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ॐl|l░Holy Shrine Kedarnath░l|lॐ

The holy shrine Kedarnath is very much in the news. It witnessed one of the worst natural disasters in the recent years. On the morning of 16th June, 2013, as per the newspaper reports, there was a loud explosion in the Gandhi Sarovar, about four km upstream from Kedarnath. Thereafter a huge mass of rocks and mud and water began engulfing the whole valley. The mudslide was so powerful, that it did not spare anything in its wake.
It is not that, that Kedarnath had not witnessed natural calamities in the past! Between 14th century and 17th century, the shrine and the valley were completely covered with ice for four hundred long years. After the mini-ice age was over, the temple re-emerged unscathed but for the striations left by the retreating ice. These were the clues for the geologists to work out the direction of movement and the weight of the Ice etc. later. Similarly, the temple, sinceits construction, couple of thousand years ago has stood like a light house against devastating earthquakes that have visited the young, high rise mountains.
Situated at an altitude of 3600 m. above mean sea level, in the Mandakini River valley which runs almost north-south, bound by five peaks, viz., 5505m peak, Bharat Kunta peak-6578m, Kedarnath peak-6940m, Mahalaya Paravat peak-5970m and Hanuman top peak-5320m. These form a sort of amphitheatre called as a cirque in the lingua of the glaciologists. A 5040m triangular peak, the Brahma Gupha juts out majestically in the middle of the cirque. The width of the valley in the cirquearea (valley head) is six kilometer and narrows down to three kilometer in the southern end.
Deepak Srivastava, an eminent Glaciologist of Geological SurveyOf India, had worked in Kedarnath Valley to study the possibility of avalanches and consequences thereof. Srivastava in one of his papers says that the Mandakini River valley is unique because two glaciers that have separate regimen, orientation and flow occupy this single valley. The two glaciers, Chaurabari and Companion glaciers terminate atdifferent elevations, at the same place. From the moraines it appears that these two glaciers were unified in the pastand occupied the entire one kilometer wide valley at Kedarnath. Moraines are the rock boulders of assorted sizes to rock flour produced and carried by the glacier and left behind as they recede. These moraines are well established and held at place by the vegetation for a length of three kilometers up to the snout of the glaciers. The moraines have lots of stories hidden in them. Itappears that there were at leastfour major episodes of glacier recession as marked by the traces of the moraines throughout the valley. In other words, earlier the glaciers had descended down to much lowerlevels than the present.
Kedarnath Township is situated on a glacial outwash plain. Channels of Mandakini River originate from Chaurabari and Companion glaciers and encircle this plain to meet below the township. The erosion by the stream has been such that it hascut through the water table in the upper part of the plain. Thusconstant oozing of water has made the place marshy.
Altogether 28 probable avalanche zones have been identified by Srivastava and his team mates situated between altitudes of 3800 to 4000 meters. One of them designatedas R-13 has an average ice volume of 70891m3 with a chute length of 900m and impact force of 84.8tonnes/m3. Here it worth knowing that while an impact force of 10tonnes/m3 can uproot matured trees, an avalanche of 100tonnes/m3 can move reinforced concrete structures. Therefore the planners must always remember that there is no engineering solution against geohazards.
The temple has been safe from avalanches through the centuries. Even the present township of Kedarnath has not been hit by a major avalanche. An acute need for further expansion is being felt. For which the terraces on the left side only, up to Lenchuri village have been recommended by theglaciologists of GSI. Only drawback of this portion is the marshy condition due to deep erosion of the terrace. Development of a proper drainage can take care of the condition and habitats can be safely constructed.
The avalanche prone area is prone to landslides as well. The varying size of lose rock material, right from rock flour to giant boulders, makes this admixture a potent tool to wipeout anything coming in its path,if it decides to move. The marshy terrace, release of waterfrom the Gandhi sarovar due to release of a possible blockade and incessant rains from skies, all must have abetted in the movement of this mass down the slope.
The builders of Kedarnath temple were no engineers, but they had common sense. They chose a spot between the two branches of Mandakini, which was safe from avalanches and was slightly higher than the surrounding country. The structural design of the temple was such that it withstood largeearthquakes which visited the area in the past 1000 years. Similarly, it withstood the mass of ice which covered it for 400 years between 13th and 17th century.
Alas, the human greed overcame the sanctity of the valley and the passage of water was choked by the rampant construction, obviously to make a quick buck from the pilgrims. This led to the tragedy.
What has happened cannot be undone. But if the pilgrimage has to continue in the future, the Uttarakhand Government must consider a reassessment ofthe ground bearing capacity of the valley to allow only essential construction activity, provide proper drainage and think of regulating the number of visitors per day.


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