Sharada returns to recount her tale in Uttarakhand

All she can remember is the horrific sight of boulders rolling down hillsides, massive landslides and big vehicles being washed away. Added to it was the deep-seated fear that she would not live to see another day. “I have just seen how a beautiful scenic spot can turn absolutely horrific. I will never go back to the Himalayas,” said M.C. Sharada, who still shudders as she recalls what she saw at Uttarakhand. She returned to Bangalore late on Thursday night with dreadful memories that will haunt her for years to come. “I’ve come back to life from the brink,” she said.

She was on the Char Dham pilgrimage along with her sister Kusuma Devi and friend Padma Krishna Rao, when the four districts in Uttarakhand was pounded by unprecedented rainfall, bringing misery to thousands of pilgrims. They were part of a group of 25 members that had completed visits to Yamunotri, Gangotri and Kedarnath, and was headed to Badrinath that completes the Char Dham Yatra.

Death, her shadow

The trio was among the lucky pilgrims who escaped the nature’s fury at almost every step. Nearly about an hour after they vacated the guest house in Gowrikund to accommodate others, the guest house was inundated. A couple of hours after they left Gowrikund on the evening of June 16, the entire town got flooded.

Between Hemakund and Joshimath, a bus that was tailing their vehicle was hit by a huge boulder. A few kilometres later, they watched in horror as a car was washed away in the river. In Hemkund, of the 500 vehicles in the parking lot, only six were left after the water-level receded, added Ms. Sharada, a State government employee, who had earlier taken the Manasa Sarovar Yatra.

At the same time, they were getting news of large-scale devastation in Kedarnath and other areas. For almost three days, the group was stuck in Karnaprayag where they faced water and power shortage, as the utility lines were damaged. Even when they started for Rishikesh, they had to endure long traffic jams on the narrow roads and on several stretches, they saw stranded vehicles.

Dreading the worst, Ms. Sharada kept calling up almost every contact on her phone from Karnaprayag, wishing them good luck and telling them that it could be her last conversation. “Watching the destruction unfold, I did not know if I would come back alive.”

Over the next few days and weeks, Ms. Sharada will be visiting various temples to fulfil the vows that her family and friends took for her return to safety.

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