MUZAFFARNAGAR: Devout Hindu Hari Meena of Rajasthan always took the Utkal Express for his annual pilgrimage from Puri to Haridwar, but vows that he is never going to travel by train again after Saturday's devastating rail accident.
The traumatised passenger was part of a group of about 50 villagers, from Sapotra in the Karauli district of Rajasthan, who had boarded the train from Puri for the Uttarakhand town, never imagining it would be a ticket to a nightmare.
"We will not take a train ever again. We will travel by road and, if that's not possible, we will walk. But we cannot go back to those rails which took the lives of our friends," said Meena, who was nursing injuries on his chest and legs and being taken care of in a temple here.
For five years, Meena and the other villagers travelled to Puri, where they prayed to Lord Jagannath, and then boarded the Utkal Express for the holy town of Haridwar.
But tragedy struck on Saturday, when the train was passing through Khatauli. Thirteen coaches were derailed, killing 22 people and leaving 156 injured, 26 grievously.
"Some of us climbed out through the emergency window to save our lives," Meena told PTI.
The villagers went back to the mangled coaches later, in search of family and friends. They found two people in a pool of blood.
"We checked their pulse and their breath. They were dead," an agonised Meena recalled, identifying the dead as Ramji Lal Gujar (63) and Rampati (55).
The nightmare for the villagers continued as they went to collect the bodies from the district mortuary.
The group was travelling in S-2 and S-3, two of the worst affected coaches in the accident.
Goranti, the 32-year-old daughter-in-law of Ramji Lal, was in the S-2 coach, which after jumping the rails was flung in the air by the impact and ended up climbing over the crushed pantry car. The other end of the carriage rammed into the facade of a house nearby.
A terrified Goranti and other fellow survivors from her village found shelter in the Jharkhand Mahadev Temple near the site of the accident.
"The local people brought us to the temple and we were given food and water by them. A doctor also came and checked our injuries. Their support eased our pain, but we are unable to get over the loss of our family members," she said, as tears welled up in her eyes.
At the Muzaffarnagar town of Khatauli, about 100km from Delhi, it was indeed a terrifying sight, as crumpled coaches lay scattered off the tracks, overturned or tilted, before being cleared away by the railway's restoration team.
Many of the injured were being treated at the Muzaffarnagar District Hospital.
"Four injured people were brought here on Saturday in a critical condition, so we referred them to the Meerut Medical College and Hospital. Three of them, and another person, were in a state of shock," Chief Medical Superintendent Dr P K Agarwal told PTI.
Shariq Nasim, 32, is unable to put the nightmare behind him.
"I got hit on my head and keep feeling dizzy. My leg was broken. I can't even recall if I was in S-5 or S-6. The mere thought of the accident terrifies me," he said.