I spent near enough a week in Sonamarg due to the weather as riding a motorbike in the rain is bloody horrible. So on the next clear day I made the short 2 hour ride to Srinagar as I could not come to Kashmir and miss staying on a houseboat again. I was surprised that I actually remembered the way to the houseboat that Me, Adam and Nadine had stayed at in 2011. I wanted to stay here again for sentimental reasons and plus its cheaper here on Nigeen lake compared to the chaotic overpriced and over populated Dal Lake even though they are only a stones through from each other.
I was also in need of some repairs to the bike. Again. I had stupidly lost the key to the fuel tap on my tank, so I had to completely butcher it with a screwdriver to get the fuel flowing again. I was also in need of an oil seal on the oil pump as it turned out the oil pump was leaking because it didn’t have any oil seal at all!
When I arrived at Ghulam Qadirs workshop I was met by his son Junaid who is being trained by his father in the art of motorcycle mechanics. He spoke perfect english and over the next couple of days while my bike was worked on we quickly became friends and I was soon invited to stay with the family. It was an offer I could not refuse as this is what travelling is all about for me. There is no better way to experience local culture than to live with a family.
The household was made up up of Junaid his father Ghulam Qadir his mother Tahira his two brothers Rayees and Aadil and his uncle Ghulam Muhammad. They all made me feel incredibly welcome and a part of the family. When Ghulam Qadir took a look at my bike it turned out there were a few more things that needed attention on my motorcycle as the oil seal between the clutch and engine had gone and there was a problem with the electric’s. Yeah with an Enfield there is always something that needs doing. Ghulam assured me he would fix my motorcycle while I stayed with his family. But he was in no hurry to do it. So they must of been enjoying my company!
On the sunday Ghulam, Junaid and Rayees, took me fishing to a river 30 minutes drive out of the city. I was told we were going to catch trout, but looking at the rods and hooks I could tell we would not be doing any fly fishing. The rods were short at about 3 feet long with no reel and the hooks were huge with three hooks coming out resembling a grappling hook. When we arrived early in the morning we made our way across the river to a spot that was known by Ghulam and Junaid and I soon found out how the fish were caught as within minutes Ghulam had made a catch and with in 10 minutes he had 6 fish!
The line was cast out into the fast flowing water and the torrent of water took the line down stream he would then violently hank the line until the grappling hook stuck into an unsuspecting fishes side. The fish in this river must of been plentiful as Ghulam was unstoppable and was pulling them out time after time! Unfortunately fish were not the catch of the day. Rayees managed to get a hook in his leg. luckily for him it was only a small one if you can call getting a hook in the side of the leg lucky.
After a very vocal failed attempt to remove the hook ourselves we made our way to the nearest hospital. When we arrived there were sounds from the open windows of screaming children and with Rayees being an 11 year old this did not go down well. To be fair he had been coping pretty well but when he realised he would be having an injection the fear took over. It did not help that the two doctors who were trying to pull the hook out were not very good at it and 10 minutes later Rayees still had a hook in his leg. Hearing the drama that was going on a huge doctor came in with what I can only describe as a pissed off expression on his face and pushed the two rubbish doctors aside and with a pair of pliers yanked the hook out in one go, then slapped Rayees on the leg where the hook once was. Then came the tetanus.
It was soon my birthday but any chance of going out to celebrate it in anyway was stopped by the torrential rain that had been falling since the previous day. This was no big deal as I hate making a big deal out of my birthday. It was nice to spend it relaxing drinking chai tea and playing board games. I got to learn more about the family and discovered one of Junaids uncles was a freedom fighter for the Kashmiri people and spent 10 years fighting with the Indian army in the mountains of Kashmir. He was funded by Pakistan and Afghanistan and he would receive his money and supplies hidden in rice bags. His cousin was Sufi which is a kind of mystic that can heal people and see things others cannot. He did spend most of his time completely stoned so this could possibly be why he was seeing things.
