Pilgrims from Punjab who had gone to Hemkund Sahib shrine and were stranded since Tuesday in Uttarkhand hills, retuned back to Chandigarh to tell stories of disaster and their survival, after ten buses were arranged by the state government, here on Friday.
"I will never forget what I witnessed at Govind Ghat on June 18 night," said Karnail Singh, 45, a resident of Sunam in Sangrur district.
"It was at 2.30 am on Tuesday when the building in which we were staying at Govind Ghat, on the way to Hemkund Sahib started trembling. Suddenly, water came down with full force from the hills. Water and mud entered the langar hall too," he added.
Singh says by 4.30 am their group of six people decided to leave the place. "We thought it was better to be drenched in drain rather than being washed away. We ran from the place down towards Joshi Math. We had hardly travelled four kms when the road behind us caved in. To add to our worries, after another three to four kms, the road ahead us was also washed away," said Karnail.
It was then when the Army played a pivotal role in rescuing the pilgrims from the site and accommodated them in the Army camp at Joshi Math, where pilgrims stayed till Thursday morning.
Another pilgrim, Jaswinder Singh, 50, also a resident of Sunam said, "We are grateful to Army men who saved us, fed us and even offered us clothes in the camp otherwise it would have been a different tale altogether."
However, the pilgrims who returned back to their homes have a number of complaints against the apathy shown by the Uttarkhand administration, too. "Uttarakhand is earning huge money from tourism and pilgrimage. Even then they cannot provide facilities and cannot take care of tourists. It's shameful," said Jaswinder.
"Six of us had to pay Rs 3,000 to a taxi for transporting us from Joshi Math to Rishikesh on Thursday. It was from where we started in the bus on Friday morning for Chandigarh," complained Karnail Singh.
He added that when Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal came to meet them at sector-43 bus stand, pilgrims requested him to arrange for smaller vehicles to ferry those pilgrims who are left in army camp and cannot afford taxi at such high prices, from Joshi Math to Rishikesh.
Both Karnail and Jaswinder have a common message for people. They say one should not visit such shrines in the hilly terrains with children and old aged people.