Women climbers led by Bachendri Pal carry 25 kg of rations each for the affected
Putting their skills to the best use, legendary mountaineer Bachendri Pal and her team of women climbers are trekking everyday to remote villages in flood-hit Garhwal Himalayas. Each carrying at least 25 kg of rations in backpacks, they have so far supplied relief materials in over a dozen villages where even Army or paramilitary personnel failed to reach.
Ms. Pal, first Indian women to have scaled Mount Everest, is accompanied by Premlata Agrawal, a Jamshedpur-based homemaker who became the oldest Indian woman to have scaled the world’s tallest peak at the age of 48 in 2011, and eight other mountaineers. For the past 10 days, every morning they have collected relief materials at the makeshift helipad at Maneri before Uttarkashi and made long their long trek.
“There are several villages that are completely cut off either by landslides or due to washing away of bridges and roads. To reach some of these villages, we have to trek 10-15 km from the last road head…no one from the State administration has reached these villages for relief,” Ms. Pal told The Hindu on the phone from Uttarkashi.
As the magnitude of the disaster became clear by June 20, Ms. Pal, along with her team, flew into to Dehradun from Jamshedpur, where she heads the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TASF). “In the next few days we conducted a basic survey on the kind of relief work needed in these villages…we then started getting supplies of essentials dropped at Maneri.”
Narrating her first trek to Pilang in Uttarkashi, now about 18 km from the last road head, Ms. Pal said, “The villagers were so emotional at our presence that they started hugging us. There joy was not about getting supplies, they were overwhelmed that someone had come to see them after the disaster … It actually gave them some self-confidence that people are there to help them. The scene there was horrifying as most of the houses in the village had suffered damage and their fields and livestock were washed away by floods.”
Ms. Pal, who still climbs mountains like a teenager despite her touching 60, has led her team to Kamer, Attani, Shayaba, Bhayana, Lanthura, Sasra, Jadau, Devsari and Bhatwari, among a dozen villages. “Apart from distributing 20-kg packets containing rice, wheat flour, pulses, salt, sugar, milk powder, tea, spices and other essentials enough for a small family for over a month, we have given blankets, solar lamps, small tents and water purifiers (all donated by the Tata Relief Committee)…These basics will help them sustain till help from the administration reaches them.”
Describing the plight of the villagers, she said they were scared of rain as a heavy downpour was forecast in the region for the next few days. This would make it more difficult for the administration to reach them. “The State government should now focus on these affected villagers,” said Ms. Pal, who herself hails from Uttarkashi.
Ms. Premlata Agrawal, Jamshedpur-based homemaker, said she had returned to Uttarakhand to pay her debt. “Hills have given me so much…it is time to give back. This is the time when we can use our trekking and climbing skills to help those in need.”