Monday, May 13, 2024

The Teesta Valley GLOF disaster of Oct2023 in WMO 'State of the Climate in Asia 2023' report

The above report has been released by WMO (World Meteorological Organization) on 23Apr2024 and contains a comprehensive account of the climate and extreme events in Asia in 2023:
The Teesta Valley GLOF disaster has also been mentioned prominently in the report (page 18) and it vindicates our stand on it - that it was the largest GLOF disaster in the Himalayas in the recent past and YET it hardly received any attention from the national media or the state governments and the centre.
After the WMO report however, several national level e- papers have carried the story:

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling Sikkim Himalaya

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Normal Rainfall stats for Sub-Himalayan West Bengal (SHWB) and Sikkim updated by IMD Gangtok.

 The Rainfall Normals for SHWB and Sikkim have been revised by IMD. The OLD one (below)

has been updated and the NEW Rainfall Normals are placed here:

Significant points to note are:

  • The period of observation has decreased from 1951 to 1971 to 2000 ie a 20 year decline.
  • There is an overall decrease in the TOTAL rainfall by 169.1mm ie from 2708.9mm to 2539.8mm
  • There is a significant decrease (325.5mm) in the rainfall for the winter and pre-monsoon periods so we will have more drought like conditions during this period.
  • There is a significant increase (254.9mm) in the rainfall for the post monsoon period.
  • Rainfall during the monsoon period has also decreased by 116.7mm. 

Source: IMD Gangtok (Sikkim)

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Our adverse weather early warning work on What'sApp groups in the Darjeeling- SIkkim region: Thunderstorms of 11/12Apr2024 in Kalimpong

After the Teesta Valley GLOF of 04Oct2023, our region has been extraordinarily dry, with the erratic western disturbance activity in the winter months, robbing us of all our winter rain. In Kalimpong we had the first showers after Oct2023, between 19 & 27Mar2024 where we clocked 112.6mm. Thereafter, it has been dry with forest fires again starting in the Teesta Valley.
With regard to early warnings on adverse weather events and disbursement of information on landslides, road blocks etc, SaveTheHills has been running several very active and large What'sApp groups in the Darjeeling-Sikkim region called 'Hazard Alerts or HA' for many years now and the following cloud image on approaching adverse weather was posted in the group on 11Apr2024:

This image was posted on 'Hazard Alerts' WhatsApp group at 1.31pm on 11Apr2024 along with lightning warnings from the IMD 'Damini' (lightning warning) app. Shortly after this was done, the first storm hit our region at around 2.30pm. Wind speeds in gusts reached upto 58kmph.

This storm died down momentarily at around 4.30pm only to pick up again quickly. The following cloud image along with NOWCASTs from IMD were posted to members in the 'Hazard Alerts' What'sApp groups.
Warning posted at 5.36pm to our WhatsApp groups alerting them about another storm which was approaching.
Subsequent cloud images which show the progress of the storm from 6.45pm to 10.45pm on 11April2024

The thunderstorm which hit Kalimpong at 2.30pm on 11April2024, raged right thru the night and only ceased at around 8.00am on 12Apil2024. Surprisingly, we had only 2mm of rain however strong, gusty, westerly winds from Nepal along with lightning prevailed for more than 12hrs. The graphical analysis of the windspeed from our Davis Vantage Pro AWS is placed below:

Though there were no casualties or damage from the storm, what was unusual was its duration considering there was no major weather system (such as a depression/cyclone) near by.
Also what is possible today is to get reliable and accurate information of such weather events in advance and to disburse the same quickly to a large number of people. We have been doing this regularly in WhatsApp since Jun 2016.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Impact of the Oct 2023 Teesta Valley GLOF on road communications at Likhu Bhir on NH10 ( Kalimpong district, 13-14Apr2024)

On what is becoming a familiar story, NH10 is closed for maintenance work and again at Likhu Bhir - an old landslide, who's ghosts were resurrected by the GLOF of 04Oct2023 and is causing headaches to the District Admin & PWD and nightmares to those using the highway. It is closed again this weekend, seven days after it was shut down for repair last week.

