By Shevlin Sebastian
Amisha Shah, 28, and her mother flew to Srinagar from Kochi on August 31, to enjoy a holiday with relatives from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Initially, they stayed in a houseboat on Dal Lake and visited all the tourist spots. “All along, it was raining,” she says. “But it was a slight drizzle, and nothing compared to the monsoons in Kerala.”
A couple of days later, they moved to the New Mamta hotel. It was on the evening of September 6 that Srinagar began to get flooded. Soon, the hotel's kitchen, which was located in the basement, got flooded. “Thankfully, there was a CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) office nearby,” says Amisha. “They provided us with tea and coffee, lunch and dinner.”
Amisha and her mother were supposed to return on a 2 p.m. flight on September 8. However, in the morning itself, they were told that it would not be possible to reach the airport since the roads were flooded. But, soon, the news came that the Army was ferrying people to the airport on their helicopters. So, the 13-member group set out on foot for the helipad, which was 7 kms away.
When they reached the helipad, they saw that there were 3000 people waiting in long queues. There were four choppers in service. In one chopper, they could accommodate 25 people including luggage. 100 people were being ferried in one hour. Amisha and her relatives waited the entire day.
At 7 p.m., the service stopped. The Army then told the tourists to settle down in the helipad area, which was the size of two football fields, with forests at one side. “We did not get any food, only water,” says Amisha. “There were no washrooms. People were fainting, and children were crying. There was desperation everywhere. Since we were sleeping in the open, and had only sweaters and shawls, we shivered throughout the night.”
The next morning, the people went to the forest to do their ablutions. Then the Army decided to give preference to senior citizens, women and children. However, Amisha's chance to board the chopper came only in the evening. They were taken to an Air Force base at Srinagar. There, tents had been put up. People could rest and have food – bananas, biscuits, puri and gram. Medical assistance was available, apart from washroom facilities.
In less than an hour, Amisha and her mother got into a 55-seater Air Force aircraft, which took them to Delhi. “It was only when we returned to Kochi that we understood the calamity that has hit Kashmir,” says Amisha. “We are thankful to the Army and the local people for saving us.”
(The New Indian Express, Kerala edition)