Sunday, 25 March 2012

My story about last summer's serious cloudbursts in Ladakh

On August 6, 2010, in Ladakh, a series of cloudbursts left over 1000 persons dead and over 400 injured in the frontier Leh town Ladakh region

 This is my experience from the nature disaster that affected the Tibetan community of Ladakh, 
state of Jammur and Kashmir in India which changed my life

It was beautiful morning. Me and Tenzin had some Champa for breakfast with his family in their house where I've now been staying for a while.
The weather was clear. No clouds in sight as long the eye could reach. Everything felt so peaceful that day like it only can feel in Ladakh ,  if you’ve ever been there.
We went to the local bottle shop in Leh and bought a few beer with us to Indus river. 
A song was playing on the radio this morning Bruce Springsteen- My city is ruined, and we both agreed with that it’s one of our favourites by Bruce.

We were swimming  through the big windy waves out to a small Island in the middle of the river where we sunbathed on some rocks and had a good laugh. We start talking about heaven that day which was sunny at our side but you could clearly see a big cloud behind the mountains somewhere far away, it actually looked like a big dark dusty smoke coming up from behind the mountains.
Tenzin told me that he has never seen anything similar to this scenery before in Ladakh, but the day went on normally and we didn’t thought much more about the weather . afterwards we went to his internet café to collect some pappers and then back to Choglamsar where his family lives.

Later on after the sunset went to a local pub in Leh were we used to have a few drinks sometimes. We were totally relaxed after spent the day svimming near the beautiful Indus river.

A couple of drinks and a few hours later,
It started thunder heavily and the lightings was something I’ve never experienced before. It actually reminded me of big fireworks. Tenzin said “god is dancing in the sky” then the thunder got a lot more intense and the whole balcony were we stayed start shaking a little bit. Tenzin told me for the second  time this day “ I’ve never seen anything similar to this during my lifetime and is extremely rare to happen in Ladakh. You’re lucky to experience this.” I noticed that his face expression looked a bit shocked  at this time. The thunder stopped and turned into a heavy rainfall. We went inside the bar to cover from the rain under the roof.  It was raining intense for half an hour.
When the rain finally was about to stop, the pub was closing down and all of us inside were a bit confused what to do.

We hiked in wet mud on the way to get into the car,
Both of us got very dirty because most roads are made by sand in Leh.
Once we jumped into the car, Tenzin start driving down the path that’s reach us to the main road that take us to Choglamsar.  People were standing outside their houses in pyjamas with flashlights and look shocked and confused.
Everywhere around us it was flooded. The whole road looked like a big slide. Tenzin said told me that we have to park the car somewhere and walk by foot, it’s to dangerous drive around in this area. I was laughing at the whole situation because it was crasy.
Then he repeated “I’m not joking.  Seriously, this is not usual for Ladakh”
 So we parked the car after the big road which leads to Choglamsar and his house then walked by foot with a flashlight that we found in the car because the electricity was dead. Everything we saw was covered in mud. Stinky wet mud…
It was all quiet and had the appearance of being dead. To describe this atmosphere best would be the imagination of being in a ghost town empty of living beings… Like an apocalypse

We were about to crossed a big building that had collapsed and we looked around us how to walk it through, a few minutes later we heard someone scream quietly for help inside a dark ruined building about three-hundred meters away.
We were running to the building and two men joined us on the way 

We pointed the flashlight at the man we heard in the building. He was full of blood and lost one of his legs, a stone had been falling into his forehead and caused a big sore. The four of us start carry this man to a clinic about a few kilometres from where we where.
The body got more and more heavy for every step. At the same time we saw a few other people, badly hurt which needed help quickly. Unfortenly, before we reached the clinic the man in our arms was dead but we still carried his body all the way into the clinic.

 The clinic was full of serious injured people, some of them had full of mud in their nose and mouth, not being able to breath. There was no doctors as long I could see. Many of these peoples life’s could been saved if there would be any nursers or doctors available during this night.
After we spent some time in the clinic,

Me and Tenzin decided to go out to try save other peoples life’s but at this time we were a big group of men desperately ready to help. I took a few photos of what’s happening because I didn’t see any other people with a camera during this whole night. I couldn’t think clearly what to do. 

At this time, time had already passed 2 am
Everything I could see was dark and dusty

Everywhere we looked around us there was destroyed buildings and cars that had been eaten by the flood. People were screaming and crying for help. We saw two men pass by who struggled with carry a women away, we gave them a few hands to carry the person into the clinic which at this time was overcrowded with dead bodies.  The road was literally gone. All that was there is wet mud that I was sink down in when I tried to cross over it, which made it difficult to pass.
It’s important to walk it through quickly so you don’t sink down and get stuck someone said cleverly.

