A gargantuan natural disaster claimed thousands of lives and left a devastating trail of destruction in its wake across Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh (HP) and some parts of Uttar Pradesh last month. Twenty three college students, part of CSE’s summer training Agenda for Survival, witnessed it unfold before their eyes on a camping trip to Sangla, Himachal Pradesh. Caught unawares, these young ‘uns showed great courage as some of them had to trek 20 kms from Raksham to Wangthu just to catch a bus back home. Led by Sharmila Sinha, Deputy Programme Manager - Education & Training, CSE, who said, “I will never forget the night of June 15 when we reached Sangla. It was drizzling and we thought it would stop in a while. We pitched our tents, lit a bonfire under a Deodhar tree, hurried through dinner, and were playing antakshari, when the intensity of the rain picked up by 9.30 pm or so. By midnight, the rainfall turned torrential and the water started creeping into the tents. We couldn’t sleep the whole night. By 5 am we were packed to leave. A two and half km stretch to a hotel took us over an hour to cover as it was raining relentlessly”, these students safely made it back to Delhi after being stranded for two nights, waiting for rescue sorties to come by and trekking back with the constant fear of landslides hanging over their heads.
Vikas Sharma, CSE staff member, a native of Baijnath, HP, was with the boys who trekked from Raksham to Wangthu. GT caught up with him for a quick Q&A…
Q. Could you recount one incident from the whole experience that will stay with you forever?
Every moment there will never leave my memory, but there was the one night when it rained continuously in Sangla. And the two nights we spent at the army camp in Kharcham. They were very hospitable; they shared their limited rations with us and they set up places for us to sleep. Water pipes were broken so we had limited water. People were coming and going, but we were the only ones who stayed…
Q. Can you describe the intensity of the disaster from your experience of it?
It was raining a lot. The 40-km road from Sangla to Pagal nala was completely destroyed, we were told. I cannot say for sure how much damage occurred otherwise.
Q. What do you think could be the reason behind this humungous natural disaster?
I couldn’t think about it when I was there. When I came back I learned from my colleagues at CSE that unplanned dam and road construction and rampant tourist-related development are to blame.
Q. Who would you like to credit for the relief and rescue efforts in Himachal Pradesh?
Both the Army – for hosting us so well and taking such good care of us – and the Air Force – for airlifting us to safety. Strangely, we saw few people from the local administration on the ground…
LADIES FIRST: Those stranded jostle to get into one of the helicopters on a rescue sortie. Photograph by Amirtharaj Stephen.
DOWN UNDER: Buildings and vehicles buried under the mud, silt, rocks and boulders that came hurtling down the mountain in Tapri, Himachal Pradesh. Photographs by Vikas Sharma