Sunday, September 30, 2007

rantings of an eccentric

i am beginning to suspect - after listening to the vast sounds of silence echoing back from all the letters i have been frantically pumping to friends, officials and organizations that my rantings must be treated as those of a well meaning but aging eccentric who is given to bouts of unnecessary panic.
and so even after seeing hill after hill with yawning cracks, after having talked to scores of desperate people whose houses, land and lives are in danger of being lost
i hope and pray that my concern is excessively exaggerated and that for once, all those who have chosen to keep silent or trash my emails are correct and that i am indeed wrong..
because i dare not imagine what will happen should the fears i have expressed in some of these blogs do prove true.

praful rao

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Soureni, a village in the line of fire

Some years ago, Soureni, Bara Bhalukhop was a quaint little village nestled in a picturesque part of Kalimpong- just below Dello hill.
Today, it is a village living on borrowed time.
Huge landslides have opened up only several hundred feet above it and people of 16 houses in that area live in mortal fear of being swept away in mudslides. Many of them had shifted into temporary shelters during the first and second week of Sep 2007 when the rainfall was heaviest. From one of the houses where children happily played, it took me hardly 2 mins to walk upto the landslide area...
a grim reminder of just how close we are to collosal disaster.

praful rao

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The silent disaster: Darjeeling chapter

Lower Bhotay Busty landslide has affected 11 households and have washed one house away. They have been living with their friends and families ever since the landslide.

Lebong and Ging was also badly hit with people dying in the landslides.

Gairee Gaon in Harsing with 35 families have been badly hit by landslides with 2 houses completely washed away and 1 with a crack. The rest of the houses are in a highly vulnerable situation. 8 families are living in the primary school in Harsing

The landslides in Lower Bhotay Busty, Lebong and Harsing are not just one off landslides but are indicators of bigger doom to follow if we do not take precautionary measures. Cracks have developed indicating bigger landslides yet to come. These cracks have developed in Bhotay Busty, Lebong and Harsing which are at the base of Chowrastha which is the prime and pride of Darjeeling Town. The landslides and cracks if not attended to with proper care and attention will bring our beloved Chowrastha to River Rungdoong.

Photo credit : Sukra Mani Rai, Darjeeling

Report by : Roshan Rai, DLR Prerna c/o Hayden Hall Complex, Darjeeling

We were lucky this time..

Whereas most of my focus has been in and around Kalimpong town, there has been devastation in rural areas also.
In Barabhalukhop, a huge landslide emanating from Dello area, has just narrowly missed some village houses...the houses and land around them are cracked but LUCKILY the landslide just grazed the settlements.
The same is true in the Bhagay Sangsay area and Kharga Sangsay areas where really massive landslides have allowed villages to see the light of another day for this time.
What scares me is the size of these slides, some of them have started from the top of Kalimpong ridge line and have reached the Teesta valley almost 3000' below.
What triggered off these mammoth landslides in Sep2007?
Can we all do our bit and ask the Govt, NGOs and whoever to call in experts who can help find a solution?

You see, we may not be as lucky the next time

praful rao

Monday, September 24, 2007

The silent disaster

In the many days that I have trudged up and down these hillsides or driven around Kalimpong in a bid to map the extent of damage caused in the early Sep2007 rains, I am truly shocked by the overall ruin and the sheer scale at which it has happened.

But this time, nature has behaved in an almost sinister and cunning manner.

For those of you who know or have lived thru it, in Oct 1968 we suffered an immense calamity where something dramatic happened in Kalimpong - the Teesta bridge got swept away, so the media screamed out about the tragedy and we even caught the attention of the BBC.

Whereas in Sept 2007 nothing spectacular happened.

The rains STOPPED inches short of a phenomenal disaster but who knows about it?

What has happened is largely unknown to most people in Kalimpong, let alone the national media. A prominent NGO from Kalimpong (who agrees with my findings) had reported the seriousness of the matter and referred this website to their head office but alas! the response from the head office was that nothing had been reported by the media or the government, so how were they to believe what is given in this website?

Yet silently entire mountain sides have cracked up, quietly villages and paddy fields have slid down, roads have got washed away and buildings and mud houses have crumbled while an entire populace sat happily mesmerized by the Indian Idol reality show (the Prashant phenomenon.)

