Indian Decade

A Visit to Leh

A visit to Leh brings home the devastation and chaos of the flash flood-hit area.

I was only given 5 hours notice that I had to catch an early morning flight for Leh. I wasn’t sure whether to pack warm clothes or summer ones and tried calling my local contacts in Leh several times to find out the weather conditions and to try and book a hotel. I couldn’t get a connection, so headed out with a warm jacket and a list of some hotel addresses in Leh.

The moment I stepped out of the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh I was greeted with the chaos I’d been expecting in this flood-stricken region. Hundreds of foreigners were lined up at airline service windows trying frantically to find out about seat availability. Many of these people should consider themselves lucky, having had a lucky escape from the flash floods that struck the mountainous region recently and which claimed about 150 lives (with more than 500 still rumoured to be missing).

I spoke with a German woman who had been trying desperately to reach Delhi. Her trekking adventure had turned into a nightmare after she was stuck in a remote valley for five sleepless and desperate nights after the flooding. Every tourist I spoke with had a story to tell about their experiences and how they had spent nights fearing death. 

I hired a car at the airport and checked into a decent hotel nearby. But there was no electricity in the room and I was told that the lights only come on for three hours in the morning and then the evening. The mobile network, meanwhile, is terrible and it’s not even worth asking about an internet connection.

I decided to go to the Chogalmusar area of Leh, which was supposedly the worst affected by the floods. There was a four to five foot mud wall on both sides of the road at Chogalmusar, with hundreds of houses around there completely destroyed. Army personnel and many volunteers were struggling to clear the mud.

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Leh doesn’t usually see much rain, but this season its been completely different. Thirteen bridges have been washed away by the flooding, as have some of the most popular trekking routes. As a result, many foreign tourists who have come to this district of Jammu and Kashmir are stranded.

A candle-lit vigil took place the evening I arrived, in mourning for the deceased. The procession must have been almost a mile long and was led by Buddhist monks chanting prayers. And there are likely to be many more such prayers as Leh tries desperately to recover from this disaster.

Guest Author

Sanjay Kumar

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for The Diplomat.

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