Complete the sentence, “It’s raining m…”
Bet you didn’t guess maggots.
Ever since the rains last week, the air has been a haze. It is a thick, hot, humid cloud that has settled in the valley. The sun glows as a burnished red orange orb over the fog wreathed mountains and the moon hangs in the sky as ethereal misty white gold. In our yoga class, ever since the rains we have been pestered by flies, which is an extra challenge in an already challenging meditation practice. Now, this morning in class, we had maggots dropping from the wooden ceiling.
It’s a kind of ridiculous situation but hilarious in how randomly ridiculous it is.
On a more serious note, the Indian government has begun calling the heavy early rains “the Himalayan Tsunami”. We are living in a yoga bubble, perfectly nestled at a safe distance from both the mountains and the river, avoiding both landslides or flooding from rising Ganges. Though our days continue in routine and I emphasize that we are safe, there are numerous signs that a disaster is happening all around us. As we walk down towards the bridge, I first noticed that a muddy ground patch in front of a temple have been increasingly filled with people and their smoky cooking fires fill the air. Another sign are the endless drone of helicopters flying over us as they fight against time to rescue people in the mountains.
I read in the paper today that villages have been completely washed away, over 600 roads including highways and over 200 bridges have been washed out. Helicopters are the only means of reaching people.
Let me give you some background. Uttarakhand, the province we’re in, is considered the Land of Gods. Uttarakhand has some of the country’s most sacred sites including the holy Ganges River and mountain top shrines believed to be the home of the Hindu gods themselves. Thousands of people from across India, especially during May and June, come here each year on a pilgrimage known as Char Dham Yatra, which visits four of the holiest Hindu shrines. A friend who works at a local restaurant was telling me that doing this pilgrimage is necessary for moksha, liberation. Rishikesh is the gateway city to this pilgrimage.
One of these shrines is the Kedarnath Shrine, dedicated to Lord Shiva, where the centuries old settlement have been basically flattened with flooding and landslides. Nearly 27,000 people are still trapped in this area alone.
So far, the death toll is 600 with 1,400 people still missing and though 34,000 have already been evacuated, 50,000 people are still stranded. We were talking to another yoga teacher in the area who has a local friend involved in the rescue process and he emphasized that the stranded people have nothing – no shelter, no food, no drinkable water, nothing. Some are still trapped on top roofs surrounded by water for over a week now. Rescue personnel are still digging people out who have been buried or trapped in collapsed structures. Unfortunately, as they pull people up, they are only pulling up arms and legs as the rest of the body has begun to rot in the water. He also said that the dam by Hardiwar, the next city downstream from Rishikesh, was clogged with bodies of people and cattle.
I said to our friend at a local restaurant that this was a very sad situation that so many people died on a holy pilgrimage, especially by flooding of the sacred Ganges. He said that it is truly sad for families who have lost their loved ones but the eternal optimist he seems to be said that it is not so sad for the people who died themselves. Maybe this is a way of coping with the immensity of loss but he emphasized that the people who died on this sacred land, on pilgrimage seeking spiritual liberation, will be liberated.
Still, as the rains have started again tonight with violent streaks of lightning in the sky making the black night like a strobe light and torrential rainfall pounds the earth, my heart and prayers go out to all those devastated by the rains.
Om shanti, shanti, shanti.
May there be peace for all and forever.
Some media reports on the disaster below. There are some crazy pictures of the destruction.