When retired Additional Superintendent of Police D.S. Raghupathy and his 67-year-old wife D.R. Bagyalakshmi left home in Seeranaickenpalayam here on June 9 to North India, little did they realise that their pilgrimage to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath would turn out to be an adventure tour of the Himalayas.
Sitting at his house, Mr. Raghupathy recalls that he, his fellow travellers and bus driver, conductor and tour guide left their hotel accommodation to proceed to Yamunotri on June12. When they were returning from there, their bus was caught between two landslides. There were only two sports utility vehicles ahead of their bus. Before boarding the bus, the couple left their belongings in the hotel and, as per the instructions of their tour operator, had taken only a small handbag containing necessary items and mobile phone. They had left behind their clothing, jewellery, cash, tablet computing device, etc.
Left with little choice at 10.30 p.m., the couple chose to spend the night inside the bus as it was raining heavily. The next day, around 6 a.m., they made their way to Delhi Dharmashala, which was nearby, to see if they could get an accommodation.
Finding five college students there, Ms. Bagyalakshmi conversed with them in Hindi explaining their plight.
They spent the day there. And also the night. Around 1.30 a.m., Praveen, one of the five students, woke them up screaming at the top of his voice. He wanted his friends and also the couple to rush out of the building as it could collapse anytime.
By then water had already entered the building and was eating away the buildings foundation, inch by inch.
Gathering whatever they could, the couple and the students exited the building, climbed the wet, slippery slopes of a hill there and turned back to only see the building collapse like a pack of cards into the mighty Ganga.
“It was nothing but a miracle as the distance between life and death was only minutes away,” says Mr. Raghupathy.
The couple and the students were told that if they could reach Maneri they could get help. The couple inched their way to Maneri, which was eight km atop the hill. The students also accompanied them.
On their way, the retired police officer says that they reached a hamlet, Ongi, where a villager, ex-serviceman Jeevendra Singh, provided them warm clothing and gruel. “I offered his family money but it refused. But I placed Rs. 2,000 in front of a God’s picture.”
Though they encountered hardships, escaping death by a whisker, Mr. Raghupathy kept clicking pictures. “I held the camera tight so that if we were to die, at least somebody would be there to count us among those perished.”
The couple and the students continued their search for safety from Ongi. They finally reached the Maneri Police Station the next day. There a biscuit packet cost Rs. 100 and a water sachet Rs. 80.
Help was hard to come by. After being told by the Police that things would be better in Uttarkashi, which was 18 km and three hills away, it was only Hobson’s choice for the couple.
They decided to walk, walk and walk. They reached Uttarkashi, sought the help of a policeman to board their travel agent’s bus and reached Haridwar. In Uttarkashi there was no petrol, water, power, diesel. Nothing.
They reached New Delhi on Saturday (June 22) around 3 a.m. and then went to the Tamil Nadu House after learning from a friend that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had made arrangements for pilgrims. And from there it was a flight back home.
Mr. Raghupathy says that his wife and he must have walked at least 80 km in the past few days. He retains the room key of the hotel that no longer exists. It has been washed away. “It is a reminder of what we went through.”
A group of 20 people from Jaliyur village in Pappireddipatti taluk, Dharmapuri, returned safely on Sunday morning from Kedarnath. One of the pilgrims, V. Kumaralingam, told The Hindu that they reached Delhi in a special bus arranged for them from Rishikesh. The pilgrims were received by the officials at the Tamil Nadu House and from New Delhi they were sent to Chennai via airplane. The government had arranged free bus service to Dharmapuri from CMBT bus stand.
A group of 20 people from the district who went on a pilgrimage to flood-affected Uttarakhand and nearby States were reported safe. Official sources said that they were at Haridwar on Sunday and would be returning to Tirupur on June 27 after visiting Varanasi. Sources added that the group went on a conducted tour from here on June 9 to worship at places like Rishikesh and Haridwar in Uttarkand and the holy places in Uttar Pradesh.
With inputs from
R. Arivanantham and