Images of maintenance work taking place on NH10 at Likhu Bhir on 13Apr2024
My thanks to Mr Mukesh Sharma, reporter from Kalimpong for sharing these images with STH

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Impact of the Oct 2023 Teesta Valley GLOF on road communications - the continuing nightmare at Pedong and Toong

Map showing trouble spots at Pedong and Toong

Traffic bottle necks at PEDONG
Pedong (27.1594° N, 88.6157° E) is a small town in Kalimpong district and is nowhere near the Teesta valley yet the impact of the Oct 2023 GLOF is being felt daily by the residents of the town.
The Teesta valley GLOF reactivated a dormant landslide at Likhu Bhir which continues to pose a problem for traffic along NH10 so the Kalimpong District Administration has again closed that section of the highway for the weekend as per this travel advisory:

As a result the entire heavy vehicular traffic to / from Sikkim to the plains of North Bengal is routing thru Kalimpong and Pedong causing huge traffic jams in Pedong. The vehicles have also damaged water pipelines causing disruptions in water supply in the town and damaged other infrastructure since the roads are narrow and were never intended to handle such heavy, continuous traffic.

Traffic jam at Pedong
Likhu Bhir landslides on NH10 (Nov2023)

TOONG bridge
The bridge at Toong was vital for communications to North Sikkim and when the GLOF took it down, traffic had to be routed thru a longer and more dangerous route which we took while going to Chungthang in Nov2023.
The locals had constructed a wooden bridge over the Teesta river in Feb2024 (see below) which was being used by light vehicles.
Wooden bridge at Toong in Feb2024
However, the recent rains in the area resulted in the bridge being damaged (see video)
Since the alternate route is longer and much more cumbersome, locals at once got down to repairing the damage (see images of 06Apr2024 below)

I don't think this bridge will hold out for much longer now that the pre- monsoon showers have started over our region...which leaves us in a rather precarious position with regard to all the GLOF damaged road communications in our region - a question which I asked back in Nov2023...

                               How do we manage in the Monsoons of 2024?

My thanks to all friends and HA members from Pedong, North Sikkim who made this report possible. Please stay safe.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling Sikkim Himalaya

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Views of the Teesta river after Cyclone Aila (May2009) and after the GLOF (Oct2023)

During our talks with GLOF affected people in the Teesta valley, they say that many officials, politicians and others often ask them why they built their homes so close to the river; to which they answer, 'No, we never built our homes close to the river - it is the river which has now come close to us!'

When I relate this during my talks on the Teesta valley GLOF, it often draws laughter from the audience - not realizing that I wholly share the views of the affected people:

The Teesta river which was once quite far from settlements has now moved closer to homes, roads and urban areas.

I visited the Teesta river on 11Jun2009, soon after Cyclone AILA (25-27May2009) and took photos of the river from the Teesta bridge. There were no dams those days but the river was still quite big because of the SW monsoons and Cyclone AILA.

After the Oct2023 Teesta Valley GLOF, again we made numerous trips to the Teesta river and photographed the river from almost the same spot on the bridge 14years later. I have placed both below for you to see how the river has moved closer to people's homes

Facing south (towards Siliguri)
Teesta, shortly after Cyclone AILA in Jun2009. Notice the level of the river visavis the Kalimpong to Darjeeling road on the right. The river was free flowing those days since the major dams on the Teesta were yet to be built.
Teesta river after the Oct2023 GLOF. Rainfall in our area totally stopped after 04Oct2023 (when the GLOF occurred) but the silt deposits had increased the river level as such it was flowing almost at the same level as the Kalimpong to Darjeeling road (on the right)

Facing north (towards Gangtok)
Cyclone AILA (27May2009) heralded in the SW monsoons that year as such the river is still quite large. Nevertheless the Teesta Bazar (left side) was not touched by the river even during Cyclone AILA
Our entire region had drought like conditions since the GLOF in Oct2023, yet the river stretches from one bank to the other and is flowing very close to homes in the Teesta bazar (left). The river is brown and loaded with silt and debris which is being dumped into the river by people excavating their homes and belongings all along the valley and also by the tunneling being done by the railway project. All in all the level of  the river bed has increased by 3-4m after the GLOF.

