Trekkers' tragedy: Of regrets and resolves

NewsDrum Desk
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Bengaluru, Jun 8 (PTI) Five days after the freak weather incident that saw the death of nine trekkers from Karnataka in Uttarakhand, ifs and buts still weigh down families and friends of 22 trekkers who got caught in the blizzard.

"You know, Sindhu was not planning to go for this trek. But when her friend and fellow member of Karnataka Mountaineering Association (KMA), Asha Sudhakar insisted that Sindhu also come, she decided to go eventually," N R Satheesan, Sindhu's brother-in-law and Thrissur Congress Committee general secretary, told PTI.

Sindhu, a 46-year-old techie and her 71-year-old friend Asha, one of the oldest women trekkers of Karnataka, were among the nine who died on June 3. Asha was accompanied by her husband S Sudhakar, also 71 years old, who survived the ordeal.

As for Sindhu, a native of Palakkad settled in Bengaluru, she is survived by her husband, who incidentally also used to go on treks with her every now and then, and her two sons – one of whom just completed his undergraduate course this year while the other is pursuing a course in hotel management in Udupi.

As soon as he heard the news, Satheesan said he rushed to Bengaluru to be at his brother's side as he received the body.

Satheesan said Sindhu was free-spirited, energetic and adventurous and really enjoyed trekking.

All the trekkers who went on this trip were experienced – they have been trekking for at least six years, said Suma Sarjapur, 48, wife of one of the survivors, 52-year-old Madhu Kiran.

"My husband has been going on treks with some of them, on and off, for the last couple of years," said Sarjapur.

Incidentally, Sarjapur said her family of three – including her 21-year-old college going son – were passionate trekkers. She and her husband have been trekking for more than 20 years, she added.

She said she just returned from a trek in Uttarakhand just a few weeks ago.

"We were both IT professionals and we really enjoyed being out in nature. We started with walking the trails along the forests around Bengaluru. Soon, we really got sucked into this hobby," said Sarjapur.

It came to a point where the couple decided to quit their jobs and pursue trekking professionally.

"My husband in fact volunteers at the KMA. So, it is not like this trip was on his bucket list or anything. It's just that opportunity presented itself and he decided to go for it," said Sarjapur.

It is the same with Sujata and Vinayak Mungarwadi, described by their friend Prakash Rajagoli as a couple who were absolutely devoted to each other. The couple were among the nine who died.

"They have been trekking for more than six years now. As far as I know, it started for them when they went on pilgrimage to Srisailam temple in Andhra Pradesh. They also talked a lot about their trekking trip to Kashmir's Great Lakes. My friend Vinayak is a two-wheeler freak too and undertook many biking trips as well," said Rajagoli.

But unlike the Mungarwadis, Sarjapura said she and her husband had consciously decided not to go on bigger trekking expeditions together.

"You see, this is all a calculated risk. One never knows what might happen. In fact, if you ask me, everything in life comes with a risk, you just have to be prepared as much as you can," said Sarjapura.

However, Satheesan said things might have been different if people were taught at least in theory some survival skills in the face of snowstorms and blizzards.

"I think it is the duty of the associations that organise such trekking trips to prepare the trekkers for eventual extremities, especially the weather,” said Satheesh.

Sarjapura agrees that her husband, who survived the ordeal, is a trained mountaineer.

But she rejected the contention, being floated in the social media, that it was not the right time for such a trekking expedition in that part of the world.

"It was the perfect time for this trek, in fact my husband said when they were returning to the base camp, it was a glorious sunny day before it turned tragic," said Sarjapura.

If anything, Sarjapura said it is another nudge for humans who have messed up nature so bad that weather is going topsy-turvy.

"I believe the blizzard, such a freak one, was so harsh that the jackets and windcheaters were ripped off the trekkers. Apparently, even the bodies started to be swept away in the wind," said Sarjapura.

Although she agreed that the growing trend for hiking has opened a Pandora's box with inexperienced and unprepared people wanting to climb higher peaks, she insisted that the Sahastra Tal tragedy was clearly a freak of nature.

"The ones who went on this trek were not novices. They planned properly and they had all the gear needed. All we can do now is, learn what we can from this experience and make the next time as safe as possible," added Sarjapura.

Life goes on, agrees Maggie Inbumuthiah, co-founder of Bengaluru-based Happifeet, a firm that organises trekking trips, particularly for women and senior citizens.

"I am on my way to Shimla now where a group is joining me for a trekking trip to Rohtang Pass. Initially, when we heard the news, I was worried, but people were keen on continuing the trip," Inbumuthiah told PTI over phone from Delhi airport. PTI AMP/JR SS