This post is about my experience in the latest Sikkim flash floods in first week of Oct, 23. The journey from Gangtok to Bagdogra airport usually takes around 5 hours, including a short stop. Unfortunately, my journey from Gangtok to Bagdogra was planned for 4th Oct, Wednesday, the day Sikkim faced the belligerence of Teesta River. A cloud burst in north part of Sikkim and dam burst led to flash floods in large parts of the state. Hundreds of houses, parts of national highway 10, countless vehicles and scores of people got washed away into the river.
There were disturbing and frightening scenes all around. Thousands of people, locals and tourists alike, including me, were stranded on the roads. Information and misinformation were overflowing and there was palpable fear all around. Nobody really knew how bad the situation was and which routes were accessible or weren’t. Shocked and stranded in the middle of it all, I was wondering how things could change so quickly and unpredictably. The only comfort I had was that I was alone while my family I had stayed back as they had plans to travel to Darjeeling the same day.
I started my journey from Gangtok to Bagdogra at around 5am in the morning of 4th Oct. I was booked on a 1pm flight from Bagdogra to Bangalore. Before my journey started, there was some news of flooding and heavy rains but it wasn’t until a couple of hours later that I really comprehended the extent of this disaster. The route on which I was travelling, didn’t exist any longer as parts of the highway were washed away by the burgeoning Teesta river.
Time in Gangtok before the D-day
A jewel among the seven sisters of North-east, Sikkim is one of the most beautiful parts of India. I was very excited about my first ever trip to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. My journey from Bangalore to Gangtok comprised of a flight from Bangalore to Bagdogra followed by around 5 hours of road journey. The connecting national highway 10 was in a good condition and the views throughout the journey were breathtaking. Large tall mountains covered in greenery and the floating clouds made for a perfect vacation set up. It was love at first sight!
The trip exceeded expectations and I really enjoyed the uniqueness of Gangtok. Coming from the hustle bustle and constant noise in the city, Gangtok is an entirely opposite end of the spectrum. The silence of the surroundings was awkward at first, but it became the highlight of the trip for me. The general discipline of the people in Sikkim deserves appreciation and emulation. Overtaking and honking are discouraged in the city and people abide by it. Wow!
We did the usual touristy itinerary in Gangtok and visited popular sites like Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok, Tashi view point, Gonjang Monastery, Ban Jhakri water falls and the cable car. The second day was reserved for Nathu La pass, Baba Harbhajan Singh temple and Tsomgo lake.
It was all great, nice cold weather, friendly helpful people and beauty of nature at its best! And then it changed!
16 hours of Anxiety and Unpredictability
A large part of the 16 hours on the road was travel without any stops. A few additional kilometers in the hills means a few additional hours. From 5am till 1pm, my cab driver had tried 3-4 different routes only to be stopped after a point saying a landslide has happened, river water is overflowing etc. There was a constant information overload where some people saying one route is open while others saying it isn’t. The only way was to travel several kilometers on the route and figure it out.
Around 2pm, while I was waiting at Reshi check point, I thought of staying there in a guest house and wait for things to settle down. Someone informed me that the route via Rangpo to Lava, by passing Kalimpong was open and that’s when we started journey on that route. The rain continued unabated and the atmosphere was grim. The road was completely muddy at many places and small rocks were falling on the way side at too many points. It seemed a matter of minutes before a large rock would fall on the road and block it. Finally around 730pm, I reached Siliguri and breathed a sigh of relief. While I was relieved to have reached safely but was worried about my family who were to travel next day to Bagdogra. Their Darjeeling tourney was of course cancelled.
While I took the morning flight to Bangalore, my family was travelling by road. All of us were nervous, they had started early in the morning and thankfully didn’t face any major hurdles. It took about 8 hours for them to reach Bagdogra. The route they took had many places with loose road and eventually it broke down. The driver who dropped my family at Bagdogra on Friday, reached back home on Sunday. God bless him and all other drivers who braved the natural calamity and ensured many tourists reached their destination safely.
Floods, natural calamities, riots, earthquakes are just another sad incident for many of us while we sit in the comfort of our homes and read about it online or in newspapers. However, having experienced it myself, it has been an eye opener. I feel lucky that it has all ended well for us while there are others who faced this ferocity of nature and lost their homes, livelihood and family. I can only pray of their wellbeing and I am thankful to all those folks who helped everyone in the time of this disaster. God bless us all!