Andrea and I were watching Kill Bill vol.2 on the Laptop when the rain started. A little drip was coming through the roof. No problem, doesn’t rain here much. Then another few more drips, then the rain started pounding on the door and windows. Then water started pouring in through the roof. We crammed all our stuff into the cupboards and drawers in the room to stop the rain getting in and ran downstairs to take cover with the family who own the guesthouse. They were distraught to say the least. The grandfather was outside wailing in the rain that was literally washing the house away. People were in the streets screaming – at over 60 years old, the grandfather said he had never seen rain like this in his life.
It was over in 40 minutes. Anywhere else in India it would have been a mild rain shower, but in Ladakh where only 10cm of rain falls a year it was a catastrophe. Looking at the house it was like someone had sprayed it with machine gun fire. But in Changspa we’d really missed the brunt of it.
When some of the guys came back from town telling us about the carnage I was a bit sceptical. How could a little rain do so much damage, but when I walked down to take a look I couldn’t believe it. A whole area of the town crushed under a huge landslide and just washed down the hill. The mud brick houses just turned back to mud and all the people sleeping in their houses were killed. I couldn’t believe we were so lucky.
Later our guesthouse owner came to get us for help – Big water coming, we ran outside to find a multinational effort to build a damn on Changspa road to stop the river flooding into all our guesthouses. All of us, a hundred western backpackers and our Ladakhi hosts carrying rocks and filling sandbags. In the end the river receded taking with it half a road, some small bridges and numerous trees.
The next night it rained again hampering rescue efforts even more and really freaking people out. Westerners and Indian migrant workers were besieging the Airport and Army airport respectively to get out of the region. Everything got cut off – the two roads into Leh, electricity, phones, mobile networks, radio stations. Nobody had any real information – leading to so many stories going around about the roads and the extra planes being put on by the airlines.
It was Chaos. We booked a flight out for a weeks time and got to Delhi, where I’m writing this. It wasn’t because we were scared we left. It just felt as if the heart had been ripped out of Leh. The teaming streets we saw on our first night had become a ghost town and after three weeks I felt it was time to go.
Ladakh is one of the most fascinating, beautiful and welcoming places to visit and I have no doubt soon enough they will have it scrubbed up as good as new. But maybe this is something that needs to be considered when they go about rebuilding the houses.