Talk about a forced hiatus! I planned on writing a blog post almost a week ago but I did not even have access to the internet, let alone my laptop. Let me tell you how a destination wedding turned into a vacation from my nightmare.
A close family friend was getting married on the 4th of September, in Kashmir, which is known as ‘India’s Switzerland’. Our family had received an invitation to one of the most beautiful places on earth and we were to stay at ‘The Lalit’, a five star resort in Srinagar, Kashmir.
On the surface this seemed like a dream vacation, however the pessimist in me was apprehensive since Kashmir lies on the border between India and Pakistan and is disputed territory. With these fears at the back of my mind I conducted numerous Google searches to determine the safety of the city and spoke to friends who had traveled there recently. All my queries yielded the same response, “Kashmir is very safe and beautiful, don’t worry just go and enjoy!”
And so we set of on the morning of 4th September and met the rest of the wedding party (there were about 50 people in total) at the airport. Upon landing in Kashmir, in Srinagar to be specific, we were welcomed by torrential downpour. We were whisked away to the hotel and within a few hours were all dressed up and ready for the functions. The first day was the ‘Mehendi and Sangeet’ ceremonies, where we put mehendi on our hands and danced the night away.
When we awoke on the second day, the rains had not abated so we did some quick sight-seeing by boat and dressed up in the evening for the wedding ceremony. Finally, utterly exhausted on the third day we decided to do some quick shopping in the morning and attended the reception in the evening.
As we trudged off to bed, everyone set their alarms for 6 am since we had an early flight back home, little did we know, Kashmir wasn’t ready to bid us adieu yet. The next morning, as we made our way down to breakfast, we were told that the rains had caused the river that runs through the valley to overflow, a dam had broken and the city was starting to flood! In all the wedding fervor, none of us had paid much attention to the weather. A decision was made, the hotel called for a bus, all of us piled into it with our luggage and set off for the airport, the date was the 7th of September. As we made our way into the city we were greeted by sights of overturned houseboats and roads swimming with water. The bus reached a certain point after which no matter what route we took, the roads were flooded, the bus could not pass and so we returned to the hotel and decided to wait it out.
The 8th of September dawned bright and sunny but the tidings were dire, the city had become a big lake, homes and been washed away and houses were submerged. Kashmir was facing its worst floods in over a century and no one had seen this coming.
By afternoon, the hotel staff informed us that the generators would not be able to sustain the hotel for long and that diesel was now to be rationed. As a result we were facing power cuts from 12 am to 6 am and 11 am to 6 pm. The hotel had to cut down the lavish buffets to two dishes per meal, in fact we were told that the hotel staff were skipping meals so that the food would suffice. Add to this the fact that cell towers were down and there was no way to contact the outside world, we would wander around looking for cell coverage which would appear for seconds and then disappear making calling loved ones impossible.
The days went by slowly, every morning we would gather at breakfast, only to realise that there was no means of getting to the airport yet. It was like being trapped in a golden cage, we were safe but there was nothing we could do for those trapped outside. The skies above the hotel were filled with helicopters going back and forth, trying to rescue people and airlifting others to the airport. The military had completely taken over and was in charge of rescue operations, I must say they did a brilliant job.
We tried to get airlifted but naturally people stranded in the floods were the priority. Of course, people started falling ill, myself included, there was soon going to be a shortage of medication. The situation was starting to exacerbate, it was now the 11th of September and the hotel had informed us that their food supplies would only last a day. It was time for some action, we had heard that water levels had begun to recede in parts of the city and so we decided to walk part of the way to the airport.
We set out the next day, the 12th, it was almost a 12-15km walk, it is one of the most daunting things I have ever done, both physically and emotionally. As we ventured out into the city we had to cross make shift bridges and walk across roaring rivers with only a log of wood underneath us. Upon seeing the sights of wreckage we realised just how blessed we had been in the hotel.
Finally, after a certain point we were taken by cars to the airport, which was in absolute chaos, it took us three hours to get our boarding passes and even after boarding the plane we waited for another three hours before take-off so that the flight could be filled to maximum capacity.
Walking out of Srinagar I held the hands of countless Kashmiris as they helped us cross precarious bridges. They said to me, “Madam, don’t worry, we will fall, but we won’t let you fall.” At one point we were exhausted and sitting on the roadside when someone approached us and said, “Did everyone survive? There’s food, water and medicine ahead if you need it.” These words are still echoing in my mind as I sit safe at home. The disaster and devastation is unprecedented and no written or verbal description can do it justice. This experience was life changing and it really made me realise: Live every day as if it were your last, carpe diem.