Nature’s Fury and Grace:
Musings from Sitlakhet
Even the fearless pray for a miracle when nature decides to unleash her fury. When the flashfloods and landslides were wreaking havoc in parts of Uttarakhand, one might have believed that nature had a few things to settle with God. Else, you might be at a loss to make sense of the death and trauma of large number of pilgrims, on their way to one of the oldest and holiest shrines in the country. While pilgrims meeting with calamities are not unheard of, a devastation of this magnitude, where nature swept away almost everything from her path - man, his dwellings, his livestock and even a part of the holy place itself - is perhaps unprecedented.
Just around the time when the Army began to reach the treacherous terrain to find survivors, things took a political colour with ministers across the country beginning a race to save those from their states. A couple of them exchanged blows and swore that the other had no right to act savior. If such concern for human life had been genuine, there would have been no room for hatred in the country and environment would never have been such a big casualty.
Seeing buildings collapse like packs of cards every day on television and hearing about the difficulty that rescuers were having in reaching many of the affected places, we changed our original plan of going from Delhi to Chaukori and planned to visit Sitlakhet instead.
On our way, at many places, almost half the width of the roads were covered with rocks and mud that had fallen off the mountains. Dark clouds and fast spreading tales of devastation from different regions of the State kept people indoors with very little traffic on the roads. We also heard stories of sadhus robbing the dead of their rings and jewellery by chopping off their fingers. Human greed has an uncanny knack of finding its way even to places made inaccessible by nature. We made it to Sitlakhet on 21 June evening in about 12 hours.
At a distance of 35 kilometers from Ranikhet, Sitlakhet is one of those pristine places where thoughts and silence can be interrupted only by the birds or by the noise of the wind or, if you listen very hard, by the waterfalls concealed in the woods by nature with her care and craft. You begin to wonder if nature entrusts the “administration” of different regions to different gods the way we entrust it to different “municipalities” and “governments”. What else could be the reason for nature to be so furious and ruthless just a hundred kilometers away and to be so mesmerizing and “at peace” here?
On the second day at Sitlakhet, we climb up to the temple of Siyahi Devi at an altitude of 2400 meters. A steep and winding four hour trek from the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) Rest House through lush green forests of pine trees, blooming bougainvilleas turned out to be more refreshing than tiring. The very old temple of Siyahi Devi was bustling with devotees from nearby villages who had come to offer prayers for some puja at the temple. While the place offered an excellent view of Sitlakhet, the sight of packets of chips, kurkures and chocolates seemed to suggest that the faithful, the locals and the tourists, all conspired against the environment.
We made a brief stop at a rocky cliff and then walked to an orchard full of apple and plum trees. The owner, a villager lived with his wife and a five year old daughter in a small house. It was a beautiful sight to see them all living happily together with their cows, goats, a cat and a dog. Clearly they took good care of their apple and plum trees. Sights like these perhaps help in soothing nature when she sees the filth all around.
After sunset, we settled down at the terrace of the hotel with one of my friends on a guitar. On our request, the hotel switched off the lights outside, leaving us with a full moon and the silence of the night. Occasionally, you could see large stretches of clouds (on their way to new destinations) covering the moon, only to reveal her again in full glory in the hills. With her light, you could see in the distant horizon of the night, amidst the stars, the outlines of the mountain ranges. Suddenly, the moon revealed the outline of a very high mountain range that stood majestically at an altitude much higher than the other ranges which were visible from the Hotel throughout the day. It seemed like an orchestration by the moon and the clouds. The vision disappeared after a minute but somehow left us with a glimmer of hope, in spite of the tragedy unfolding so close to us, that man will realize, before long, how big a misfit he could fast become in the scheme of the universe.
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