A makeshift road has come up on the right bank and leads to the new IRCON railway bridge being constructed next to the existing one.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The National Highway 10 (NH10 - Siliguri to Gangtok) maintenance problem (post GLOF) begins in Mar2024

NH10 and Likhu Bhir in 2017 & 2023

MoRTH website on NH10
reads as follows:
'The highway starting from Indo / Bangladesh Border connecting Fulbari Siliguri in the State of West Bengal connecting Sivok, Kalimpang near N.H-10 and terminating at Gangtok in the State of Sikkim'. 52kms of the highway is in Sikkim, the remaining 65.97kms being in W Bengal.
Further to our earlier report on National Highway 10 (NH10), the recent rains in our region caused landslides along parts of NH10 which resulted in road blockages and traffic jams and as such the Kalimpong District Administration has closed parts of NH10 for traffic as per the letter below:

Prolonged closure of NH10 dates
Road closures for several hours on NH10 due to landslips, erosion and rockfalls etc are commonplace and take place almost daily during the monsoons. Prolonged closure dates of the highway in the recent past are as follows:-
* In 2007 and 11Jun2010 at HaatiSurey, near Coronation bridge – blocked for a week.
* 26Jun-03Jul2015 due to landslide at SetiJhora (near TLDP IV)
* 14-15Jan 2016 due to landslide at BhoteyBhir (near Rangpo)
* 06Jul2019 for almost a week at Seti Jhora

Despite several alternate routes now being available (see map below), NH10 remains the shortest distance with the least gradient changes and is the quickest way to commute from Sikkim and Kalimpong to SIliguri and the plains of North Bengal - however, it may not be the safest route anymore.

NH10 and alternate routes

DATA ON NH10 (and the alternate routes from Gangtok and Kalimpong to Siliguri)

Distances - Siliguri to Gangtok
Via NH10 - 114kms out of which approx 90kms is in mountainous terrain. Approx 60kms from Singtam to Sevoke is along the banks of the Teesta river.
a. Alternate route 1 (via Pakyong- Reshi-Algarah-Lava-Sevoke-Siliguri) - 241kms
b. Alternate route 2 (via Rangpo-Chitrey-Kalimpong-Algarah-Lava-Sevoke-Siliguri)  - 205kms

Distances- Kalimpong to Siliguri  
Via NH10 - 67kms
a. Alternate route 1 (via Ghoom -Kurseong) - 99kms
b. Alternate route 2 (via Algarah-Lava- Gorubathan-Sevoke) - 132kms
c. Alternate route 3 (across Relli river- Samthar- Panbu-Kalijhora-Sevoke)

It is estimated that approximately 3000 vehicles use the NH10 daily when permitted.

Images of landslide and traffic snarls in that part of the road
Rockfall at Likhu Bhir after rains on 23Mar2024
Traffic jam at Chitrey (Teesta) due to rock fall at Likhu Bhir, 23Nov2024
Traffic jam at Likhu Bhir on 24Jan2024 at around 6pm


As we have reported earlier, Likhu Bhir is an old landslide which was dormant for many years until the GLOF of 04Oct2023 reactivated it.
File photo from July2019

Also as reported, the Teesta river bed has risen by almost 4m all along the valley due to the silt and sand deposits brought down by the GLOF, which makes NH10 much more prone to subsidence/erosion (the TLDP III and IV dam activities and the IRCON tunnelling having contributed their share to making sections of NH10 more prone to subsidence, rockfalls and landslides)

Rainfall (at Kalimpong) from 19Mar to 23Mar2024
It was surprising that very moderate rainfall, after almost 4 months of complete drought could trigger so much instability in the Likhu Bhir area.
Recently, I met a geomorphologist who said that the Oct 2023 Teesta Valley GLOF was the biggest such event in the Himalayas in the recent past. I believe him entirely.

