It’s amazing how quickly the monsoon changes everything. In some places this change has been a little too drastic. There have been massive floods in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, leading to over 1,000 confirmed with authorities stating that actual number could be 3-5 times higher and some people predicting around 10,000 deaths. Thanks to a fantastic response by the Indian Army, over 100,000 people have been rescued from the floods, including over 19,000 people who have been airlifted by Air Force helicopters. However, 1,300 villages remain cut off by road and at least 3,000 people are still missing.
Questions are now being asked about the lack of preparation for these floods and how much recent hydroelectric projects and tourism may have contributed to the devastation. A large proportion of the deaths were the result of a glacier rupturing and raining tons of ice, rocks and water onto the pilgrimage town of Kedernath, during the peak pilgrim season. Tourist numbers in Kedernath have increased from 169,000 in 2002 to 575,000 this year, putting enormous strain on infrastructure. Poorly constructed hotels, apartments and roads have been washed away causing further devastation.
This has been combined with massive deforestation and rapid construction of more than 245 hydroelectric dams and mining projects in the state during the past decade. This work has caused large-scale soil erosion and landslides. Debris from this construction has raised water levels and contributed to flash flooding.
This devastation stands in stark contrast to the changes that we’ve seen in Udaipur though. Here, monsoon has brought welcome relief from the summer heat, with temperatures dropping from highs of 45 degrees to a maximum of around 35 degrees and often in the high-20s. Though we have seen a couple of heavy storms, most days there has been light rain or no rain at all. The clouds have provided shade from the sun, while the countryside has been completely transformed from dry and barren to being covered in greenery. The monsoon is when Udaipur and the surrounding area is at its most beautiful and this is matched with a significant increase in the number of tourists in the city and the reopening of many of the businesses that close during the summer season.
Fortunately, most of India’s experience of the monsoon has been more like that of Udaipur than Uttarakhand.