Friday, February 3, 2023

STH Landslide documentaries being featured in Film Festival on 'Exploring Risk', at Durham University (U.K) -16/17Feb2023

We just received news that the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience at Durham University (UK) is hosting 'The Exploring Risk 2023 Film Festival' on the 16/17Feb2023 and that they would like to feature our 2 documentaries on the Pathing Landslides during the film festival.

I am extremely proud that they have chosen to do so and am planning to make another documentary during the monsoons of 2023 on the 'Impact of Landslide Disasters on Rural Communities' (subject to fund availability). 

Rural communities are the forgotten lot in landslide disasters, with all the focus and media attention going to landslides on communication lines such as roads and highways and to those in urban centers. In such a scenario, hardly anyone pays heed to smaller landslides which nibble away unnoticed in rural areas, destroying livelihoods and farmlands.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Friday, January 13, 2023

Why we should tread softly in the Himalayas...Pakyong, Sikkim, Nov2017

While the sinking of Joshimath, in large part due to human activities has caught the attention of the nation, I was witness to a similar event in another Himalayan state,ie Sikkim caused by anthropogenic activity which has now been largely forgotten.

Pakyong airport, 30 km from Gangtok at an elevation 4590ft (1399m)was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24Sept 2018. It was constructed by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) at an estimated cost of Rs 605 crore and was touted be an "engineering marvel" for its soil reinforcement and slope stabilization techniques keeping in view the altitude it was built at. 

After inauguration, only Spicejet operated a Bombardier Q -400 on the Kolkata -Pakyong route and under Visual Flight Rules since there no navigational aids or radar at the airport which will permit IFR flight.

Building the airport caused severe distress to the slopes around the airport and the landslide problem in the area has been adequately documented by Dr Dave Petley in his blog here.

I visited Pakyong on 05Nov2017 and met some local contacts who said almost 164 buildings/homes large and small, located below and around the runway had been damaged due to the sinking caused by the airport construction.  

I have placed images of buildings being dismantled and other images of Pakyong airport below:


I took these photos in Nov2017 and after that I have not visited Pakyong. 

What I know from media reports is that adequate compensation has been doled out to all the affected people there so there is silence from that end.
What I am not sure is about the health of the mountain because I believe the runway is under repair/ extension.

No flights have operated to/from Pakyong for some time now, for reasons unknown to me.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim HImalaya

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

What landslides do to people: A home at Sherpa Gaon (village), Lava (Kalimpong district, W Bengal) on 28Oct2021 and 20Dec2022

This landslide at Sherpa Gaon (Lava, Kalimpong) occurred on 19Oct2021 at 3am, following two consecutive days of heavy rain. We met the owner Mr Wangdi Sherpa during our landslide survey on 28Oct2021 and reported on the slide in our canva database of landslides

Yesterday (20Dec2022) I took this photo of the landslide and the home while passing thru the area.
A carcass of a home is remaining.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Pathing landslides gets a full feature on Prof Dave Petley's Landslide Blog

Prof Dave Petley's Landslide Blog is perhaps the most widely read 'online magazine' on Landslide Hazards in the world.
So it is wonderful that our reports on the Pathing Landslides as well as our two videos have been featured in a full length post on his blog yesterday.
The link is here
Meanwhile as I write the rockfalls and the landslide at Pathing continue relentlessly; the good thing is that the villagers and their livestock have shifted out of harms way even though their homes are still being pulverized by rocks.
I hope our efforts in highlighting their plight (and the plight of so many other rural communities which are affected by this very under-rated disaster form) will help them in some way.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Mapping rainfall in our region: NEW (DAVIS) AWS at Todey Village in Kalimpong station and location of Automatic Weather Stations (DAVIS) and Manual Rainfall Gauges.

STH has been monitoring rainfall in our region for many years now and we publish these records each month in this blog. 

The above map shows the location of 6 DAVIS AWS in our region which will give real time weather information 24 X 7 and also the location of 4 manual rainfall gauge stations.
Real time weather includes

  • Temperature (outdoor and indoor, max and min temp, graphical data)
  • Rain (current rain, 24hrs rain, monthly rain, yearly rain, intensity of rain in mm/hr)
  • Wind data ( 10min average, gusts and graphical data)
  • Barometric pressure (& graphical representation of variation)
  • Weather forecast.

How to get real time weather from the AWS
In order to get the real time weather from the 6 DAVIS AWS stations:

  • Download and install the 'WEATHERLINK Davis Instruments' app from Google play store.
  • You may have to register.
  • Search for Davis weather stations in Kalimpong, Gangtok and so on and save them.

