Day 7: Meeting the local heroes

27/09/2013, 6:30am, On the way to Gangotri

Yesterday we went to Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM). About 100 students from Doon school have come for a 4 day volunteering camp. Devendra ji was coordinating the activities  and he asked us to accompany.

NIM was the first team to respond to the flood aftermath. Col Ajay was sharing that he had taken a team of girls up towards Gangotri for a search and rescue training. They were coming down on 15th when the floods struck and the training became a real situation. It took them 3 days to come down as the roads were all washed away.
On 18th their team was dropped by helicopter in village Chaumasi close to Kedarnath. They knew people are escaping through the jungles and they obviously needed locals to show them routes. As soon as they came to the village, one boy came forward to help them. Soon many youth came forward. Under the NIM instructor’s guidance, they were able to save many lives.
What he shared further about that first boy, which was in fact true for each of the youth who came forward left me tearful and proud. The boy worked with his father and 2 mules in Kedarnath. The day of the floods, when they saw water rising, they started moving up. The river floods every year, so they didn’t think much about it and just kept on going up slowly. But the water level rose quickly. At one point after pulling his father up, he was bringing the mules up when suddenly the mules were taken away by the river. Now they really started to hasten up. Soon after, he was helping his father up the path when suddenly he lost the grip and saw his father washed away right in front of his eyes. The only thing that helped him go on was the thought of his mother. He reached his village Chaumasi after 4 days and immediately came forward to help the NIM team.
So was the story of ever other person there. Another boy shared that they were nearly 100 people who were climbing up and trying to find a way from Kedarnath to the villages down in the valley via the mountains and jungle. On top of the mountain,  their hands and feet had turned white from the cold and starvation. Also, many people died of smelling some flowers. We later learnt from locals that on top of mountains there are many flowers which can leave you unconscious,  if you smell them. Out of 100 people who went up the jungle path only 10 survived and made it to the villages. Many people had to leave their brothers and fathers and sons behind.
All these youths who helped in search and rescue are now preparing for Indian Army exam because they want to continue serving the country.
Col. Ajay was then telling that what Uttarakhand needs right now is not conventional thought, but an out of box thinking to solve the bigger problems that face us here in the valley. And he gave a splendid example of just that – an idea that came from the local vilage youths during the search operations.  Once they had made a very narrow bridge for themselves to cross and reach isolated area. One SDM was stuck on the other side and he insisted on crossing and slipped from the bridge and was taken away by the river. The team searched for 10 days for his body but with no success. There was a lot of pressure from the government to find his body and they all sat to brainstorm. That’s when a local youth said “if you want to find the body now you need to jump in the river and flow with the water. The point where you stop is the point where we should search for the body.”

Now, obviously nobody could jump in the water that time. But they could still implement the idea. They made 6 human size mannequins,  painted them red for easy identification and threw them in the water from the same place where the SDM had slipped. They could find only 2 manequins from the 6 and while they still couldn’t find the SDM’s body, they found 70 other bodies at each of the locations where the 2 manequins had stopped!

I sent out a silent prayer. Its difficult to put in words what I felt that time. I could hear the pride in the Col. Ajay’s voice. He would address the local youth as “our boys”. They already had the sentiment of the army: No matter what your personal circumstances be when duty calls you remember only your vow to serve the country.

My eyes were wet and still i knew that it would be a disrespect to their bravery and ingenuity if I let them fall. I was right there with these young men and not one of them showed the pain they had and are still going through. Not one has had a chance to grieve there personal losses till now. I was feeling Col. Ajay’s pride. I was also feeling proud of every other silent soldier who keeps us safe inside. I am so grateful that life chose to marry me into an armed officer’s family. I am so grateful that he shares his armed life with us so frequently.There is so much I have learned from his stories and I dedicate this post to my father-in-law, Lt. Col. Sirajuddin.

Thank you daddy.

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