The locals played a sterling role in saving the lives of pilgrims who are now able to return home.
They provided the pilgrims not just shelter, but also exhausted whatever little food they were left with following the flash floods.
And with food packets being airdropped not reaching remote areas, most of these highlanders are “now left with nothing to eat and have starvation literally staring in the face”.
“The large-heartedness the locals displayed at a time when their own life was hanging by a thread is exemplary,” said MM Semwal, a professor at HNB Garhwal University.
Semwal said the flash floods also wiped out a 72-km stretch of Highway 109, which ran parallel to the river Mandakini between Rudraprayag and Gaurikund. As a result, the pilgrims who were stranded in the area took shelter in villages.
According to Semwal, highlanders stock ration before winter but no such arrangements are made this time of the year. So, they did not have enough food items stored in their homes.
“Nor was there any possibility of arranging for food supply as all the shops along the Mandakini had been wiped out by the river,” he said, adding yet the villagers “didn’t leave the pilgrims in the lurch”.
In Dadoli, a remote village 140 km north of Srinagar, residents started a langar (soup-kitchen) for pilgrims.
“They took shelter there after portions of the highway were wiped out,” said SC Bhatt, a professor. “Although villagers did not have enough food, they somehow arranged for it and fed around 7,000 pilgrims for two days,” he said.
Rajendra Goswami, a villager, said the government should initiate food supply to most such villages because the people there were facing starvation.
“Besides, there is no scope for buying food as most towns and markets along the Mandakini and elsewhere in the disaster-struck Kedar valley had been washed away by the flash floods,” Semwal said.