Punjab group of pilgrims recall tale of good Samaritans

Grains of goodness have not been washed away altogether in the flood of evil raging in the hill state of Uttarakhand.

Phagwara: Grains of goodness have not been washed away altogether in the flood of evil raging in the hill state of Uttarakhand, devastated by intermittent rains and landslides.

Though pilgrims returning here from the affected areas pour out shocking tales of human apathy to the sufferings of Uttarakhand flood victims, one of them had a good tale to narrate amid his otherwise harrowing experience and a brush with death.

Taranjit Singh Walia, popularly called Bunty Walia, who returned here on Sunday night, said that though the massive majority of shopkeepers, hoteliers and dhaba-owners made the distraught pilgrims pay through their nose, a few shopkeepers also acted as good Samaritans.

Stranded there along with other group of pilgrims, the 38-year-old Walia said that a few shopkeepers did not charge anything from them for items like juice, water, biscuits, which were otherwise being sold by others at astronomical rates.

"Take free anything available in the shop that you want. We earn from you only, if you won`t survive, how will we make our living that come from earnings from pilgrims, a few shopkeepers said, throwing open their shops to the stranded pilgrims in the affected areas," Walia said.

Wedded to `Seva`, a cardinal principle of Sikhism, Walia and his friends, though themselves stuck up and cut off from their families for about a week, pooled money, bought eatables, water and cold drinks at much higher rates and organised `langar` (free meal) for those pilgrims and tourists who had run out of their money.

"We also made it to Sri Hemkunt Sahib on June 19, even though we were dissuaded from this (mis)adventure by all," he said.

Walia and two other pilgrims condemned the state police for their callousness and insensitivity towards the sufferings of the flood victims.

"Instead of extending any help, the cops laughed at us. They also charged at us with their sticks when we approached them for help," said Jaspreet Singh and Mohkam Singh, who returned, abandoning their pilgrimage mid-way.

"We had to shell out Rs 100 for a water bottle and Rs 200 for an ordinary, poor quality meal. A `pani-panga` (sub-standard) cup of tea cost us Rs 30. It later soared up to Rs 50," they rued.

The pilgrims were also highly critical of management and `Sevadars` of shrines.

"Sevadars at Gobindghat ran away after the flood fury, leaving stranded pilgrims to fend for themselves. `Golaks` (container of cash offerings) were found burgled, costly items of pilgrims were gone from their bags and baggage which was ransacked in the `Gathri Ghar` (luggage store)," they alleged.