Few minutes later, We start walking to Choglamsar which is the village were Tenzin’s house are located. 

We walked carefully on the      
big road to Choglamsar. Medications were floating across us. I was remember when we saw a bank which was totally destroyed next to us that Tenzin were saying “ Now is it easy to take money from the bank because human life is more important” We start discuss how the importance of material things minimise quickly when something unexpected happen to our lives.

After been walking for almost an hour halfway to Choglamsar, the sunrise came and we now could see Tenzin’s village on distance which looked totally ruined behind the dust. The whole highway we walked on start disappear. The road was destroyed by wet mud and water
Tenzin told me “ Chris, you have to take of yourself now, I have to go and make sure that my family is OK. I’m very scared that something happened to them.” His eyes were now full of tears and dust.
Five minutes later he was out of sight behind the dust. I was also scared that his whole family lost their life’s in the flood.

Later on the same morning many soldiers were arrived. We thought that they came too late, because during the night when the people needed it, there was no one there to help.
I tried to find the way to Tenzin’s house. Everything was gone which used to be here. I couldn’t say for sure which way to go.
Everything I saw around me was totally ruined, I was now thinking about that song since the morning before. Maybe it was trying to tell us something like a message.
It was not possible to walk any further on this road. The army had put pieces of wood and big piles on the road to walk on so the people won’t sink down in the mud. I tried to balance over the big woods and work my way to Tenzin’s house but it was still far too away in the dust, everything
looked totally different now then it used to.  I couldn’t locate were I were, I just knew it was somewhere further up after the hill.

I’m now seeing a big house that collapsed with water go through it. It was a bridge into the big balcony of this house that the soliders built with big sticks and plywoods on the top. I tried to make my way over this very unstable bridge.
Few minutes later, The soldiers start screaming “Plastic, Plastic someone”
There was a young girl around twelve years old laying down on the ground, very cute. Her mouth and nose was clearly blocked with mud, her eyes were constantly wide-open looking directly into mine. Her face was telling me something spiritual about it. She was obviously dead but here face looked very alive. She was trying to tell me something I never could get in mind. Few minutes later the soldiers were digging up both of her parents, covered in mud as well.
Then, I hear someone crying deeply, not just an ordinary cry something that hurts when you listen to it. That was her brother who lost his whole family in just one night. I start crying a bit and everyone who were around me cried deeply from the heart of their souls.

During this morning I saw nearly about twelve dead bodies and half of them were children.
I tried to ask about Tenzin, but everyone was in shock and couldn’t give a proper answer.
The soldiers advised me go back to Leh because it’s too dangerous walk around here alone.
The time was  about  10am, the sun was burning my face and I realised for the first time I’m very tired but had nowhere to go. Decided after all go back to Leh, I got a friend Sonam there who own a guesthouse were I hopefully could get place to stay for the night.
I worked my way back to Leh in the very strong sun between the mountains. The road was full of wet mud and there was dust everywhere in the air. Someone gave me a scarf to cover my face with.

Back in Leh, confused and tired.
I went to find the guesthouse I used to stay when I first arrived here. Surprisingly everything looked clean like it used to in this part of the city. No broken buildings. I went to the hostel. Everything looked normal. Even the first time I see some other tourists in the last few days…
People looking at me with a scared face… they looked shook. 
Finally, my friend  Sonam came outside. I told him the whole story, he looked scared and said let’s sit down for a chai. He said that he doesn’t now if his family is ok either.  
I tried to find out any further information about Tenzin’s family. But no one knows anything…
I had problem to sleep this night, every time I closed my eyes I felt like in a shock..
This evening people were sit outside and spoke about the flood.
Many tourists asked me if I wanted some anti-anxieties which could help me too sleep properly,
but insteed I decided to sit down and talk with Sonam about the situation and what I’ve went through the last night and he said that he have lost many old friends and classmates that he feel sorry for.

The next day I went outside to find any information about Tenzin’s family

I was now manage get to his house which was totally ruined and I thought that his family passed away with the flood too but then a older man came to me and said he's a cousin of Tenzin.

He told me that his family is in a good condition except that his dad broken a leg and his brothers daughter got some smaller scratching on her body then he also invited me to sleep in his house tonight. I accept the invitation and on the way back we had some Tibetan food for dinner then went
to his house which were on a hill. These days people were to afraid of staying between the mountains.

It was now evening and we meet a old man that couldn’t speak English, but my new friend translated it for me and he said that
this man have lost his wife, kids, grandchildren, house and savings. 