My thanks to our WhatsApp group 'HA' members who's photos I have used :)

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, March 23, 2024

After the drought - welcome rains in mid - March2024 but also the adverse impact on NH10

After the devastating Teesta valley GLOF of 04Oct2023, our region went in for a four and a half month drought where we did not get a drop of rain:

Both the post-monsoon and  winter season rains went missing and with the vegetation and forests bone dry, we had forest fires much earlier than usual (SHWB is Sub-Himalayan W Bengal)
Screenshot of my post in our What'sApp group, 'Hazard Alerts' showing forest fires in Jan2024.
Forest fire in Sikkim: 16Mar2024

The drought-like conditions continued right upto mid-March2024 with acute drinking water scarcity in many of the urban centres in our region - in Kalimpong there was a 3 day waiting list for anyone wanting to buy water from the water tankers and also, I believe people have started drilling for ground water again. In the rural areas, springs dried up.

Winter rains are caused by Western Disturbances (WDs) which originate around the Mediterranean sea.
reported on the matter, excerpts of which are placed below:
'There has been a lack of rainfall during the post-monsoon season and next to no winter snowfall in some of the north Indian states as a result of a lack of intense western disturbances. This can affect the yield of Rabi crops in these regions and also availability of water in the mountains in general. The lack of snowfall in the mountains could also lead to a warmer than normal pre-monsoon season, with excess rainfall that could affect the harvesting period of Rabi crops. 
Winter precipitation in north India is essential to ensure people’s food and water security. While Rabi is the major cropping season encouraged by rainfall, the glacial streams and rivulets in the Himalayas are fed by melting snow and ice later in the season. 
The only source of rainfall and snowfall in the region are extratropical storms known as western disturbances (WD), which travel from the Mediterranean region. They induce cyclonic circulations in the lower layers of the atmosphere, which cause rainfall in the plains and snowfall in the mountains. They also interact with other wind systems such as the easterlies (winds blowing from the east) to cause rainfall in central India.
The WDs have been showing a decline in intensity in the past few years due to changing climate. The trend continued in the post-monsoon and winter seasons of 2023 as well.
From October 1, 2023 to January 2, 2024, 16 WDs have affected India — five in October, five in November and six in December — out of which only three have been intense and caused rainfall, according to data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), analysed by Down To Earth (DTE).
This has caused rainfall deficits in states like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. While Uttarakhand experienced 47 per cent less rains than normal from October 1 to December 27, the deficit in Himachal Pradesh was 40 per cent, according to data from IMD.
Eight out of the 13 districts of Uttarakhand had deficient rainfall (20-59 per cent less rainfall than normal) and four of them suffered from large deficient (greater than 60 per cent deficit) rainfall. Udham Singh Nagar district had the maximum deficit of 87 per cent. 
In Himachal Pradesh, four districts had deficient rainfall and two had large deficient rainfall. Lahaul and Spiti district had the maximum deficit of 73 per cent.
“Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand received deficient precipitation since western disturbances during the post-monsoon were weak in nature,” Akshay Deoras, a research scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, United Kingdom, told DTE.
“The western disturbance activity witnessed a southward dip in December, causing good rainfall over central India, but either deficient or scanty rainfall over most of northern India in December,” he added. 
Towards the end of November, a moderately intense WD interacted with a lower level trough in the easterlies and chased significant rainfall in central and western Indian states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
“The northwest rainfall reduction is consistent with the general decreasing trend in western disturbances and the precipitation drop over the region. But the El Nino also tends to produce colder winters over parts of this region,” Raghu Murtugudde, a climate scientist at the University of Maryland and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, told DTE.
Murtugudde predicted that the pre-monsoon season will be warmer and probably get more rainfall because of the Arabian Sea warming. “If the summer transitions to a La NiƱa then we should have excess rainfall during the monsoon season,” he concluded.