And now with the fair weather, comes a time for making merry making in this part of the world. The once yawning cracks on hillsides are getting covered fast and the forgetting process has begun

nature is playing a cruel game…

next year the monsoons will hammer us again.

The chilling truth is some parts of Kalimpong will disappear.

Today, I was in the upper Alaichikhop (the area beyond and below Munal Lodge ie between Flower patch and the garbage dump) and the Chota Bhalukhop areas.

In Alaichikhop, a massive slide from the garbage dump is severely threatening a very populated area within the municipal area and also the Macfarlane Church, not to mention lower Alaichikhop village. Almost 3 weeks after the rains, 24 people from 5 families are still staying in a school, their houses in Alaichikhop being too damaged for habitation.

An 80m long horizontal crack has developed below the Kalimpong Subdivisional hospital surgical block in the Chota Bhalukhop area, this threatens the hospital above as well as a densely populated area in Chota Bhalukhop

After visiting these places, all I felt was a sense of dread...

my god! how can we tackle the extent of damage caused when all we have is a whole lot of sceptics who don't even believe that something needs to be done?

praful rao

Saturday, September 22, 2007

One month in September

As I write this article, Sony Entertainment's 'Indian Idol' reality show is into its final week. This is the first one that I have watched with dedication. As the month progressed, and local boy Prashant Tamang survived one elimination round after another, the interest in the show, orchestrated with all the glamour, glitz and hype in Sony Entertainment's arsenal built up a tidal wave of euphoria not just in the hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim but right across the country and overseas among the Diaspora of Nepali speaking peoples.

Finally, one of our own was in the glare and limelight of national attention, albeit in a reality show extravaganza. Beyond the coming week, this edition of Indian Idol too will come to an end. Both Prashant and Amit Paul will become stars of 'the last edition' and other youngsters in quest of fame and fortune of Mumbai and Bollywood will take their place. In the corporate offices of Sony Entertainment gleeful executives will draw up their battle plans for their next 'Idol' blitzkrieg. It is a tremendously successful and lucrative show and I imagine they will milk it for as long as they can.

For Prashant, his run in this competition is the stuff of which fairy tales are made. Regardless of who becomes the next 'Indian Idol' he has won, in ways he could not possibly have imagined. In the glare and centre stage of national and local media and television for over a month, he has become an iconic figure in the hills. The collective pride and joy of the hill people, cutting across caste, culture, religious and social considerations is absolutely phenomenal. At last, one of our own was in the national consciousness, not on the outside looking in, but on the inside looking out. With that the stereotypical image of the Gorkha will warrant a second look. It will happen, because the media, including the entertainment variety till date has largely and irresponsibly projected the Gorkha image in poor light. And if it takes a reality show to set things right, then so be it.

By the end of the week, along with the 'Indian Idol' show, it is my hope that the monsoons too will come to an end. For unlike "the rain in Spain " the rain here doesn't "fall mainly in the plains." North Bengal and Sikkim lie in an area which receives some of the heaviest rainfall in the country. The monsoons here last for almost six months, beginning in April and petering off in Sept; provided the weather plays to script. When it doesn't, the rains fall till October, resurrecting terrible memories of Oct 1968, when after a fortnight of relentless rainfall, the hills were mauled by disastrous landslides and floods that cut communications, destroyed property, and claimed hundreds of lives.

In the intervening years, we have seen almost forty monsoons and each one crafts its own story. Some years are better than others, but the underlying tale is the same. Landslides, disrupted communications (sometimes for weeks), homes and properties damaged or carried away. Eventually, the debris is moved, communications restored, the dead are buried or cremated, and the uprooted and dispossessed melt into the oblivion of apathy. Their homes gone. There lives destroyed. That is the rhythm of life in the hills. But that rhythm with its almost fatalistic overtones is now poised to go horribly awry.

During the first week of September the rains came down with unusual ferocity. For weeks before that, jhoras (mountain streams) and springs began to swell at an alarming rate, everywhere they assumed characteristics of turbulent rivulets as they thundered their way down the slopes sweeping everything in their path. Finally they flow into swollen and turgid waters of the Teesta or the Relli River in the east. In many places, trees toppled over; shaken loose from soil that long lost the right to be called terra firma. Power and telecommunication links snapped in many places. Roads were either blocked, or washed away, in some places they had just sunk into the ground. Elsewhere, in the suburbs, villages, and distant hamlets landslides had simply buried villages, felled huge trees, snapped road links, and people have died yet again. Those that survive will have to contend with an uncertain and bleak future.