    Praful Rao
    Kalimpong district
    Darjeeling -Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Raising awareness on impact of landslides on rural communities

Landslides are a cunning disaster form.
They mostly nibble and therefore their impact is not openly evident and it is often under-valued by governments and disaster management professionals alike.
Landslides are also very localized so one hill maybe totally stable and its people ignorant of the devastation being caused by landslides on an adjacent hill or mountain.
Add to this the fact that remote mountain communities seldom speak out and suffer in silence.
In an effort to raise awareness about this disaster form, SaveTheHills along with Junkeri Studio (Kalimpong) has produced two documentaries on the impact of the landslide at Pathing, a village about which we have blogged  a few days earlier.
The links are placed below:

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya

Monday, November 28, 2022

Pathing landslide in Yangyang subdivision, South Sikkim revisited: 27Nov2022

Our visit to and report on the 'Very Active Landslide', at Yangyang in South Sikkim, generated much interest from the public at large and more specifically from the people, media and government of Sikkim. As such the 7 min documentary which STH together with Junkeri Studios (Kalimpong) had almost completed required a total overhaul, since much had changed in Pathing.

The landslide, however continued to wreak havoc and we needed to update our videos as well as photos; as such we made another 3 hour trip to Pathing landslides on 27Nov2022. This photo report is from our visit there on the said date:

Probable cause of the landslide and prognosis
As per locals the landslide has been more active AFTER the monsoons rather than when it was raining. An expert whom I spoke to suggested this maybe due to 

  • the weak rock formations such as phyllites and schists in the mountain
  • the steep (almost 60 -70 deg) incline of the slope failure

What the experts and the villagers agreed on was that it was not possible to control or mitigate this slide as such the only choice left for Pathing villagers would be to relocate to a safer place and I am glad to say that the govt is already thinking on those lines.
A glimmer of hope may also come from what the locals told me - that the frequency of rockfall was less for the last few days and that it had not been active for the 3 consecutive nights. So it could also mean that the unstable mass was collapsing slowly which may lead to this slide becoming stable over a period of time.

Location details of slide
Latitude 27° 17' 44.196" N    Longitude 88° 23' 32.874" E
Elevation 1575.60 m

STH together with Junkeri Studios, Kalimpong will be coming up with a 10 min updated documentary which will include extensive drone foot-ages of the landslide, damage to the village and also interviews with affected people in the next week

As always, our thanks to all those who helped in making our second visit to Pathing possible and especially to the people of the village.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling -Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Commemorating Prof Leszek Starkel's interactions with STH in Darjeeling (21Nov2008) and Kalimpong (25Nov2009)

Prof Leszek Starkel (1931-2021) was a legend.
He was an eminent geomorphologist, a leading figure in Polish geomorphology over many decades and also a person of wide international reputation.
I came across him almost accidentally. Some one had given me a book by him on 'Rain,Landslides and Floods in the Darjeeling Himalaya' sometime in early 2008 and in it was his email address. So I shot off an email to him saying SaveTheHills was very interested in his work and would like to meet him if possible and promptly forgot about it, never expecting a reply.
Many months later I got a reply from the great man that he was arriving in Darjeeling in Nov2008 and I could actually meet him. I jumped at the offer and requested that he be our keynote speaker in a seminar on 'Landslide Hazards' we would organize in Darjeeling on his arrival.
He agreed and we organized what must be the first seminar on 'Landslide Hazards' in Darjeeling on 21Nov2008. A year later we organized another talk by him in Kalimpong on 25Nov2009 which was also our last since his visits to India stopped due to illness.
Later I found that he had been coming to India very regularly after the Oct 1968 disaster to study among other things the Ambootia landslides.
Prof Starkel passed away last year on 06Nov.
The images below are testimony to our brief but wonderful interaction with Prof Leszek Starkel.

STH finds a place in Prof Leszek Starkel's memoirs:

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, November 19, 2022

A very active landslide at YangYang (South Sikkim, India); 18Nov2022

YangYang also called Yangang is a small town in South Sikkim. In it, is an even smaller village - Pathing which is mainly composed of people from the Gurung community. The livelihood of most in Pathing is agriculture and more recently, tourism. Pathing also lies enroute between the town of Ravangla and Yangang.
I came to know about a major, very active landslide in Yangang fairly recently and visited the place on 18Nov 2022 with a drone crew from Junkeri Studios.
We spent approx 2-3 hours photographing the landslide there, interacted with many of the affected people, taking drone foot-ages as well as interviewing many locals.
The landslide is apparently 30years old or more and no one seems to know how it was triggered.
However this year, despite the fact that rainfall was less, the landslide has become far more active and as we witnessed the rockfall has been continuous even after the monsoons.
It has impacted road communication between Ravangla and Yangang which is now closed. The farming community has lost a lot of land because of the shooting boulders, children's schooling has been adversely affected and the budding tourism industry in the area has now suffered a total set back.
I have placed a photo-essay on the landslide below but will be coming up with a short documentary on our visit to the landslide and findings - the video will be placed in our Youtube Channel

Lat/Long: 27° 17' 49.47" N, 88° 23' 25.5" E
Elevation: 1574m

My thanks to the people of Pathing village and Yangang for being such wonderful hosts and to all those who helped.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya
Junkeri Studios