The return of another batch of pilgrims brings great cheer to anxious relatives

The third batch of pilgrims who returned to Chennai from Uttarakhand on Saturday comprised those who were reeling from the shock of their experiences over the past four days. Many kept describing the scenes of destruction they had witnessed, marvelling at what they called the miracle of their having returned safe.

As of evening, over a 150 passengers had arrived by separate flights from New Delhi. While four people had returned on Thursday, several more reached Chennai on Friday.

A group of people, who returned on Saturday, recollected how they had spent four full days and nights inside the bus in which they had travelled beyond Kedarnath. It was only after they reached New Delhi that they were able to have a proper meal. 

“We just cannot describe the calamity and the scenes that we witnessed. Boulders slid into the rivers in a deep ravine that must have been at least 2,000 feet below,” said V. Govindaraju (62), who had gone on the trip with his wife Ranganayaki (59). The pilgrims survived on biscuits, snacks and savouries they had taken along with them and when this meagre fare was over, found it very difficult to buy food. 

For many relatives of the pilgrims, it was only the sight of their loved ones that brought relief. Many said that except for a phone conversation, they had not been in touch with their relatives. “We saw television and news reports about the ravaging floods and until Thursday evening, when we received a telephone call regarding their being safe, we were deeply worried,” said Srividya, daughter of Vijayan. 

Many of the relatives had been in a state of great anxiety. Some like Geetha Karthikeyan, whose father was stranded, became depressed and had a fever. She had to be hospitalised and administered fluids, said her husband Karthikeyan.

When the pilgrims finally arrived, emotional scenes were witnessed with many breaking down. The pilgrims and their relatives also thanked the State government, especially the Chief Minister’s office and staff at Tamil Nadu House, New Delhi for the arrangements taken to bring them back to Chennai. 

Nearly all pilgrims are senior citizens who take part in package tours of temples in north India. The Gangotri – Yamunotri – Haridwar – Rishikesh – Kedarnath – Badrinath trip is a very popular package with costs starting from Rs. 10,000 onwards depending on the number of days, spots visited, type of travel and category of accommodation. For those opting for helicopter services between Sitapur and Kedarnath, the charge goes up by another Rs. 10,000 per head. Those who cannot afford helicopter services have the option of travelling by foot, hiring a doli (palanquin) or horses and mules.

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