"The sense of peace and satisfaction that I used to get visiting here was clearly missing this year, Shyam Prasad Gupta, a pilgrim from Karnataka, said."
By Shradha Chettri

Kedarnath (Uttarakhand), June 18 - The temple town of Kedarnath faced the worst brunt in the Himalayan tsunami a year ago. The town, with giant boulders, half collapsed buildings, lies in a ravaged state. The re-construction process is on and the government has outlined an elaborate Kedarnath Development Plan, but people are worried whether their town will develop and life will return to normalcy.

It is important to understand that the terrain here is very difficult. To bring any material we need helicopters.. Slowly everything will be in place. Voluntary organisations should cooperate with the government to restore the holy town, Meera Kaintusa, district disaster management officer, told IANS.

According to the officer, the Kedarnath Development Plan that they have prepared will ensure that within 100 metres of the temple there would be no buildings and nothing would be allowed in its premises.

Before the mishap, there were a lot of private hotels and lodges along the banks of the Mandakini river that served as a source of livelihood for the hundreds working there.

But after the massive cloud burst last year and the river changing course the buildings were washed away and many destroyed. Even after a year, a walk along the Mandakini gives a clear insight into the enormity of the calamity.

Having lodges and all had made the entire area very dirty, and it was becoming difficult to manage. We have decided that we will also ban plastic and find other mechanisms for people to bring their offerings at the temple, added Kaintusa.

The temple which used to be thronging with pilgrims and people had to wait in long queues to enter inside now lies almost in a deserted state.

With basic amenities almost lacking in the town, the development plan includes a solar energy plant and satellite communications from BSNL for the convenience of the pilgrims.

I am personally working on the ground and even trying to get women doctors to work here. Everything will require time, but things will come to normal, said the official.

The temple town used to get a large number of pilgrims both domestic and from abroad, but this year the number has drastically reduced.

As part of the precautionary measures the government has this year put a limit - at 200 - on the number of pilgrims who can stay overnight.

A new road has also been constructed on the left bank of Mandakini river for the people who come to Kedarnath on foot, Kaintusa said.

But the people who transport material on horseback and would also ferry pilgrims say that the new roads are dangerous, according to media reports.

Earlier I used to bring pilgrims on horses but the road is very dangerous now, so we only transport materials now, Rajender told IANS.

Rajender earlier owned horses and used them during the pilgrimage season. Now he loans them to his neighbour who uses them in lieu of the house rent Rajender owes. The landlord's own animals were washed in the flash flood last year.

For pilgrims the safest mode of transport are the helicopters. But the unpredictable weather of the mountains makes travelling in a chopper fraught with uncertainty.

This time we have made provision for food for the pilgrims who come here and everyone has been given a biometric card, said Kaintusa.

The priests at Kedarnath feel that while the government has managed to open the temple for the yatra, the facilities are not adequate.

There are clearly not many tents for the pilgrims. They have also removed the kiosks and taken away the means of livelihood of the locals. I do not know what the local people will do? Suresh Tiwari, priest at Kedarnath temple, told IANS.

Tiwari says the six month pilgrimage season in Kedarnath used to help the locals earn enough money to suffice the entire year.

Now with the new rules of the government how will things come to normalcy? Government should work with the priests and the temple committee members to make the process of restoration easier, added Tiwari.

Though not much damage occurred at the main temple, the government has the task of restoring the adjacent Shankaracharya temple, which was covered by a big boulder that is known to have helped change the river's course and saved the temple from further damage.

We all believe that the Bhim Dev Shila (boulder) saved the Kedarnath temple from maximum damage. However, in the process the other temple got destroyed. I hope the government will be able to restore it, Bhim Raj Chaturvedi, another priest at Kedarnath temple told the visiting IANS correspondent.

Most of the labourers from Nepal working for the temple's reconstruction say that clearing the debris and breaking the boulders will take a long time.

We work here continuously, but then seeing the amount of damage that has happened restoring the town will take a long time, Bharat Bahadur, a labourer from Nepal, told IANS.

Many of the labourers say that buried under the boulders there are still unrecovered bodies.

I have seen people being washed away and buildings falling. Government should first remove the boulders and remove the bodies and purify this place, Manu, a cleaner at the temple, said.

Pilgrims who used to visit earlier say that the ambience of the place is not like it used to be.

The sense of peace and satisfaction that I used to get visiting here was clearly missing this year, Shyam Prasad Gupta, a pilgrim from Karnataka, said.

(Shradha Chettri can be reached at [email protected])


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