It is an old story, and it is told every monsoon. But there is a twist to the story this year. Alarmed by the continuing onslaught of the rains and talk of largscale damages all over the subdivision, The Kalimpong Consumer's Association formed a small team comprising of Mr. N.P. Dixit (President), Wing Commander (red) Prafulla Rao, (Secretary), Mr. Bharat Mani Pradhan, and myself. Rajiv Ravidas of the Telegraph formed the fifth member of the team to make a survey of some landslide affected areas. A survey report of the extensive damages was prepared and we have since then begun to circulate this among district officials, leaders, and the media. Rajiv filed his own report in the Telegraph of the 13 th Sept. The detailed report is filed in this website. Praful has since then uploaded 50 odd photographs of many of the devastated areas. But nothing comes even close to begin telling the world of the tragedy waiting to befall these beautiful hills of North Bengal.

I dread to think what would have happened if the rains had continued to fall for another day or two more. If we are fortunate, this monsoon will play by the script and October will pass and our reprieve will be renewed till the next monsoon. Soon there will be the festive season. Dasain, Diwali, Christmas, Losung, Losar, and the New Year and several other festivals. It will be time to raise the glasses, set the tables, parties and dances and vacations. Like all other years, the monsoon will occasionally come up on the social circuits. Its great a great topic to fill in the gaps in the conversations.

It is time to change the script. Our hills are a disaster waiting to happen. It is long past the stage of whether it will happen….the question is when is it going to happen ? It is time for us all to come to together and ponder our collective fate and do something about it. Tomorrow may be too late.

Wangchuk Basi Sept 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

What's happening here (Sindebung)?

I live in Tirpai, Kalimpong and I always looked down at the verdant, lush fields of Sindebung below and wistfully yearned for some land there.
No longer.
Notice the huge chunk of flat farmland which has literally been gouged out much like one would tackle a bowl of delicious pudding.
Why is Sindebung almost collapsing into Relli (river valley) at such an alarming rate?
What are the implications for Kalimpong?
I have requested KTV and some other reporters to do this story next week...
any of u who wish join me and see the place first hand, do contact me
my cell 9832093746

praful rao

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Developments

1) On 19Sep2007, the survey report as seen below has been sent to:-
a) CPS, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council
b) District Magistrate, Darjeeling

2) Next week KTV will be doing a complete report on the Sindebung landslides and its direct impact on the 12th,11th mile and Bong Busty area. The print media will also cover this story.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New pictures from Seokbir Khani

The Lion's club team ( Mr Mahen Pradhan and party) were up at Seokbir Khani with some relief material soon after the landslides hit- two people died in this area. I have just posted 4 photos contributed by Mr Mahen Pradhan from his trip.
Please do send some more photos and write fact I had sent the user name and password to all thru email so that u can directly upload yr material (bearing in mind to keep yr photo file size around 80kb so that we don't use up the approx 1GB available on this blogspot too quickly)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Survey Report on Landslides: Sep2007

Report on survey of some landslide affected areas in the vicinity of Kalimpong by Kalimpong Consumer Association


It is well known and documented that North Bengal and Sikkim lies in an area which receives some of the heaviest rainfall in the country. Also it is a fact that the area is weather sensitive being prone to sudden heavy to very heavy rainfall which can cause landslides. The monsoon season here lasts almost 6 months (April - Sept) and with the impact of global warming on climate change, the severity of the monsoons can only be expected to increase. Along with this is the factor that over the years this area has seen a drastic reduction in forest cover and an explosive increase in urban development which is largely unplanned.

Survey Report

Following almost a week of heavy and incessant rainfall in the first week of Sep2007, members of the Kalimpong Consumer Association made a survey of some landslide affected areas in the vicinity of Kalimpong town on 11Sep2007. A sketch of the affected areas in the immediate vicinity of Kalimpong town is attached as appendix “A”.