The rain was now being persistent and for 5 days it completely poured down. By the 3rd day it was obvious this was no usual monsoon rain and the level of the lakes in Srinagar began to rise rapidly. All the water from the Kashmir mountains was making its way into the lake. In the old city of Srinagar the canal networks had began to overflow and the river had burst its banks. In no time the roads were under water and buildings ground floors had water above their windows. This had become a huge disaster and the rain was not showing any mercy as it continued to pour from the skies.
I was now officially trapped in Srinagar as the roads out of the city were in passable with all mountain roads now completely blocked with landslides and the 2 main bridges on the only road south to the city of Jammu partly washed away by the power of the water. Shit was getting real. 250 people were now confirmed dead with thousands made homeless and this was only in Kashmir. The freak storm had affected all of Jammu, Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan. The power was gone and with it was all the communication networks. My visa only had 2 weeks left on it and I had a motorbike with me that I could not move out of Srinagar.
It looked like my only option was to take a flight when the rain eventually stopped and flights would hopefully be scheduled again, but with all power down and no communication networks how the hell was I going to get a ticket. Even if I managed to get a ticket how was I going to make it the 50 Km out to the airport when the roads are now meters under the water. The only thing keeping the panic at bay was the fact that I was actually pretty lucky. I was safe and dry with Junaids family but all around us were scenes of disaster with people fleeing their homes with what belongings they could carry. The local mosque was full of people made homeless with women weeping at there losses. In comparison I was extremely lucky.
The rain did eventually stop however the water level of the lake continued to rise at an unprecedented rate as the surrounding rivers continued to fill it. The familiar sound of the pounding rain was now replaced with the sound of helicopters surveying the area and delivering much needed aid. As there was now no fuel, all the shops were empty and the atm’s void of cash. The water began to rise towards Junaids house, it had already claimed his uncles house next-door during the night. The communal square and all the houses surrounding it were now full of water and from Junaids window we could see the devastation unfold as the rescue efforts were brought right to the door of the house. With shikara boats from Dal lake making their way through the flooded streets carrying people and their belongings to safety.
It was only by the 8th day that the water level stopped increasing and the flood water in the city slowly started to recede and the extent of the damage was devastating evident. Dead street dogs and fish lay in the street and the number of dead increased as more bodies were found in their homes. The confirmed number of dead is unclear as the Indian funded news channel is clearly giving a low number and the local people are saying that 100,000 people have died in Kashmir which I feel is inflated, at least I hope it is. Either way this is the biggest tragedy to ever hit Kashmir and it will take years for it to recover.
**Kashmir and India do not exactly get on with one an other and after talking with the people of Kashmir it was obvious who was oppressing power. As India had broken all the treaty agreements and was exploiting the Kashmiri people. During this disaster the Indian army arrived with their helicopters and at first it looked like there would be help for everyone. However the Indian army only rescued foreigners and Indians and took them to the airport. Leaving the Kashmiri people to fend for themselves. The Indian army have 100’s of army camps and airfields in the surrounding areas but they did not help. The Indian government should definitely hang their heads in shame as they did not do what was just.**
**This information is taken from the people of Srinagar I have not verified this information is accurate**
I was staying in a residential district of Srinagar away from the main tourist drag which is the best place to stay for experiencing culture but not if you want to be rescued with the rest of the foreign tourists who were being airlifted from the roof of their hotels. With no power or phone network I was unable to call the UK or Indian embassies for information or assistance. I was going to have to sit this one out and hope the water level would recede enough so that I could make my own way out of Srinagar. Ideally I needed to ride the bike out of Kashmir and through the Punjab and make the marathon journey to Nepal but this was looking unlikely with the bridges gone and the Punjab also affected by the flood.
As time went on there was still no power or communication networks and I was becoming more concerned about the fact that my family might of seen the news. I had messaged my parents on my birthday just before the flood hit and this was nearly 2 weeks ago. They were on holiday in Sri Lanka and I was just hoping they would not no of the tragedy that had hit Kashmir as they knew I was there and knowing my mother she would be worried sick about me and their holiday would be ruined.
