Francois Reports From Uttarkashi

  1. Friend of Namarupa Bandhava, Francois, biked up to Uttarkashi from New Delhi after hearing about the floods and the work that we are assisting there. Here is his first report:
  3. Two weeks had passed since my arrival at Sivananda Seva Samiti Ashram to serve doing relief work for the victims of June’s flood, and I was feeling useless: catching information through the mist of the language barrier, with Indian “yes sayers,” head-bobbing, and tasks starting “tomorrow.” It was slow to figure out the situation. We unloaded a truck of supplies to cross the damaged bridge at Gangori, then distributed it to villagers from 15 km around, reaching about 4,000 families. Apart from that I was truly making good use of the auspicious time of year that it was for sadhana, in accordance with Swami Janardananda’s advice, and quite the opposite of my willingness to help. In such a situation sometimes the greatest challenge is to wake up early enough to practice, practice, practice.

    So what about relief work? Isn’t there anything to do? Sure there is, and a lot. But this is India. We are not in a Hollywood movie where Bruce Willis saves the world at the last minute. No, we are rather in a Bollywood one, so first we’ll have a chai, then a choreographed routine in the flowers, then a namkeen and then another chai.

    At the ashram, Swami Premanandaji, a joyful 75-year-old man resembling a saffron-clad Santa Claus, does not reveal the burden it must be to manage and organize relief: NGOs provide supplies, and enthusiastic volunteers and countless local villagers are ready to help. The biggest difficulties are the lack of funds and the disastrous state of the roads. No vehicle can cross over landslides; only human porters and mules can. Not to mention that volunteers are good-willed but often unfit or unprepared.

    Swamiji set up a camp near Maneri, providing healthcare services and rations. Maneri is 12 km away from the ashram, after having crossed four landslides and trekked about an hour alongside watery Shri Gangaji. If cranes and caterpillars do a good job transforming the landslides into a track that is maneuverable by off-road jeeps, the next rainfall damages the road again, and the job must be done once more. You can see villagers busy filling a gap in the road stone by stone. The gap is 5 meters wide and 15 meters deep, thus a hundred square meters or so.

    Swami Janardananda organized an expedition to Gangnani involving:

    • Moksha, an NGO from Kerala providing school material
    • Goonj, an NGO from Delhi with Swami Rama, who went ahead to prepare the area and organized distribution.
    • Namarupa, providing funding to pay for seven mules to carry the supplies over three days. The 30 kilometers between Uttarkashi and Sunagar where distribution takes place is a day and a half’s journey.
    • Soma Ashram, for preparing the bags with supplies such as raincoats, clothes, and umbrellas.

    Past Maneri a major landslide has destroyed the road for several kilometers. This is worked around via a 7 km hike along a path on a steep slope falling into River Ganga. Needless to say, not much aid reaches the area beyond Maneri. In a day and a half, the mules arrived in Sunagar, near Gangnani, 40 km from Uttarkashi. We stored their loads, and they turned back, as did the group from Moksha. I stayed with Swami Rama, hiked 6 km farther up at twilight to the small village of Bangholi. The next day we went down to distribute the school supplies to the local kids. More also came down from their village to collect supplies.

    Oṃ Namaḥ Śivāya!