Devastation still visible in Kedarnath

Most people are afraid to stay in the valley overnight

Devastation still visible in Kedarnath

A year after Kedarnath was ravaged by floods, it is still unsettling to see dark clouds engulf the picturesque valley all of a sudden, forcing chopper operators to stop the ferrying of pilgrims.

A handful of apprehensive pilgrims arrived in Kedarnath early on Monday, but the suspension of chopper operations only increased their anxiety. 

Most people do not want to stay in the valley for the night, lest they fall prey to the same fate of those who came here on June 16 last year.

Even the state government providing free food and accommodation is not reassuring enough to allay pilgrims’ fears. “Every one will get free accommodation. A sleeping bag will be given to all who spend the night here,” said Ashok Sonekar, a volunteer who has been staying here for the past several days to assist local officials. 

After all, it was just a year ago when flash floods brought down millions of tonnes of boulders and muck from the surrounding hills, flattening almost everything in its path and killing thousands of people.

Locals believe that it will be long before Kedarnath returns to its former glory. 

“It will take several years to restore the place. The government must also regulate construction here. No construction should be allowed around the shrine,” said a police official, who did not want to be named.

Not much has changed at ground zero. Even with the administration roping in hundreds of workers to remove boulders and clear the paths that lead to the shrine, visible signs of devastation still persist. 

By covering some of the debris of destroyed houses, hotels and shops, the local administration has very unconvincingly tried to camouflage the destruction.

Boulders, some of which have skeletons of animals trapped under them, surround the shrine from all sides and glance at devotees almost menacingly. 

Even the few sadhus who have been able to reach the shrine this season claim they have seen several human skeletons along the trekking route to the shrine. In the past few days, around three-dozen skeletons were found in the forests around Jungle Chatti, which line the path to the shrine. Officials are still combing the forests to look for more bodies. People, however, have still managed to find faith in these grim surroundings. 

A few feet from the rear walls of the shrine is “Bhim Shila” – a large rock that came tumbling down from the hills during the floods. 

Devotees have made the boulder an object of worship, with the sentiment that it was in some way responsible for saving the shrine from the destruction of the raging floods.

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