A tax consultant, an engineer, a management expert, an adventure instructor, a mountaineer; not the kind of team one would visualise to carry out rescue operations in devastated mountains. But this is precisely what these brave men, part of a 10-member group, accomplished; building bridges and moving people to safe destinations.
Leaving their homes in Pune, the Giripremi team led by Umesh Zirpe, mountain lovers all with experience of rescue courses, headed to Kumaon. “The area has been devastated and sadly no attention has been paid,” said Zirpe, who presented a grim picture of what he saw.
Villages have been destroyed, according to Zirpe. “We were in Pithoragarh and it was heartbreaking to see the locals wailing. They have suffered losses that will take years to recover.”
Travelling by jeeps but mostly covering distance on foot, the group encountered a ferocious terrain. “It was frightening as we came across damaged roads and mountains in Dharchula, Kulagarh and Elagad. They are little known spots in Kumaon. But the locals have suffered from the devastation,” said Bushan Harshe.
Poor connectivity has denied timely help to the villagers. According to Zirpe, the local administration, assisted by Area Sub Divisional Magistrate Pramod Kumar and Deepak Rawat, has done a wonderful job in association with the Army. “But a lot needs to be done. There were certain areas where we were not sure if we could find our way back,” noted Atul Murmure.
A three-floor building caved in Baluwakote where Sela village was the most affected. “Roads and bridges were swept away. It took us 12 hours to set up a bridge that could serve some purpose for the time being,” said Abhijit Deshmukh, who worked tirelessly in the company of Anand Mali, Ashish Mane, Tekraj Adhikari and Kaustabh Thakar.
Landslides, witnessed by this team at Elagad, have left the locals wondering at their fate. “Powerhouses have been damaged. Most of the area is unlikely to get power for years. Some may not have roads for years. Access to these places is going to be the toughest challenge and can be achieved only with the help of the Army which has the required expertise,” stressed Ganesh More. There is a growing anger against the politicians who have not offered any help. “What an irony. There is surplus for Uttarakhand victims and much is being wasted. In Kumaon, there is nothing when much is required. Even the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Army and Sashakt Seema Bal are waiting for rations because of poor connectivity. Only air hike can help the affected villagers but then it is not affordable and advisable also due to bad weather,” said Zirpe.
“Rocks are ready to come down,” warned Deshmukh since monsoon has not visited the Pithoragarh region. The team has appealed to the State Government to ensure the tourists in future are provided skilled man power to assist them during pilgrimages. “They need guidance even as the locals need protection,” felt Krishna Dhokale.