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People's Environmental Awareness - Khati (PEAK) Follow PEAK with the financial assistance of World Nomads on the path to delivering educational, water supplies & solar home lighting systems to Kumaon villages....

The Journey Begins...

INDIA | Wednesday, 5 January 2011 | Views [357]

In September, our arrival into the state of Uttarakhand was heralded by a monsoon already in full swing combined with five days of incessant rain (day and night), cloudbursts, uprecedented floods and landslides. With roads blocked across the state & over 200 trains out of Delhi cancelled our pace Northwards was slowed down significantly.

First we waited to get on a train, when a booking was eventually secured we arrived at the station to discover the Yamuna River had burst its banks and were informed that  departure from Old Delhi station had been cancelled (yet again!). However, it could have been worse...  at Hardiwar a couple of thousand people were stranded, they got given a handout of a tent and told the railways would be operational in a fortnight!

I finally managed to get some wense out of the Railways Inspector who told me the Haldwani/Kathgodam train could be caught at Ghaziabad. Quickly organising a car we undertook a death defying, traffic dodging, hair raising, one hour ride that actually got us to the station in time. Leapt out of the car, dashed up the steps to the overpass to see the train pulling away.... we ran down the steps to see a train on the next platform with everbody yelling at us to "get on" as it was on the move... We made it!!

The 'fleapit' experience occurred at Haldwani, a typically northern Indian town - usually dusty but not in this September. Our room came complete with red betel nut stains that had been spat down the walls at various times, a bathroom that you had to be careful where you put anything (including your feet) because there wasn't actually a clean spot and the smell of stale urine permeated through the window from the comunal urinals in the hallway. A history of past occupants seemed to litter every nook and cranny. Fellow hotel guests had the volume on their televisions set to maximum for half the night, generally spat, cleared their throats with gusto and made lots of noise from 5am. And to top it off Scott got over a hundred bites (not sure who the perpetrator was... for a change not bedbugs) from wherever his skin touched the mattress. Yes - we were glad to keep moving north.

The state was declared a 'disaster zone' as landslides forced the closure of many roads, destroyed houses, livlihoods and caused widespread loss of life. There were relief camps set up in some areas and any tourist stranded in mountain areas were airlifted out - of course never having been in a helicopter I was quite envious of this snippet of information!!

The National Highway between Haldwani - Almora Highway was blocked by a myriad of landslips, the damage so great it was eventually cleared after nearly 6 weeks. The state is criss crossed by various roading networks and fortunately other access roads were opened in a relatively short time frame. And it was on one of these roads with a rather large detour that we eventually made it to Almora.

The locals that we spoke with (up to the age of 78 years old) said they had never in living membory experienced such a deluge. In Almora district the toll on crops was disasterous as was the loss of homes and life - with around 150 people killed in the area. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sanctioned an ex-gratia payment from the Prime Ministers National Relief Fund of RS 100,000 to the next of kin of the deceased and RS 50,000 to those seriously injured in the floods.

The Bageshwar District while experiencing heavy rain was largely exempt from cloudbursts. However, widespread deforestation in conjunction with high rainfall saw the region experience many landslides. On our way to Khati we ran into our friend Jai who told us that in Song (the end of the road) the local primary school classroom with 18 class one students inside was destroyed by one such landslide. The men had vainly tried to shift the mud and the rubble by hand to no avail, all children inside perished. Including Jai's little boy Pankaj. In true Indian Government school fashion the teachers were not present when the building was engulfed by debris.

Pankaj was from a neighbouring village (Dhoor) and just before he started at the government school in Song (where he had relatives) he used to constantly pop into our place for a chat and to constantly ask me when he could come into the 'library' to start classes. His death was a stark reminder of the fragility of life and it took a long time to let go of the image of his little ever smiling face gracing our doorstep. This death was a portent of what was to come....

Bonnie & Scott


Tags: cloudbursts, flea pit hotels, solar journey



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