The drought mercifully ended on 20March2024 in Kalimpong and also the rest of
.Sub - Himalayan WB and SIkkim with thundershowers commencing at 2.30am.
The weather systems which affected us and the cloud image is shown below:

For the past few days we have had welcome light rain in our region. Rainfall totals from 20-22Mar2024 are given below:
Darjeeling 118.6mm  Kalimpong  67.2mm  Bagdogra  92.1mm  Gangtok 46.2mm

NH10 status
We have reported extensively on the impact of the GLOF on roads and bridges in our earlier blogs including one exclusively on the part of NH10 which is now causing massive traffic jams here.
What is alarming is that after absolutely no rain for months, the first light/moderate rainfall can disrupt our communication lines so much - an issue which was pointed out by us in the report submitted to the NDMA & SDMAs of W Bengal and Sikkim on 10Nov2023.
Excerpt of the report is below

I shudder to think what will be the condition and status of NH10 when the SW monsoons set in a few months time.

Traffic jams today at Chitrey (top) and Teesta bazar on NH10
Landslide at Likhu Bhir (NH10) on 21Mar2024
(Images from Hazard Alerts What'sApp group - many thanks:)

NH10 and alternate routes in the Kalimpong- Sikkim area
Kalimpong District Administration's What'sApp message on 21Mar2024 advising alternate routes

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikim Himalaya


Thursday, February 29, 2024

Chungthang: satellite images of BEFORE and AFTER the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) of 04Oct2023

STH has covered the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) from South Lhonak Glacier extensively in this blog with stories, many images and maps of the devastation which followed all along the Teesta River Valley.
The GLOF hit Chungthang town at around 12.35am on 04Oct2023 causing loss of life and livelihoods and tremendous damage to infrastructure.
Placed above are comparative satellite images of BEFORE the GLOF (Google Earth) and AFTER the floods (NRSC)
The scale of devastation is at once visible - with large swathes of Chungthang town totally covered with debris/sand and the humongous (1200MW) Stage III Sikkim Urja dam destroyed, in the NRSC image of 13Oct2023.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Impact of the Teesta Valley Glacial Lake Outburst Flood - Lachen (North Sikkim), the untold story

SaveTheHills (STH) and Junkeri Studio (JS) of Kalimpong have documented the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) disaster of 04Oct2023 extensively in this blog and while doing so we visited numerous places, maybe 20 or so in the Teesta Valley both in W Bengal and Sikkim.
On 17/18Nov2023 we were in Chungthang, North Sikkim where the GLOF destroyed the 1200MW Sikkim Urja dam and saw the humungous devastation there. We interviewed scores of people and photograph them and published the report in our blog – which has been well received all over.
Having gone that far, we were unable to visit Lachen, a small town 39 km north of Chungthang because the roads were totally destroyed by the GLOF. We did make an attempt but the road ceased to exist approximately 5 km north of Chungthang – the road continues to be non-operational even today.

On 17Feb2024 we were fortunate to meet Mr Dathup Lachenpa (DL) a person in the tourism business in Lachen; he had walked across to Chungthang from Lachen because there is still no motorable road.
He was in Kalimpong for brief while and we caught up with him to check how the GLOF impacted town of Lachen. Our interview with Mr Lachenpa:

STH/JS: Welcome, Dathup.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about Lachen and what is the main source of livelihood there?
DL: The approximate population of Lachen is around 2000, the altitude of the town is approximately 9000’ and main source of livelihood is tourism but there are quite a few government contractors and employees as well.
STH/JS: Lachen was the first 'urban' centre which was hit by the GLOF from South Lhonak Glacier on 03Oct2023.Can you tell us whether you had any early warning regarding the floods since we know there was an Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) post further north who had issued alerts. Also approximately what time did the GLOF hit Lachen?
DL: I am not sure of the exact time when the GLOF hit us but it must have been around midnight – we were sleeping and heard this sound like a huge wind which woke us up. My home is a little above the town and when I went outside, there was no storm – the weather was quite clear and I could see stars in the sky. Since there was no storm but the loud noise persisted, I suspected something must be happening in the river and then I saw a lot of smoke rising there, that’s when I realized it maybe the river was overflowing or it was a landslide. I never expected the GLOF (from South Lhonak Lake) to be hitting us. I only realized in the morning that this was a major disaster when we went out towards the river and saw how much devastation was caused by the force of the river. At around 12.30am on 04Oct2023, the electricity and cell phone system went off. I expected a lot of damage by the impact but never on this scale of devastation.
STH/JS: How close is Lachen to the Teesta or more correctly Lachen Chu river? Is the town of Lachen on the banks of the river?
DL: Lachen town is located on higher ground, a little above the river.

Lachen town

STH/JS: Was there any destruction or damage to property or were there any fatalities in Lachen due to the GLOF?
DL: Yes, we ourselves lost a new home which we were constructing and I believe two labourers from Border Roads Organization (BRO)were swept away from the banks of the river at Zema.Zema is slightly north of Lachen towards the glacier.
STH/JS: And in all this you did not get any early warning whatsoever?
DL:As far as I know, we did not get any early warning.
STH/JS: Do you know if the government authorities or Phipon (Headman) received any early warning? - the ITBP post near the glacier sent some warnings, were they received at Lachen?
DL: The ITBP camp is located up there at Zanak 2, maybe they informed their people downstream but nobody informed us.
STH/JS: So what you are saying is that the casualties were limited and damage was less only because Lachen town is located at higher ground and the Lachen Chu or the Teesta river flows in a valley below.
DL: Yes
STH/JS: What is the damage to infrastructure and bridges around Lachen?
DL: There was a lot of damage. In Lachen, 4 bridges were washed away. 3 bridges connected Lachen to Chungthang and one connected us to Thangu.
STH/JS: Have these communication lines (bridges) been restored?
DL: Communication towards Thangu has been restored, with an army bailey bridge being constructed, so light vehicular traffic is now possible. This bridge is on the river bed and may not survive the monsoons so they are re-building the other one.
Three bridges towards Chungthang were washed away, so the route has been diverted and now there is only one bridge which has to be crossed at a place called Boonsoi, 10km south of Lachen. This RCC bridge at Boonsoi survived the flood.
STH/DL: We know that the BRO is working on the road from Chungthang northwards to Lachen. I believe the progress of this work is very slow and I also know people from Lachen are working on the road towards Chungthang.
DL: Yes, we (Lachen public) have succesfully completed one portion from Lachen towards Chunthang which was very difficult at a place called Taru. We encountered only solid rock there. The BRO helped us and we have managed to clear that section for vehicular traffic so the road upto Menchithang, a distance of approx 20km from Lachen is motorable. So now we have to walk 7-8kms after which we reach another motorable section towards Chungthang.
In this regard, the Lachenpas made three wooden bridges.

Local people together with BRO personnel carving out a new road from Lachen to Chunthang

The Lachenpa community constructing a wooden bridge across the Teesta river (also called Lachen Chu) at Zema to connect Lachen with Thangu. Notice the large landslide in the background