Observations of the team are as follows:-

a) Though the damage appears to have been mostly caused by the recent heavy and incessant rains in Jul and Sep2007, there is no doubt the erosion/landslide is the cumulative effect of rainfall over the years and also various other factors such as loss of forest cover, urbanization and lack of proper drainage.

b) The rains and other factors appear to have triggered off dormant landslides in new areas which were otherwise considered stable such as the 12th mile and Gumba Hatta areas.

c) With the exception of some areas in the town , extensive havoc has been caused by rainfall in densely populated areas immediately adjacent to the main town area; these include

i) 11th mile - a petrol pump has been destroyed at Topkhana. Several landslides have also taken place in this area and a 50’ section of the road to Algarah has sunk and is in imminent danger of collapsing.

ii) Gumba Hatta - A big crack has developed on HD Pradhan road in this area (which was till date stable.) The potential landslide here poses a direct and grave hazard in a very densely populated area.

iii) Tharpacholing monastery, Tirpai – a landslide near this monastery on DM Moktan road has blocked this road totally and threatens several buildings in this area.

iv) Hospital area - A huge crack has developed on KD Pradhan road just above doctor’s quarters and below the SDMO’s office. Any slip here will impact the residence of the doctors. There is also danger to the hospital (old surgical block) from the dhobi dhara area below.

v) Leprosy colony - A major landslide has taken place behind the colony kitchen. Further landslips or rock falls from this area poses a great danger to the village located below (Chota Bhalukhop).

vi) Chota Bhalukhop - Many landslips have taken place along the road between Munal Lodge and this area; two people died in a landslide at Chota Bhalukhop.

vii) Dhong dara - A crack has developed on the road leading from Tirpai to Dr Graham’s homes school (at Dhong dara) and some landslides have taken place in this area. It might be recollected that this area was always vulnerable and a large number of casualties occurred here I in the 1968 landslides; in the intervening years however, this area has been transformed into a densely populated area. Due to the imminent threat of landslides from Dhong dara, people of the area directly below ie next to the DD TV tower vacated their houses for almost a week and slept in the market place next to the Central School for Tibetans.

d) In the areas outside the town limits, the assessment made by the team was equally grim:-

i) Dr Graham’s Homes dispensary - There are several places where the road has sunk in this area (especially around ‘jhoras’- mountain streams) endangering not only those who are living in its proximity but also those who live below, in the path of the landslide.

ii) Sangsay Phatak - This is beyond the Hanuman statue at Dello. The entire hill has started sliding down and one can see huge cracks on the hillside, endangering not only an entire village above the road ie Dalapchand, Echay but also a huge area below. As on date this is the only motorable route from Kalimpong to the satellite towns of Algarah , Pedong and Lava and a breach on this road would maroon entire villages as well as close an alternate route to Siliguri from Kalimpong [since the lower route ie Rishi road has been closed for a week due to landslides at 14th mile (see para v)]

iii) Dalapchand - The same type of situation exists here only perhaps a more dangerous one. The road is caving in at numerous places. Houses in these areas were evacuated for some time.

iv) Reshi road, 12th mile -On this road, in the vicinity of Orchid Retreat, the road has caved in at least two 100 feet stretches and is in danger of collapsing.

v) 14th mile - The survey team could not proceed towards Algarah beyond 14th mile on Reshi Road because the road was closed due to landslides.

vi) Chibo – a “landslide prone area” which has suffered extensive damage in this period. The road to LK Pradhan nursery has been all but washed away, the Church and many other buildings are cracked and unsafe for human occupation.

vii) Sindebung - Another "landslide prone" area, like so many other places in Kalimpong. The only difference this time is the scale, some places here have sunk as much as 5' due to the rains of 2007 and villagers here quickly draw a parallel to what happened in1968. Perhaps the worst affected is the Gairi gaon area where the landslides and depressions pose a direct threat to 10th/11th/12mile area of Kalimpong.

viii) Teesta - Towards 27thmile the situation is equally worrisome particularly in the vicinity of the NHPC Dam Stage IV at 27th and 28mile where NH31 is reduced to small strips of kutcha road, much of the road having collapsed into the river below.


The survey team found that without sounding alarmist, there is a danger of a large scale catastrophe taking place in the areas visited if there is heavy precipitation on the scale that occurred in the first week of Sept2007 and this is entirely possible as the monsoons are still active in this region.

