Calcutta, June 27: Buried under seven feet of snow for three days in their tents at 17,000ft above the sea level, Shiben Dutta, 61, and his three fellow trekkers had almost given up hope.
When the weather improved, however, they clawed their way through the snow for the next three days, braving avalanches as they climbed 50km down from the remote Sweta peak to Gangotri with only biscuits for sustenance. They reached Calcutta today on an Air India flight.
Many of the aircraft’s 105 other passengers too had tales of horror to recount.
“With no help in sight, we walked over 30km from Uttar Gangotri to Harsil where we and 12 others were cooped up in a shop’s godown for a couple of nights before finding official help,” said Shyamali Bag, resident of Bally in Howrah who had left for Uttarakhand with husband Palash on June 12.
State transport minister Madan Mitra, who was at the airport to receive the returning tourists, hurled one allegation after another at the Uttarakhand government and Rahul Gandhi.
“They (the Congress government in Uttarakhand) were too busy entertaining VIP guests and Rahul Gandhi, who was there on a beauty trip,” Mitra alleged.
“While people here are talking about Kamduni, when I was in Kedarnath I received news of several women being raped and robbed by hundreds of anti-socials but no action was taken despite my complaints.”
There have been reports of looting at some of the ravaged villages but no reports of flood victims being raped have emerged so far.
“People from at least five states came to me asking for help,” Mitra said. “I managed to get them out of that place by talking to the authorities. I have reported instances of rape to the Uttarakhand government but no action has been taken.”
None of the survivors who landed in Calcutta today mentioned anything about having heard of rapes in Uttarakhand.
Shiben Dutta, a retired public works department employee who has been trekking for 27 years, was keen to talk about the “scariest experience” of his life.
“From June 15 to 17, it simply snowed on and on and covered our 5ft-high tent. We kept shovelling frantically but at one point got completely snowed in,” he said.
“Our phones were dead and our food was buried under the snow. I still can’t believe that we have managed to come out alive.”
Dutta’s friend Tapash Kabiraj, 51, who works with the fisheries department at Writers’ Buildings, said: “The army personnel were a godsend. They got us to the Bengal government officials.”
Debasish Sharma Sarkar, a senior audit officer with the central government who had gone to Gomukh with his wife and son, had similar experiences to narrate.
“We walked past landslides for days on end from Bhujbabsa to Gangotri and then to Harsil before taking refuge in an army camp,” he said. The family was ferried to Rishikesh by the army on June 25.
The Bengal government had set up three camps at Rishikesh, Hardwar and Dehradun. A medical van with a team of five doctors was kept on standby at the airport for passengers in need of medical care.
A group of 27 pilgrims from Bankura who had arrived on the flight were sent home in a bus while a lone tourist from Jalpaiguri was taken to Sealdah to board a train.
At least 40 people from Bengal are still missing. Around 1,400 have been rescued so far.