Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2023 > Why Nature Turned Furious on Kedarnath Region? | M.R. Narayan (...)

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 34, August 19, 2023

Why Nature Turned Furious on Kedarnath Region? | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Friday 18 August 2023, by M R Narayan Swamy



The Raging Himalayas and A Warming Planet:
Recollections of the 2003 Himalayan Floods and Reflections on Global Warning
by Asokan Vengassery Krishnan

ISBN: 9788195678693
Pages: 210; Price: Rs 495

Even as he entered the scenic Himalayan region of Kedarnath in June 2003, Asokan Krishnan felt disgusted on seeing the ugly all-round construction in brazen violation of the environment. There were plenty of multi-storey lodges and hotels built on the delicate terrain, blatantly defying environmental concerns. And these unruly business establishments, without any qualms, were polluting the purity of the region with filth and garbage.

Indeed, many constructions stood on huge pillars planted deep in the riverbed while others had been built by carving into the mountains. Could any of this have been possible without collusion by the authorities whose job it was to protect nature? The author, who was on a pilgrimage to Char Dham with friends from Kerala, seethed with righteous anger.

Krishnan was not the only one angry. The hundreds of thousands of pilgrims swarming the region did not realize how furious Mother Nature was. And when calamity of an unprecedented nature struck on the evening of June 16 in the form of terrible landslides and floods, no one and nothing was spared: men, women, children, animals, shops, lodges, hotels, houses and entire villages. No one knows how many died – the figure runs into thousands – and how many cars and other vehicles were swallowed up by surging rivers, often with all their occupants.

Travellers and ponies were swiftly swept to their death into the Mandakini River. Rambara, which the author and his friends had just left, was one of the worst hit areas. Incidentally, apparently sensing an impending tragedy, the ponies refused to move ahead in Rambara, which is located between Gaurikund and Kedarnath.

The June 17 morning brought more catastrophe. This time, the Kedarnath region was the main victim. All the illegally built lodges and hotels disappeared in no time. Pilgrims died in hundreds around the Kedarnath shrine, which curiously was the only construction which escaped unscathed.

How did this all happen? Heavy rains overwhelmed the mountainous region from June 13 to 17, forcing the Chorabari glacier to melt. This caused the overflowing Chorabari Lake to overpower its banks, taking massive debris of mud and rocks down the hilly slopes. The sheer size of the roaring water and mud destroyed everything on their path. Many died because the narrow mountain roads on which they were trekking amid unceasing rains simply gave away, pushing them into the rivers far below.

Krishnan revisits the tragedy a decade later, reviving memories for those who may have forgotten what human greed did to ecological balance, No wonder, leading environmental activist Dr Vandana Shiva cried out: “The ecologically fragile Himalaya and our sacred rivers are being raped… We need to learn once again to have reverence for our mountains and rivers.”

Once nature’s fury abated, another monumental problem began: the rescuing of the hundreds of thousands stranded in the desolate mountains amid a severe cold, shrinking food, no privacy, no comfort and an unfriendly weather. The government did unleash a mammoth operation but it just wasn’t enough.

Krishnan and his friends survived only because they left Rambara just in time and, later, decided not to stand in serpentine queues to pray at Kedarnath and instead proceeded to Badrinath, which did not suffer too much damage although roads all around it were destroyed.

Every day officials promised those stranded in Badrinath that they would be rescued soon but the day never arrived. Days turned into a fortnight with no sign when they could be taken out. Frustrated pilgrims staged a noisy protest near the Badrinath temple and on Highway 58. Krishnan’s team leader spoke to numerous officials in New Delhi and Kerala but to no avail. Every conversation elicited only promises.

Out of desperation, the team leader telephoned then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who he knew; on Modi’s intervention, a private helicopter was provided to the group but the weather did not allow it to take off. The US embassy offered to rescue the author, who lives in the US, but he declined to leave without the others.

Eventually, after many days of disappointment, they were flown out by the military on June 27. To avoid the fog, the helicopters flew just above a few feet from the ground through the narrow channel of the Alaknanda. They took the road from Joshimath to Rishikesh. Just as they passed a location in Chamoli district, the road behind them slid into the menacing river below. Rejecting the Kerala government’s offer, all of them flew back to Thiruvananthapuram on their own cost.

The author also dwells on climate change and global warming, the two intertwined phenomenon which may push humanity towards distinction. But it is his personal experience of the 2003 disaster that is truly enlightening. I wish Krishnan had not digressed so often into tales from Hindu mythology; they impede the flow of the story.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.