I was no experiencing what it is going to be like when the apocalypse happens. All the shops had ran out of food, No cars or motorbikes were on the roads they were replaced with masses of people walking or cycling. At night people would gather next to fires in the streets and rotting rubbish was pilling up everywhere. People descended onto the nearby university grounds that had become a refugee camp. Helicopters were constantly in the skies and there was an air of tension all around. All that was missing was a hoard of flesh eating zombies!
When the fuel tankers from Manali eventually arrived in the city the chaos that unfolded was unreal. Everybody was fighting to get the fuel first and I mean literally fighting with sticks, stones and whatever they could get here hands on to beat the living shit out of each other. Literally thousands of people rioting and trying murder one another. The situation got so bad that the armed police had to stop the fuel from being distributed. In response the mob tried to set the tankers on fire. I cannot understand the mentality of these people, there was enough fuel for everyone. There was a limit of 10 litres each with tankers waiting to get into the petrol stations and another 70 tankers on their way. As I am typing this the fuel is still not flowing as these idiots cannot maintain a sense of order and wait their turn and their are 70 tankers waiting to enter the city and relieve the situation. It is complete and utter madness.
The tension in the city was reaching breaking point. I had to be careful of taking pictures anywhere as people were assuming I was a journalist for India or Israel and thinking I was their to portray them in a negative way. I was with Junaid in the grounds of the university when we spotted an Indian military helicopter coming in to land. We ran with the rest of the people to see it. I had my camera hidden in my bag and had to get a photograph of it on the ground. When we arrived at the scene it had already landed and Indian soldiers were unloading boxes of food and water. A huge crowed was there and they were hurling stones at the helicopter. The helicopter soon took off because of the stone pelting and then the crowd rushed to the boxes of aid and began destroying it. I could not believe what I was seeing. There were hundreds of people in need of food and drinking water but rather than except Indian aid they would rather see it destroyed. I did not get any photographs of the mob destroying the aid supplies as I was spotted with my camera and me and Junaid had to make a run for it! After witnessing this I now know that Kashmiri people have an absolute hatred for India.
Slowly the power and Aircel phone network was restored and I was able to use someones phone to get a message out to my family that I was OK. I was also able to find out the situation of the roads and it was soon obvious I would not be going south through the Punjab as the bridges that were damaged would take months to repair. My only option was to go back the way I came taking the traitorous mountain roads of Ladakh that have also been made worse by the rain and as it was now the only road giving access to Kashmir it was going to be heavily congested with trucks and everyone who was entering and leaving the region.
At the very last minute everything came together for me. The water levels began to recede and we were able to make our way into the city to buy the parts for my bike. I was able to obtain some fuel thanks to the kindness of some guys from the neighbourhood who stayed at the fuel station all through the night and offered me 10 litres. Good news came through the radio that it was now possible to make it Jammu via an alternative route taking an old Mughal road. This was a relief as I really did not want to go along the Ladakh route as it would of taken forever! Yet again I had scraped through by the skin of my teeth!
Unfortunately for thousands of people they could not escape. There would be months of clean up operations to try and restore their homes and businesses. It will take many years for Srinagar to recover from this epic disaster. When I left the total number of dead was unknown with water levels still to high in some areas for people to return to their homes and see what was left inside. There were still many people whose whereabout were unknown and feared dead. Claimed by the flood. Luckily Junaids friends and relatives were all accounted for but several of their homes had been devastated by the flood waters.
I owe a massive debt to The Qadir family they took me in under their roof and made me feel like part of their family. They helped me when I needed it the most and without them I honestly do not know what I would of done. I have been invited to return to their home when I return to India after Nepal. I will be back in december and the thought of spending christmas day with my new adopted family is incredibly gratifying. I just need to find some sprouts and some christmas crackers.