STH/JS: We know that Lachen was marooned for some time after the GLOF, can you tell us how many days you were totally cut off and how did people in Lachen survive?
DL: At that time almost 70% of the people were in Thangu, harvesting potatoes and radish and the rest were in Lachen. We habitually stock rations and that's how we survived - on stored rations.
STH/JS: Did the army or air force also help in ration supply?
DL: No, but they certainly helped with the evacuation - the relief material came from local people of Sikkim.
STH/JS: Were there any tourists in Lachen at that time and how were they evacuated?
DL: Yes we had around 500 tourists who were stranded in Lachen at that time; they were evacuated by AF choppers from Chatten (army base near Lachen).
STH/JS: What was the impact of the disaster on livelihoods of people?
DL: The impact is huge because we lost a lot of revenue in tourism – Oct to Dec is a big tourist season for us and we have lost these 3 months and we are not certain in 2024 as well, because road access to our area is still not possible.
STH/JS: Fortunately, it did not snow heavily in North Sikkim during this winter and as such you did not have much problems with ice-bound roads etc. How concerned are you about the forthcoming monsoons with the road condition being what it is? How will you manage your supplies?
DL: Getting supplies through thru Dongkha La pass (which is at 18,000’) would be impossible but what people do is that during the annual puja time in winters they buy a lot of rations from monks and stock up – also people in Lachen were stocking up dry rations like oil and rice from Menchithang etc thru porters who would carry the stuff. However, we would have a problem with LPG cylinders (even though we have fire wood) because people largely use gas for cooking these days.
STH/JS: What about health care issues in Lachen after the GLOF?
DL: Yes, this is a major concern. Recently a 27yr old man from Lachen died in a hospital in Siliguri because he had to be evacuated through Dongkha La pass (18,000’) when he was ill; this is a huge challenge for a sick person. So right now, we are most scared of falling sick in Lachen and hope that no one becomes unwell because we only have a primary health centre which does not have many facilities and presently, I don’t think we have a doctor there.
STH/JS: So what happens to the sick and elderly people at Lachen?
DL: (Chuckles) – We just pray that no one falls ill.
STH/JS: What about children’s education?
DL: They were at home during the winter holidays and have now returned to school – some of them went by car through Dongkha La pass others walked back to Chungthang etc – most of them, walked back I think, because they were scared of heights at Dongkha La.
STH/JS: The hikers trail for walking back (between Lachen and Chungthang) seems very precarious
DL: Yes, the footpath for walking is quite dangerous, if one slips there is no chance of survival – at many places the path is not more than a foot wide.
Makeshift wooden ladder which is used while walking from Lachen to Chungthang

Narrow and dangerous footpath which is being used by people who walk from / to Lachen today.

STH/JS: So how long do you from a layman’s perspective, expect the Chungthang – Lachen road to be restored?
DL: Our Chief Minister had promised that after rebuilding the bridge in Chungthang town, all the resources (machinery and manpower) would be diverted to the Lachen road. That has not happened. Yes, machines are there but not the type which is required to cut rock and so on. We were hoping that road communication would be restored within 2-3months but it has been 4 months and progress is very slow. With no heavy earth moving machinery at site, people are saying it may even take a year for the road to be restored.
STH/JS: Immediately after the disaster, were there any homeless people or was there any requirement for relief and shelter?
DL: Some areas and parts of roads especially in the bazar (town) were cracked and people were reluctant to live there, because of rumors and continuous landslides. So people shifted to relative's home at higher grounds near the monastery. However, there were no homes which were destroyed in Lachen.
Relief supplies as far as I can remember, came in after a week or so. I think this was contributions from locals in and around Sikkim and it was flown in by choppers.
STH/JS: Can you tell us more about the Chungthang-Lachen road status again?
DL: Before the GLOF, the Chungthang-Lachen trip used to take 1 hour by vehicle. Now we can travel by vehicle from both Lachen and Chungthang but the midsection is still not motorable and we have to walk that stretch and it takes us around 2hrs. The vehicles used are all SUVs with 4 wheel drive.
Impact on road communications by the GLOF: Lachen-Chungthang road at Menchithang
                                       Landslides along the Lachen Chu (river) valley

