Mahesh Mevada (52), an executive engineer with the state's Roads & Buildings Department, had gone on the pilgrimage along with his wife Harsha (44), dentist daughter Riddhi (24) and some friends. All of them have returned home after spending around nine nightmarish days in Uttarakhand.
They say the arrangements made by the Gujarat government was nothing but a "cheap publicity stunt".
The Mevadas set out from Gujarat on June 8 and were at Kedarnath on June 16 when the calamity struck. "We found our way through floods and jungles to Ramvada village, from where we were brought to Fata by a rescue helicopter, without food and proper potable water. Ultimately, we reached Haridwar on June 22," says Mahesh, who says he was down with fever and low blood pressure then.
At Haridwar, the Mevadas were joined by Harsha's brother Bharat Suthar, who had rushed from Ahmedabad to Uttarakhand after hearing about the calamity.
The Mevadas, Suthar and their friends stayed overnight at Shantikunj Ashram of Gayatri Parivar in Haridwar where the Gujarat government had set up a camp for stranded pilgrims. "Till Haridwar, we saw no signs of the Gujarat government's rescue and relief operations," Mahesh says.
Since the family wanted to go home at the earliest, they were ready to charter a flight back for Rs 4.5 lakh, says the engineer. "But state government officials there told us a flight arranged by them would take us back for free. For the next 2-3 hours, nothing happened. Suddenly, we were told the flight had been cancelled and we would be going by train in a sleeper coach," he adds.
Harsha said they agreed since they did not want to take the bus which the government official also offered.
Suthar says, "An official accompanied us on a bus to the station and put us on a general coach in which even fans were not functional. We protested initially but were told that under the circumstances, this was the best bet. But then we were not given any identity proof by the authorities that could establish that we were one of the flood victims."
According to Harsha, throughout the journey the ticket examiners kept asking them for proof to show they were stranded pilgrims from Uttarakhand.
"At Mehsana, one Railway Protection Force official threatened to penalise us for illegally occupying the coach. All this happened because we were not given any identity proof," Mahesh says.
Harsha says she overheard people at Fata saying that had this tragedy struck Gujarat, the Modi administration would have managed it excellently. "And I was feeling proud of my state. But after our experience, I think the state government should have done concrete work instead of making cheap publicity stunts for photo-ops," says Harsha.
When contacted on phone, Bipin Bhatt, a special officer of the Gujarat government camping in Haridwar, says, "Everyone cannot get a flight. What is important is to send them back home at the earliest by whatever mode. We sent them (Mevadas and others) in a coach that was provided to us by the railways. As for what happened to them during the journey, in such circumstances such things happen."
"People have too high expectations," he adds.