I did not think I would write my first article about a calamity, but this calamity has touched me in ways more than one.

On 16th June 2013 a cloud burst took place over the Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The ensuing floods caused ravage over an area of 40,000 square kms affecting nearly 110,000 people. Relentless rain caused landslides, deposited large amount of water, silt and rocks into the Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers which raged through the area, sweeping away everything in sight. A large number of the affected are pilgrims and tourists.

On the date of this article (22 June 2013) the official death toll is at over 550. However, 35,000 people are stranded and awaiting rescue and nearly 70,000 are still missing. It is expected that the death toll will be in thousands. Around 16,000 people have been rescued till now by the armed forces and local para personnel. in.screen.yahoo.com/biggest-rescue-operation-recent-history-070000913.html The real danger is that more rain is expected on 24 June, which only allows a 2 day window to rescue as many people as possible.

This disaster struck at the peak time for pilgrimage to the holy centres that are spread across the higher reaches of Uttarakhand. There is a raging debate whether the damage is solely on account of nature's fury or mankind has greatly added to it through negligence in maintaining the ecologically sensitive Himalayas. In the past decade there has been unplanned mushrooming of houses and hotels, widening of roads to accomodate movement of tourists and of the armed forces to the Chinese borders, and large scale devastation through hundreds of hydel power projects.

I have tr Raksham Elderly avelled extensively through these two states. Just last October (2012) I was in the Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh which has been severely affected.

And I planned to travel through Lahaul-Spiti (north of Sangla) next month, which I may have to reschedule to August. I have been through Srinagar, Rudraprayag and Tehri in Uttarakhand many times in my travels and have been to Joshimath, Badrinath and Gaumukh Truimphant at Gaumukh once. These areas are among the ones that have been the worst affected in Uttarakhand.

Major loss of life is expected from Kedarnath. The Kedarnath Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and was built in the 8th century AD. It is accessible by a 14km walk or on horses from Gaurikund. While the Temple itself has miraculously survived, the area adjoining it has been covered with mud and rocks, flattening everything in sight. Reports say the small habitation of Ram Bada between Gaurikund and Kedarnath is no longer visible, it is now under mud and rocks. It is estimated that there were 5,000 people at Ram Bada when the cloud burst happened.

Besides being a picturesque part of the country, the people of the regions affected are simple and honest, and have to work hard to eke out a living in the tough terrain in the best of times. They are the ones who will be hit the hardest. It will take them years to rebuild their houses and farmlands and to recoup their lost livestock.