As they say one right turn changes your life and it did. We were on holiday, headed for Chopta in Chamoli district and onward to Tungnath and then Chandrashila, which at 4,000 metres houses the highest temple in the world.
On a normal day, the drive from Devprayag to Chopta takes six hours. About 20 minutes into the trip, the cold rain left visibility to near zero. The roar of the Ganges became louder. At the 30-kilometre to Rudraprayag milestone, we were greeted by a traffic jam on the narrow hill road, that stretched as far as the eyes could see.
Elderly couples with children and grandchildren huddled inside cars and SUVs; truck drivers waiting to reach their cargo to their destinations — a microcosm of India was on the road trying to find answers to an unknown disaster. Finally, we were told by a driver that prospects of the roads ahead getting cleared soon were bleak.
Taking his advice we took a U-turn on NH-58 and decided to head back to Rishikesh. It was a risky journey — a rock careening downhill missed a vehicle ahead by a hair.
We checked into a riverside hotel in Rishikesh. The angry, swollen mudcoloured river rushed down three metres above the normal level. The water was rising every minute. The Ganga roared on, bearing the debris of huge uprooted trees, tents, gas cylinders, refrigerators, and water tanks. Locals told us that it was all stuff from the river rafting camps that dotted the banks of the Ganga.
We chanced upon the young SDM of Rishikesh whose angst was palpable and visible. “What do you do, this hotel is on the riverbed; they have encroached the land that belongs to the river. The river is taking its revenge now.” Had we not taken the U-turn, we would have been part of the statistics making headlines now.