He spent 12 hours out in the open precariously perched on a cliff as torrential rains unleashed largescale devastation on Kedarnath, demolishing all that came in their way with equal fury except the shrine.
These were the words of Sitaram Sukhatia, a resident of Gondia in Maharashtra as he alighted from an Indian Air Force helicopter at Sahsradhara helipad in Dehradun and recounted the agonising tale of his close encounter with death and devastation at the ancient Himalayan shrine.
Sukhatia, who has difficulty in standing properly even now, said he is 63 but has never witnessed such a horrible scene earlier. "There is nothing left in Kedarnath now except the temple. It was shocking to watch a place bustling with people metamorphose in a matter of a few hours into an island of death and destruction," he said.
There were about 8,000 people there on the fateful night when the calamity struck. Four thousand mule herders were present with their animals to ferry the devotees, but now all that is visible there is water and a lonely shrine surrounded by the debris of collapsed structures, he said.
Hotels, shops, houses have all vanished, Sitaram, who came down to Dharali on foot in order to escape the calamity, said.
Sitaram, who saw human bodies, cattle and LPG cylinders being helplessly cascaded away by the swirling river waters, attributed his survival entirely to the Army and blamed the government of failing to make even drinking water available to the affected people.
Sakshi and her husband Sumit Bansal, a couple from Maharashtra who were part of a 49-member team of pilgrims, broke down as they began to narrate their ordeal which started with the waters of Gangotri rising alarmingly on June 15, prompting them to come down and put up at a hotel in Dharali along with their baby.
"As the fury of floods was unleashed by torrential rains and our hotel began to turn into a debris of mud and slush, we fled in panick along with our eight-month-old child in our arms to another nearby hotel for shelter which was already bursting at the seams," they said.
"It was water all over. We had only biscuits left with us to eat. We were short of drinking water too. With an eight-month-old child with us and virtually nothing to eat and drink and nothing for shelter, it was a nightmare we won't forget for the rest of our lives," Sumit said.
He said they had lost all hope of survival during the tormenting time, but the IAF choppers arrived at last to offer a helping hand.