less developed states of country, such enormity of destruction pushes it ten times backward on the route of development. The pictures depict many of them have lost their life savings. For them standing up and let their life moving ahead will be an uphill task. Bigger chunk of revenue of this Himalayan state comes from tourists, pilgrims, orchards and forest produce. For lots of people staying in northern plains of India; locales in Uttarakhand & Himachal are weekend unwinding destinations.

We too had planned for a short trip to a quaint destination up hills very same weekend when the disaster struck. Mountains are enticing in rains with clouds and mist all over. It was nice to beat Delhi’s heat and eye soothing watching drenched greens. Scary was excessive of rains and dark clouds hovering very low on the mountains. One night stay at a cottage at Nathuakhan, a little ahead of Nainital in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand was both pleasant and scary.

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We reached the destination a couple of hours late owing to en-route traffic jam. It had been raining in off and on for a couple of days there. As soon as we reached, heavy downpour started. We walked down in rain to meet a friend and see an ancient temple in the village. Returning to the cottage it was early set of evening and mist hovering all over the valley. It rained heavily all through the night. The wind blowing through the creeks sounded scary. On Sunday morning we saw dark clouds hovering too low on the mountains on north western side (Kedarnath, Badrinath, Uttarkashi falls on the this direction from Nainital). It was raining incessantly. Our plan was to stay, enjoy and leave around lunch time. Seeing the situation we decided to leave just after breakfast. It was clear if it continued raining for next twelve hours flash flood and land slide can happen and we may pose risk. While returning it continued raining only to stop intermittently. We came across a number of rivulets gushing down the mountains. A tributary of Ramganga which was dry a day back was full of water. The decision of leaving early was a wise one. All through the route we faced heavy down pour. Once returned, realized the catastrophe that had happened in Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gaurikund of Garhwal region. We still got a chance to get out of the area. Anyone could have been trapped in this calamity. It sends chills up the spine. Though none I know personally is stuck up in the situation but I’m a frequent traveler in the area. I was glued to news for updates and my heart bled for all those facing it.

Such event of cloud burst was natural but the effect of disaster was man made. Un-checked way of construction, mining, deforestation and interfering with nature had taken its toll. Personal greed of construction, mining mafia with political nexus had not paid any attention to save the eco-sensitive zones in hills. This flash flood swiping away buildings and villages was the result of man exploiting nature. Precious lives were lost and properties damaged. A war footing rescue was called for in inaccessible hilly terrain. National Disaster Response Force, Army, Air Force, ITBP and locals were engaged in rescue operation. The people who had survived the fury of nature had nightmares to narrate. Heart wrenching tales & pictures emerged with time. What was hampering the operation was tough terrain, at times rough weather, unchecked number of pilgrims & tourists uphills, scattered population all over the area.

This is not the only terrain where man has played with nature. Look around and each place has the same story to tell. Another serial loss waiting to happen.

Note: Day 4, Writing 101: Serially Lost by the Daily Post

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Traveling through Rustic Himalayas

By Bhuvi M

It is a small hilly village the destination. The rescue and rehabilitation volunteers after flash flood of Himalayas are camping there. SUVs are the only mode of commuting in Himalayan terrain after flash floods.  I take one of them along with three other volunteers travelling with me from Rishikesh (a small town at the foothills of Himalayas). We started early in the morning to cover the as much of distance within day light.

In this day journey we find broken and blocked roads, completely washed out. The regular route has been diverted hence, increasing the journey by another hundred kms. Navigating though washed out roads, crossing small rivulets and muddy patches the vehicles move. Whenever it is required, passengers get down to help in repairing the roads dumping rocks and silt or to help out clearing a stuck up vehicle. This is only possible if the damage is small.

There are earth movers (called JCBs locally based on one of the companies which manufactures it) deployed by the government agencies for clearing landslides every few kms. They can work only in the daylight. There are some high risk landslide zones. The signage indicates it to drive slow and cautiously. The dirver of our vehicle wants to clear the every such stretch as soon as he can if it is open. He takes updates from the drivers of vehicles coming from opposite side about the road blockages.

Around pre noon we stop by at a small road side hotel for tea and refreshment. It is a small hut kind of place with rustic wooden benches and tables. The refreshments available are maggi, chips, some fritters and tea. After having it in another 20 mins we start moving. There is a running water tap nearby. I go there to freshen up. Water is chilling and refreshing. Standing at the edge of the road, I can see the river flowing by with all its fiery. All muddy with the silt it has brought from uphills. It is still roaring with daily rains. At each curve it has been washing away some hundreds of meters. The river has grown four times in its width.

Late in the noon we halt again at another hub of make shift hotel to have lunch. Locals have told us there is no place to eat after that joint. We have hot steamed rice, dal, chapatti and potato curry. It is soul satisfying meal. In another half an hour we move again. Driver wants to stretch as soon as possible so we reach the destination by evening.

In another one hour up the road, we come to know about the blockage of usual route. We now have to take an alternate route which is hundred kms more. We take the diversion. This road is rustic, unmaintained road which has hardly seen visitors. It has been used only by the villages in vicinity. Most of the patches are muddy and full of bug and small rocks and slush. It has been a tough 12 hours journey and we are still half the way to reach the destination. The evening falls by. We know we can’t reach the destination today. The driver is still rigid to take us within the night itself. He does not want to lose another day.

Moving ahead we come to a massive jam. Another vehicle ferrying relief materials in upper echelons is stuck now just a few hundred meters away from us. It is pitch dark. All that we have our trekking torches and the headlights of the vehicles. We are stuck. Some of the men get down and walk in slush ahead to check if the way can be cleared. We wait for more than an hour. It is evident that it can’t be cleared in the night without help of JCB. While waiting we get down the vehicle. Some of the people are chatting about jaguars often spotted on those roads. There is jungle in the valley just where we are fixed. At once we see one of those shining jaguars in the light of flashlight. It was there just beneath us. It scared us to hell. We are at a fix. As it saw the light it disappeared in the trees.

Note: Day 2, Writing 101: A Room with a View (or Just a View) by the Daily Post