STH/JS: You mentioned visiting the Lachen Chu river a number of times after 04Oct2023 – can you describe the scene? Were there any landslides? And how did people from Lachen spend the next few days after the GLOF?
DL: The power supply and mobile networks went dead from 04Oct2023 – people were scared and moved here and there, trying to find out what was happening. We noticed the river was still swelling up and there were lots of landslides taking place in and around. When we went to Zema where there was a bridge which connected Lachen to Thangu, we found that the landscape had changed totally, we could not recognize where the bridge was. The whole day the river was flowing at the same high level.
Two days or so later when we went towards Zema again , we found a huge increase in landslide activity all along the road.
STH/JS: We are aware that a Swiss and Govt of India team had gone upto South Lhonak Glacier (in 2023) – did they go through Lachen?
DL: We heard about that too but I do not know the details. People were in fact blaming them for what happened – and believe that they may have done something. We believe our lakes are sacred and do pujas and visit monasteries while visiting these (holy) places.
STH/JS: Which is the nearest lake from Lachen?
DL: By road, it is Gurudongma lake
STH/JS: How much time would it take to reach South Lhonak lake from Lachen?
DL: Now there is a motorable road to Zanak 2 where they have the last ITBP camp and that takes around 6hrs from Lachen. Beyond that I have no idea.
STH/JS: Do you know whether (the ITBP camp at) Zanak 2 was affected by the GLOF?
DL: I think so, I think I saw some photographs.
STH/JS: Have people returned to Lachen from Thangu?
DL: Yes, its wintertime and its not possible to stay in Thangu. Everyone has returned but some are in Gangtok and others in Siliguri etc and children have returned to school.
STH/JS: What is the approximate economic loss which took place due to the GLOF say in terms of loss of farmland,destruction of orchards etc
DL: I can say we have lost a lot of land – pasture land for example. Our dairy animals go to lower altitudes during winters, to places like Denga which was a little above Chungthang. These areas have been washed away by the GLOF. People are now living on the roadside at Rabong and so on. Further, I think in terms of loss, all of Sikkim has been impacted - shops, hotels and so on . I am sure the loss is huge and in many crores.

                              Destruction of farm and grazing land at Menchithang.
                                               Landslides along the valley at Zema

STH/JS: Do you know of any loss to Govt departments including the army?
DL: Fisheries department have lost some trout farms, animal husbandry department have lost their angora farm, Tibetan sheep have lost their grazing land and so on.

                                    Destruction at army camp at Menchithang

STH/JS: What sort of help have you received from the administration?
DL: It has been four months since the GLOF and we still have not seen the District Magistrate (DM) on site or anywhere. We met the ADC (Additional District Collector) who came to Lachen after 7-8 days, maybe he was representing the DM – we don’t know.
With the help of the Government, the electricity was restored after 8-9days, most probably because we have a new power station in Lachen, which was not affected by the disaster. Our cell phones (only BSNL network) started working after a month or so but the performance was poor, with a lot of disturbances
STH/JS: You mean you had no communication for a month?
DL: No, I think the ADC had come with a satellite phone but I am not sure how many could make calls. We also could use the army lines but that too was difficult because of the long queues of people waiting.
STH/JS: How do you see the next few months with the monsoons coming up?
DL: We are really scared of the monsoons and the heavy rain it will bring. It will affect us a lot and people are thinking of stocking supplies before the rains and we will avoid traveling during that time because of the road conditions.
STH/JS: Can you tell us the cost of travel from Lachen to Chungthang via the Dongkha La pass?
DL: I heard the freight charges of utility (short body) truck bringing supplies from Mangan to Lachen via Dongkha La is Rs 25,000/-
STH/JS: Thank you so much for your time, Mr Dathup Lachenpa and for sharing this information about what happened in Lachen. It will certainly be most useful for people studying the October 2023 GLOF disaster in the Teesta Valley.

Photo credits: Dathup Lachenpa

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya
Praveen Chhetri
Junkeri Studios