1,000 years of solitude comes undone in a few decades

  • Prithviraj Singh, Hindustan Times, Dehradun
  • Updated: Nov 06, 2014 15:45 IST

Arvind Shukla has seen Kedarpuri develop from a small settlement to a bustling, urban landscape -- its economy revolving around the Kedarnath temple and the thousands of pilgrims who visit the shrine every year.

But many like Shukla also believe that this growth story is not without irony; the same development had magnified the devastation in the temple town when nature unleashed its fury on the picture-postcard valley in June 2013.

Over a year later, as the authorities set out to rebuild the town and renovate the temple -- which had luckily managed to withstand nature’s brute power – the focus is primarily on reducing human pressure on the shrine.

Shukla is a priest of the shrine -- dedicated to Lord Shiva and nestled amidst snowclad mountains in the Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand – and was present at Kedarpuri when disaster struck.

Silt and boulders swept down by the huge volume of water reduced all man-made structures to rubble and the number of human lives lost could never be correctly estimated as thousands of bodies were never found.

Shukla, in his mid-40s, felt that Kedarpuri had paid the price for unplanned development.

“Kedarpauri was much better in shape when we came here at a young age. Most of the buildings were raised in the last 20 years virtually choking the roads of the township,” said Shukla, an office-bearer of the Badri-Kedar Temple Committee (BKTC), the governing body of the shrine.

The head priest of the temple last year, Vagesh Ling, too felt that “the high density of buildings was one of the main reasons for the massive destruction as they prevented the water from flowing on its own course.”

Experts of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) have now suggested rebuilding the township away from the shrine.

“The GSI has categorically spoken about it (relocating the town). The report is in public domain for all to see,” said VK Sharma, director of GSI based at Dehradun.

Union water resources minister Uma Bharti is taking a pragmatic approach to tackling the issue of overcrowding at the famous shrine.

During a recent meeting with experts of the Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, the minister had stressed on “restoring the pre-1882 pristine glory of the temple campus by minimising human interference”.

Pictures dating to the 1880s show the temple standing on marshy land with wild vegetation all around.

The temple, incidentally, is located on a natural island formed by the Mandakini and Saraswati rivers, though the later has been reduced to a trickle over the years.

However, the move to relocate the temple town has not gone down well with some of the people whose lives and livelihood closely revolve around the shrine.

Another priest of the temple Laxmi Narayan Jugdan favoured restricted restoration of the township at the earlier place.

“Where will priests go? The township must be reconstructed at the same place but it must be rationalised," Jugdan said.

Chief minister Harish Rawat, caught between the need for urgently completing the restoration works and the sentiments of Kedarpuri’s displaced populace has favoured consensus on the issue through discussions.

“We want to work out a solution by striking a balance between the demands of the priests and preventing interference with the nature. Construction works will be taken up at Kedarpuri but in a planned way and as per the demands of the local priests. The priests will be taken into confidence before starting work," Rawat told Hindustan Times.

Prior to the disaster, the population of Kedarpuri was almost 5,000 though only around 100 – mostly priests – live there at present.

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