Amid the mounting death and debris of Choglamsar village — located 5km from Leh and a bustling settlement of Ladakhis and Tibetan refugees — that has borne the major burnt in the massive mudslide sparked by Friday's cloudburst, come stories of miraculous escapes, reports Times of India.
According to sources in Leh, the wife of an ITBP officer was found alive after being swept away by the slithering mass of mud. Another officer's child was saved by a sofa in their quarters. She was found under the furniture that saved her from being smothered.
Sources said the situation could have been worse but for the rumbling of the slithering mass of mud — akin to cold lava — and screams of people warning people in the defence settlements dotting the plains.
But villagers living in the upper reaches were not so lucky as they bore the full impact of the sliding pile of mud and rocks, living as they were in mudhouses built cheek-by-jowl.
There is a patch of land — 500m long and 300m wide — near this village, about 15 minutes' drive on the road to Manali that has completely been overrun by mud that appears like mortar.
This was where most of the Choglamsar village stood. The area is a plateau, with rising hills to its north and west. The windswept plain gently slopes towards the Indus that flows in a reverse arc towards its east and south. The road to Manali runs right through the middle of this patch of land, which at many places appears like a desert.
But this openness is deceptive. The surrounding hills and depressions in the ground — making it extremely difficult to figure out the locations of man-made structures —give the place the character of a very wide bowl, or more aptly the bed of a saucepan.
Contrary to popular perception, the unprecedented cloudburst did not trigger flood. Mountains in the dry, cold desert of Ladakh are made of rocks stuck in loose, sandy formations.
Concentrated rains, thus, immediately turn them into mortar which slithers down as a rumbling mass of cold lava and obliterates anything that comes in its way. Once the mass settles after exhausting its momentum, the water locked in the mortar and blocked behind the mass breaks free into gushing streams.
Fortunately, this mass does not gush like a stream of water and the rumbling gives some time to people in the lower reaches.
Sources expected the Leh-Manali road to be opened in a couple of days as heavy earthmoving equipment, called JCB by the defence establishment, have been pressed into service. It's essential to open the road soon to move material for relief and reconstruction. Besides, this is the time when food, fuel and military supplies for the entire year have to be moved in before the passes get inaccessible due to heavy snow. Troops, too, are replaced around this time, with fresh Army and paramiliatry units relieving those who had done their stint through the hostile winter.
Unconfirmed reports said the airport could be operational by Saturday, at least for military planes or choppers. But, BSNL's telephone exchange, in all liklihood, has to be rebuilt. Its transmitter has been damaged badly as it was on a slope outside Leh. Restoration of power supply will take time as Stakna hydel plant is believed to have been choked by silt. While Leh could still get some power in the evening from the diesel generating station, the fate of a similar plant at Choglamsar remains uncertain.