“Bhago, Bhago! Yahan bees minute mein sarse upar pani janewala hai (Run, run! In another 20 minutes, water is going to come crashing over your heads).” Scary words that no one would like to hear! For Sridhar Raman, who had gone to explore Kashmir Great Lakes, this was a nightmare turning into reality. His group could not have chosen a better date for the trek; August 29, 2014, just days before the disastrous Kashmir floods.
“The weather was fine when we started out. It was rainy one day and sunny the next. So, our batch could make it till Vishnusar Lake camp site with no difficulty. We were optimistic that the weather would clear up and we could go forward,” says Sridhar.
But the weather did not improve. Instead, there were heavy rains for two consecutive days. And the situation turned worse after that. The horses had run away and the rain had not slowed down. “Yet, we decided to wait for another day hoping that we could still complete parts of the trek,” says Sridhar.
Another day passed. It had started snowing. When the snow stopped, rains took over. “And this is when we realised that it would be foolhardy to continue the trek,” says Sridhar.
Finally, on sixth day they started their journey back to Shitkadi. The return journey was difficult. The ground was slippery, the last leg of the trek had to be done in the dark and the toughest part; they had to cover two days’ trek in a single day. They finally reached Shitkadi at around 9:30 pm after trekking for nearly 12 hours.
“There was some discussion about water logging in Srinagar but not all the roads were blocked. The hotels could get easily flooded if the situation worsened. So the next day, we shifted to a houseboat,” says Sridhar.
Their flight back to Srinagar was on Sunday at 2 pm. The owner of the neighbouring houseboat agreed to drop them in his Tavera vehicle. So they set out at 9 am towards the airport. But as luck would have it, the vehicle ran out of fuel. The roads from Jammu to Srinagar, Leh to Srinagar were blocked, the petrol pumps were closed. The neighbour managed to secure a Santro. Seeing the flooded road, he agreed to drop them only till the tourist reception centre. He advised them to take a bus after that, as only buses could maneuver these roads.
When they reached the tourist centre, the situation was bad. “Ever inch was water-logged. The police were urging people to take shelter as water was gushing out of a broken bank. The neighbour, too, ran away without taking any money from us,” says Sridhar.
In midst of all this mayhem, they were still able to board a mini bus going towards the airport. Unfortunately for them, the bus broke down in the middle. Hitchhiking in a Sumo with the water coming up to their ankles, the group managed to cross to the other side of water. An auto guy dropped them further and later, they caught a tempo traveller. “The water on the roads were coming much above the head light of the vehicle. And we were bobbing up and down like in a boat. It did not look or feel like we were travelling in a tempo,” says Sridhar.
The vehicle dropped them close to the airport. And yet, their problems were far from over. They had to now wade in waist high water to get to the airport. “We rolled up our pants and started walking for a kilometre or so. It was scary. Gutters were on either side of the road and we could not see where our foot was going. We started walking in the middle of the road. Whenever vehicles used to cross us, the waves and undercurrents would pull us back,” says Sridhar.
Later, they followed a cyclist who informed them about an alternative route to the airport. For the last stretch they hitch-hiked in a car, managing to reach the airport by 1:20 pm.
At the end of this ordeal, Sridhar says, “We were fortunate that we survived. The situation only got worse in the valley after we returned. So I guess we had a lucky escape.”