He was the only one surviving of six people in the family.
Now he stayed at the relief camp and wanted me to take a picture and write something. 
He was walking to pray for his family. 

I took a picture and went to the new place I’m staying tonight..
The next morning I go back to the house and see that there’s a note besides the door from Tenzin which says they’re fine and staying in a relief camp for a few days.

About an hour later I meet his brother outside the house
who told me that I can join him to see Tenzins family now.
I finally arrived in the the camp. I meet everyone and glad to see that there were no bigger injuries.
The soldiers arrived with food for the most affected people
People were fighting with tears in their eyes about small amounts of food like a kilo of rice.  Apparently some people try to get food even that they haven’t lost anything someone says
The next night I decided to stay with Tenzin and his kids in his wife’s brothers house.

We had some Tibetan food for dinner spoke and I spoke with Tenzin and his wife
about everything we’ve been going through the last days.
Tenzin told me that it has been a lot of talk about  ghosts the last two nights. Many people have said that they’ve seen strange things and heard voices coming from areas that was most affected from the flood. 
He was also s saying that he’s a very happy man because he only lost material things like his house which not matter. Material things can always be rebuilt, human life cannot after all. I agreed.

At 11pm the generators was turned off and everything went totally dark, we went to sleep.
I woke up about three am needed to go to the toilet. Everything is totally dark and it was very chilly inside. I grab my flashlight and begin my way to the toilet a lot of people sleeping outside on the ground which is typical for Tibetans. I balance over everyone outside. finally I’m at the toilet and looking up at the sky, I’m surrounded with big mountains and then I hear a weird sound from somewhere far away, almost like a scream… I;m staring at the directions where the noise is coming from and there’s a green colured sort of smoke that’s moving around very fast.
I thought maybe I start get paranoid for nothing but I couldn’t sleep well anymore this night.

The next morning we are going to Tenzins house to help move out belongings from the collapsed

There was some Canadians who wanted to help that we picked up on the way. 

It felt like the house could collapse any minute but we needed to go inside and try to dig out a certain things. Parts of Tenzin's sisters house collapsed just when there was someone inside and the Canadians told me it’s the first time they actually seen a house collapse so close and said that they will aware with go inside again. After been diging for a while.
I went to get some dustmasks because there was alot of dust in the air from all the collapsed buildings and the road that had been destroyed by the flood.

We were trying to dig, move out stuff and searching 
for personal things in the house rest of the day with the family. 
Everyone was tired after been working hard without any time to rest in the strong sun.
The mud had already start geting dry so it was quite difficult to get any deeper into the ground.

This is the house were I've been staying for a couple of months.
As you can see, 
the house has almost been buried by mud.

This is my room where I used to sleep
during my stay in Choglamsar
with Tenzins sister's daugther
who almost passed away in the mud

and here it's after the disaster

The next day I told Tenzin I wanted go to the house where I saw that family with the little girl who died during that morning which her older brother who were the only one that survived in the family. Everything was still there and totally empty. 
Tenzin told me he didn’t feel a good feeling about this place and wanted to leave.

No people seemed to be be here anymore, 
it was a strange feeling being around this place. 
Something that I can't describe.

 I took a few photos inside the house just to remember. On the backside of the house I could find a ID-card that someone put up on the wall which belonged to the man who used to live here, possibly the father. I took a picture of that too
then went back to the car.

We were now start seeing reporters. Tenzin suggested that we should put a sign on the front of the car that we work for a newspaper and  that I should roll as a foreign correspondent but we didn't have the motivation and we had seen enough after all what we've been through.

We went to Tenzin’s internet café and see if the satellite connection for internet and phone is working again.

Tenzin told me this story on the way in his car about a family who were escaped from the flood in their car, then they mistakenly drived into it and the next day their house was founded in a perfect shape but the whole family dead.

Back in Leh again,
Everything look normal, almost no tourists left in the city anymore because the road is blocked to Manali and most foreigners desperatly pay a lot of money for expensive flights to leave immediately.
I decided to visit Sonam in his guesthouse today which was totally empty. 
He was gladly told me that his family and home is safe.
Then he was assume that in three days there will be nearly no foreigners left in this Ladakh.
The next morning I went to the local bakery with Sonam to buy some bread and couldn't barely see a tourist on the streets of Leh. Later on the same day I bought a cheap flight to Delhi.
And a few days later I left Ladakh with a tear on my eye.



  1. I am deeply moved by your account of this horrible tragedy. I pray for the people affected by this event, and your friends and their family. It was wonderful of your to share the story of these people.


  2. A very sad tragedy indeed. I am lost for words but I am teary eyed reading this story in your blog...
    Please take care on your future journeys Chris.