Volunteers: Anupama Pain and Gurudutt Shenoy
Duration: 20th to 30th July 2013
Location: Last village on the route to Kedar Valley
Purpose: First assessment of ground situation after the disaster, networking with local organizations/nodal agencies, coming up with tentative areas of impact work both in short and long run, aid in distribution of cash to families in need
‘Those 10 days opened my eyes to an entirely unnoticed relationship in the valleys – one in which an unassuming Mandakini river swept across the towering Shiwalik range and took everything that it boosted of …’
After a brainstorming discussion with NGOs and coordinators of relief activities for the Kedar valley route in Dehradun, we started early morning in a sturdy Sumo Grand and an expert young driver Rakeshji to reach Guptkashi. The first 4 hours were what a drive though the region generally is – pleasant. No signs of any disruptions. Only a lot of relief camps, army personnel, co traveling vehicles with posters of trusts and charitable institutions across them and local people with bags of relief material heading home everywhere. It wasn’t such a shock given the extensive media coverage the whole process has been receiving ever since.
The first signs began to surface as we reached Rudraprayag. The river turned brown and violent and you knew it has done some mischief in the recent past … the extent of the mischief was yet to show itself completely in the days that followed. Extended river bank and dilapidated houses which were probably dangling dangerously on the bank were gone … some partial homes remained. The first road block due to landslide was just around the corner. Stalled for 4 hours. Not too bad i thought. Under a 100 km was left to cover. We were past half way. A wise advise in Dehradun that ‘a loaf of bread does not hurt in these mountain trips’ came handy. And while we had a quick lunch, that beauty of a machine called JCB did the trick. The road block cleared, just for a while, until the next mass of land would decide to come dancing down. We quickly crossed over and continued onward.
The concrete roads were gone now. Kaccha village roads followed. The vehicle’s average speed had gone down from 30 to 15 kmph. After every half mile came a furiously flowing stream that cut across the makeshift road and as the Sumo Grand crossed it unhindered, my mind kept racing back to my poor little Auto back home … she would have been swept off her feet here :-)! A tree here and a boulder there kept irritating, but the intervals were short. A couple of miles away from Tilwada village, we were obstructed yet again. This time the irritation was higher though. It was a man made land slide. Debris from a construction site were dumped carelessly somewhere in the valley before all of this; and a heavy rain had brought it all down on our path now. How much of this disaster is natural we ponder. And this block was here to stay. It would take overnight. We were not reaching Guptkashi tonight. Nevermind … at least Tilwada was near and we were not half as stuck as the man whose house was directly under this debri pile. He had moved all his family to a safe location but continued to stay in his home every night listening to the constant rains and accumulating malba. I was a bit angry at his fool hardiness, but then again i have not yet made a house of my own. I do not know what attachment to it means.
Next morning i woke up to the news of the road to Guptkashi being completely destroyed owing to incessant rains in last couple of days. There were multiple road blocks and no assurance a vehicle even as sturdy as ours would be able to make it. We were disheartened. But more than that i was worried cause Rakeshji was beginning to give up. There was no way we would proceed and the thought of not even being able to reach the relief site was enough to make the two of us get into serious discussions. We decided come what may, we need to keep him motivated and not halt anymore. If we had to stop at all, it should be near a block site waiting for it to open and quickly cross until we reach the next; and not at a hotel. This decision and that devil again called JCB succeeded. Over the next day, we kept moving-getting stuck-pushing the vehicle through dangerous tracks-hardly eating-waiting-trying to not lose hope-relying on Rakeshji’s driving abilities. What also was happening alongside was that a few other NGO/Trust vehicles also joined us and we were doing all of the above but not alone anymore. From 3, it was now 30 people. We began exchanging notes and became a caravan. The faudas came out and ‘Arambh Hai Prachand’ chants too! Melodrama but at least it kept the mind away from the danger.
It took us another day and a half to cover the remaining paltry kilometers to reach Guptkashi. The journey thereafter will make in the following blog post; but in the process we made companions, had already heard of most of the issues and experiences faced by the local people since the disaster day, seen how relief material in the absence of infrastructure was being dumped, had even formed a few alliances with others for joint efforts, had the most uncooked daal rice at night 11 pm, converted our skeptical Rakeshji into a relief volunteer not worried about the safety of his car and life anymore. Above all we met people and lived with them in small villages like Tilwada, Twara, Mayaali which may not feature in the maps of the world but to us are now a part of our memories and lives forever. People who share a common adversity together bond in a special way. It was my turn to experience this in those few days. The co travelers and local people, their stories and mannerisms, their warmth and help to us while the idea actually was that we help, sorrow of loss and fear of an uncertain future stay on. There is work to do and as much as we plan for future activities, there is nothing doing unless the infrastructure is bettered and more of us reach there. Believe me the amount of work and hence these journeys required to even give the valley a second chance is much higher than we can even begin to think of sitting at our homes. I hope the concerned authorities are reading this …