The team is also of the opinion that a similar situation exists in other parts of the subdivision (which were not surveyed) since the topography, soil structure and rainfall received is more or less the same.

Should no calamity take place this year, the same is entirely possible during heavy and incessant precipitation in the near future since with global warming the severity of weather is expected to increase sharply.


The team, though only comprising of concerned citizens and not experts in any related field urges concerned government agencies and NGO’s to give this document the highest priority in order to avoid large scale loss of life and property in the future. It also urges other bodies to independently verify the above findings in the whole of the subdivision since due to limitation of resources and time, the team could only survey a small portion of the subdivision and that too superficially.

It further recommends the following:-

a)A detailed study be carried out on the drainage pattern of rain water in the hills and a network of drains be planned and built in both urban and rural areas to channelize the huge amounts of storm water without damage to life and property.

b) Existing drains be broadened and maintained properly. All drains be cleaned at least once before the commencement of the monsoon period. It is also recommended that blockages of drains be cleared as soon as possible by local self help groups without waiting for government agencies/municipality to initiate action.

c)Jhoras are ultimately responsible in channelizing the entire water from the hills to rivers. Many of the sinking areas and much damage in the survey was observed adjacent to jhoras since most are in a state of disrepair. All jhoras may therefore be trained, strengthened and cleaned.

d) It is recommended that bamboo cultivation be avoided in landslide prone areas since it was evident that bamboo groves did not really bind the soil and had a counter productive role. Instead deep rooted trees which could hold soil be planted on active landslides and landslide prone areas.

e)Live disaster management exercises may be carried out by government agencies with the public both in rural and urban areas at least once a year to test the efficacy of the plan.

f) The Soil Conservation Dept was once very active in the past; working extensively in the catchment and sinking areas to conserve soil and prevent land slides. This maybe be taken up with renewed vigour.

g) The Social Forestry Dept must also be activated to educate people on the types of trees to be planted in landslide prone areas. Free saplings must be distributed in all such areas.

h) Many of the landslips were observed in the vicinity of recently constructed roads in rural areas; the fact that no drain had been constructed alongside the road and the walls of the newly excavated road were left without protection had made these new roads very susceptible to landslides. Suitable corrective measures maybe implemented.

j) Not withstanding the above, experts may be deputed from government agencies and NGOs to study the above issues and submit short and long term recommendations in order to avoid a catastrophe in the hills.


With the withdrawal of the monsoons and the onset of winters it is all too easy to forget the havoc and near disaster we have just experienced. Failure to act decisively and fast during the dry season (Oct-Apr) in all the affected areas however, may lead to a catastrophe on an unprecedented scale in the hills in the years to come.

praful rao

Visions of hell

dear friends,
kalimpong, in fact the whole of north bengal and sikkim ,went thru a terrifying one week of exceptionally heavy showers in the beginning of sept2007...and we just escaped by the skin of our teeth..had it rained for just another 4-5 hrs at the same rate, there would have been disaster on an unprecedented scale.
of course, none of us living here are new to heavy rainfall...after all we live in an area which receives some of the heaviest precipitation in the country. what was scary was that the rain came in sep, when we had already been drenched for almost 4-5months by heavy downpours; (remember that in the period 25-27 jul2007 we received some really heavy showers and the NHPC Stage IV dam at nazoke went under water.) what was also scary was that within that week it rained more than it normally does in the whole of sep.
around 11sep some of us made a series of visits to some places close to kalimpong town to check the devastation and we were truly alarmed. as mr bharat mani pradhan put it, this time there was nothing dramatic as the teesta bridge being swept away as it was in 1968 but in terms of scale, the disaster this year seems bigger than in1968.
many of you will not be aware of this. some of u, may not even believe it! this site is therefore a desperate way of bringing our plight to the notice of concerned people all over the world and also to that of the national media, so that ultimately the state and the central govt and NGOs will take notice.
u see we are skating on very thin ice here... hills are sliding down, jhoras have burst their banks, buildings lie precariously perched-their innards having been disembowled by landslips...another heavy shower similar to the one we experienced in jul or the beginning of sep2007 and we will hit the world news headlines, and again for all the wrong reasons.
we have scant time, let us make haste.

the images on this blog are by mr chinlop lepcha, mr um pradhan, mr mahen pradhan, mr gm pradhan and yrs truly..

praful rao