Part Two. Death, decay and despair.
The district of Ladakh in Indian Kashmir is beautiful, simply beautiful. Kargil and Leh comprise Ladekh with a combined population of about 300,000 people spread over a very large mountainous area. The religious (mostly harmonious) divide is 52% (mostly Shiite) Muslims, 45% Buddhist and 3% others. Very much like the Hazaras of central Afghanistan, people of Ladakh share similar facial characters, both probable decedents of Mogul stock. The views of this entire region, especially from the air, never fail to take my breath away; this happens again as my flight, avoiding traitorous mountains tops, banks steep to make her adjustment for landing.
But there is murkiness that obscures this beauty this time; mud. I can see the destruction easily, tons of slimy mud that descended from surrounding mountains when clouds burst over this tourist town on the eve of August 6. Within minutes, most of this picturesque town was covered in smoldering goo of mud and water, killing at least 200 and leaving thousands homeless; 500 people are still reported missing.
I am met outside the airport terminal by Syed Rizwi and Ashraf Ali from Imamiya Mission and Imamiya Trust, both very active in relief efforts for the victims currently underway. It is still early, 8AM, the streets deserted and eerie. I smell rot and decay all around me as we drive to the hotel I will sleep the one night. And then there is the fine mountain dust from dried up mud, dust that is omnipresent, filling my already congested lungs and setting me up for allergies right away. The damage I see is devastating, unbelievable and bone numbing; I cannot even imagine the horror of it all as the disaster would have unfolded. Entire neighborhoods washed away, people, homes, building, cars; all picked up and washed away by the advancing mud, as if mere toys.
I refuse tea that my hosts insist; it is Ramadhan and they fast. We talk about relief efforts under way and how CAI can assist before embarking on a tour of the most affected areas. It is painful to see so much destruction, so much misery, so much despair. The Imamiya group is struggling to help families of 19 killed and 9 still missing; however, the biggest challenge is lost livelihood from inundated and wasted farmlands and washed away / destroyed homes that will have prolonged affect on the livelihood of so many more.
I meet 2 individuals; both named Hussein Ali, grieving by freshly marked graves at a remote village of Schuzbo in Phang, outside Leh. One Hussein Ali lost his wife and all 3 children and the other a wife and his only child. Both are grief stricken and inconsolable; I am unable to do anything but hold them, there is nothing I can say that will dull the pain anytime soon. The scenes are horrid with bridges, homes, land and roads that have simply disappeared in thin air. An Imambargah, wrecked, its concrete walls small stones and dust and twisted iron. The Sheikh, Gulam Hadi, a petite, frail man frets all the time. What will happen now? How will we complete Ramadhan? What about Muharram? We cannot rebuild here, we must move… He is however, astonished I have come to take stock and ask after them; cannot stop parting with duas for me; he makes it all, oh, so worthwhile.
This scene is repeated everywhere we visit that long hard day. My hosts insist I have some tea at least; we are welcomed into a home nearby and agonizing sweet tea served. As I try to drink the steaming, extra strong, sweet liquid away from the gaze of my fasting hosts, a mournful anguished wail from a grieving woman fills the air and I freeze. The sound is so painful that I leave the tea alone as men folk shush and kindly rebuke the source. The door is shut to block out the sound but I still cannot make myself drink the tea.
Late that night, spent and exhausted, I commit CAI to rebuild 5 completely lost homes and clean / repair 10 at the cost of about USD30k; I’ll think of ways coming up with funds from our magnificent and kindhearted donors. Later. Somehow. Insha’Allah.
Click here to see the devastations in Leh.