Leh, February 5 (ANI): The night of August 5, 2010 bestowed nation-wide fame on the sleepy town of Leh and its neighboring villages when it woke its residents to the cruel devastation of a cloudburst that engulfed several lives and rendered many injured, homeless and missing. The cold desert was ravaged by a vast river of rock and mud ripping apart houses and razing shops and structures to the ground.
The destructive floods lasted less than two hours but caused havoc that would take years to recover from. Everyone expected a drastic change not only in the landscape but in the lives of its shocked survivors.
Eighteen months later, belying all doomsday predictions, the Ladakhi community in and around Leh stands on firm footing. The beautiful landscapes complement the rough terrain, as people go about their daily chores, celebrating life with enthusiasm and characteristic hard work to rebuild a vibrant town, continuing their tradition of welcoming tourists with open arms. It would seem that the newspaper reports and television news channels broadcasts were tales of a different land.
The scars will take time to heal, though, and reconstruction is following a slow but steady path. As one walks down to the inner regions, remnants of the devastation become visible - large mounds of mud and rocks spread over vast expanse of land, broken houses, and remnants of cars, buses, shelters, and houses - all narrating the incident of that dreadful night. If the intensity of the cloudburst was so strong, what drives the people of Leh to recover and find happiness, allowing them to carry on their lives in such a short span of time?
The secret lies in the traditional lifestyle of Ladakhis that is based in the fundamental values of humanity. For them their true duty is not only towards the almighty but also towards mankind and that is certainly a reason why Ladakhis, known for their hospitality worldwide, succeeded in recovering from the devastating natural calamity. They have always believed in community efforts, whether it is about maintaining their natural and cultural heritage or about building new prospects.
The storm that conquered the night presented an even more tragic morning. The Ladakhis simply accepted the challenges of this natural calamity and voluntarily launched a community-wide support to help those affected.
With the help of the Army and ITBP which were at the forefront of the rescue work, civilians pitched in for rescue and relief works. The floods were unable to destroy the social fabric of the region - it served as the basis of their recovery. Everyone contributed to the extent of their ability - a few helped dig out houses, searched for bodies and survivors buried under the mud.
The distinction between locals and tourists was washed away by the floods. Owners of the guest houses welcomed people whose homes were gone. They offered not only shelter, but food and medication, without caring for monetary gains. Youth started volunteering in hospitals, unfazed by their lack of formal training. One could see Ladakhi of all ages working day and night in the relief camps, community kitchens and in the field, saving several lives every day.
"The army and other organisations helped the locals gain confidence by providing the means to help others. I remember one of the army persons appreciating the way Ladakhis cooperated during the rescue work - it was a crucial factor behind the success of the emergency relief," said one of the volunteers.
Coping with fears, and rumours born of such fears, also needed to be addressed. People would get rattled at the slightest news of rains coming again and would rush to take shelter. After one such rumour, thousands of frightened people clustered at the Shanti Stupa, built on a rocky outcrop above Leh.
It was amazing to watch the joie de vivre among the group despite their fears. Folk songs sung by the Ladakhi women lit up the darkest nights. Over time, the fearful conversations were replaced by chanting of the "Om Mani Padme Hum". That is the magic of a land which reflects living Buddhism.
Donations started pouring in, several NGOs stepped in to organise relief work, and the Government announced compensation for the dead, injured and missing. Land was allocated to those who lost their land in the floods. The most interesting initiatives were taken by individual villages. Local bodies were formed that collected funds for the unfortunate households. They distributed medicines, clothes and food to those residing in the relief camps. It was an efficient response from a highly sensitive community.
Floods not only washed away the agricultural land but covered it with infertile mud. The government provided three to four bulldozers to each village to remove the mud off the agricultural terrain. It was a difficult task. People could have easily avoided this tedious task of removing mud from the land, since it was not their only source of livelihood but they chose to remove the mud and sow the crop of hope again. Today, Ladakhi housewives, still working in the agricultural fields, grow the local crops. Land productivity has suffered a downfall, but with continuous efforts they are hopeful it will recover.
Nature signifies power - no one has control over it. Whenever, in the history of the world, a natural disaster has struck, the results have always been devastating and will continue to be so unless we learn to respect Nature's power and manage such calamities. Ladakh has set an example by minimising the loss which otherwise could have yielded highly devastating results.
It was the traditional lifestyle and belief systems of the Ladakhi community that their humane quality provided them the inner strength to not only tolerate the blow of Nature but, in that dark hour, help their counterparts struck by the disaster. The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that more than physical strength, it was their emotional strength that connected them together and helped manage the disaster. By Chetna Verma (ANI)
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