For the quake-hit people of Chunghthang, it was a long, arduous trek to safety
The drizzle turned into a heavy shower. It was only 9 a.m. As thick clouds started wrapping themselves around the Himalayan range, fears of more cloudbursts and landslips grew among the hill people. It could make life more vulnerable in the coming days.
Bulldozers were unable to clear the giant rocks that blocked the road leading to Chunghthang from Mangan due to a landslip. Personnel of the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) and the Army have been engaged in the gargantuan task of moving the rocks from the road for the last two days.
The road near Tung, located about 15 km from Mangan, was finally cleared on the day for vehicular movement. Chungthang is another 15 km from Tung. After Tung, the road itself has disappeared as it has slid down the steep hill.
People were stranded on both sides of the landslip area — waiting for Army personnel's nod to climb the rocks and cross the site. The moment the permission was granted, people jumped over the rocks.
One among the crowd was climbing the rocks with bare feet. He was coming from the Chungthang-end and hurriedly crossed over the loose boulders to reach the other side and wait for his friends. When asked about the situation in the Chungthang area, he began to cry. “Please don't ask me anything about Chungthang. By the grace of God, I am alive,” he said.
He was Bishnudhari Das — a contract labourer of the Navayuga Engineering Company (NEC) at Chungthang. On the day of the quake, he was present at the project site. He had run for his life after seeing some of his colleagues getting crushed under the collapsed buildings.
Bishnudhari did not even care to put on his shoes for the long trek through dense forests and rocky terrain: “My house was flattened and I had no option but to leave behind all my belongings. I just ran for my life.”
Another NEC worker, Bikas, was seen struggling to trek along with his wife Nirmala and their four-year-old son. They spent two sleepless nights under the open sky since Sunday before finally mustering the courage for the long, arduous trek.
“We had to cross a turbulent river by holding on to a rope. The forest path was full of leeches. We just want to reach home safely,” Nirmala said fighting back her tears.
Kuldeep Singh, a Subedar of the GREF, narrated the tale of 22 lucky passengers of an ill-fated bus that remained stuck under rubble for two days before the passengers were rescued.
Life is very precious here. When I opened my hotel window at Mangan on Thursday morning, the majestic view of the Kanchenjunga's snowy peak mesmerised me. But the day's traumatic experiences have taught me that nothing can be more beautiful than life itself — even the Kanchenjunga appears lifeless amid such human misery.