(Tarun Upadhyay is Hindustan Times' special correspondent in Jammu. Here he writes a first person and personal account of the Kashmir floods.)
It was like a replay of the 2010 Leh cloud burst. In almost a similar situation, the time between my editor’s call to rush to Srinagar and the only available flight was about an hour. And the reaction time to pack bags was so less that I could barely stuff in some bare essentials.
Though my photojournalist, Nitin Kanotra, and I were mentally prepared for this assignment but when things unfolded it was way beyond our comprehension.
In Srinagar, the airport looked like a war-ravaged zone – a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie. There were very few passengers, counters were deserted, things turned upside down, ATMs were not working and communication lines snapped.
A few army officials, who probably had reached Srinagar on another flight, said they cannot help us in reaching out to our contacts or even in providing logistics. Only two or three taxis were available and after a lot of request one of them agreed to take us to the city.
The scale of human despair and tragedy panned out outside the airports. Thousands of people, from all sections of the society, desperately wanted to be flown out in Indian Air Force’s rescue flights.
All of them were begging and weeping to be allowed inside the technical airport, adjacent to the international airport. Army and paramilitary forces were having a tough time in controlling the crowd and being sensitive at the same time.
Just a kilometre from the airport, the roads were flooded and the taxi driver refused to move beyond it. A few young men who saw us were infuriated and tempers started rising. They started saying that the ‘Indian’ media is biased.
Getting a hang of things, we thought it better to move back to the technical airport. One of my colleagues from Chandigarh was also there. We decided to write our piece and send it through a chopper to our Chandigarh office.
It was getting late. We went outside the airport and there was just one shop selling puris but hundreds lined up and we stood in the queue. All guest homes were packed and finding a room was a task. The only silver lining was that the Aircel service was working but internet connectivity was quite erratic. Sending out stories about the problems people were facing and the situation on the ground had become a tough job.
Reaching a place like Ram Bagh, which normally does not take more than 15 minutes, took us about an hour as the traffic was routed through inner lanes which were blocked by unusual flow – enough to drain out anyone.
It took us about an hour in the hot, sunny weather in a boat to reach Lal Deed, which normally does not take more than 10 minutes from the Haft Chinar. But finding a boat and then reaching the point of its board after wading through 4-feet of water was a task and experience in itself. Confirming reports was another challenge with only a few officers camping at the technical airport with no communication lines - reaching out was anything but easy.
To top it all, the list of story ideas from my editors and then the revised ones would send us in a tailspin on two accounts - first to check it on erratic internet service and then visiting the areas and confirming the stories had become a problem.
The food packets were our life line for the first four days and even when things started improving a bit the situation was still not normal - it started taking a toll. By the end of the week the ‘water’ in our bodies had also drained.
Once we landed back in Jammu and saw the normal life outside the airport, it felt like experiencing the sun after being imprisoned in a cold, dark chamber.
It was probably the shock we experienced in Srinagar that had left us unprepared for the normal life.