After witnessing death, destruction and a miraculous escape from the jaws of the Himalayan Tsunami in Uttarakhand, little did the pilgrims from Hyderabad anticipate that they would be put through the wringer once again.
Desperate for food, water and shelter, many recalled their trauma and spoke in detail about the indifference of officials to their needs and how they struggled to return.
Contrary to claims of the authorities that elaborate arrangements had been in place, pilgrims who returned on Saturday and Sunday said it was utter chaos everywhere. They were also furious at the railway authorities for their casual attitude.
“There was no help from the railway authorities for purchasing train tickets. As a result, private ticket agents fleeced us. We had to shell out Rs. 1,400 per head for train tickets to private agents under the Tatkal scheme to board the A.P. Express on Friday.
“There were 22 members in our group, and only four tickets got confirmed, while the others travelled sitting near toilets,” said Old Safilguda resident Manjula Yadav, who arrived here on Saturday. That was not all. “Forget about confirmed berths, the authorities did not even offer food and water on board the train. Despite pleading that we were returning from Char Dham yatra, ticket examiners were rude and shouting at us,” she bemoaned.
Many said that the control rooms were chaotic and poorly administered. “We were stranded for four days at a place 18 km away from Uttarakashi. We had to pay Rs. 40 for a drinking water bottle, and there was hardly any help from the authorities at the rehabilitation centres,” recalled N. Krishna (70), a resident of Ramgopalpet.
In fact, voluntary organisations came forward to help many pilgrims on their return journey.
“Most of us had proper food only in New Delhi and thanks to some voluntary organisation that offered us fruit, snacks, tea and water in Madhya Pradesh,” said K.V. Rao, a resident of Motinagar, who arrived along with 26 other pilgrims on Sunday by a special train.
Pilgrims were put to hardship on their way back as the railway authorities did not provide them food or water on board the trains