What we people living along the Teesta valley in parts of Sikkim and Kalimpong district, witnessed in the early hours of October 4, 2023, was a rare, dangerous and a huge catastrophe, the size and scale of which thus far has escaped the attention of the national media and many of us from Darjeeling – Sikkim Himalayas have also already forgotten it.
When the very turbulent waters of the glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF) from South Lhonak glacier located at 17,300 feet crashed into the already brimming reservoir of the 1200MW Sikkim Urja Dam at Chungthang, the dam was quickly overwhelmed and crashed, releasing a wall of water which was 10-15 feet high. This deluge swept through the Teesta valley, destroying everything in its 162km rampage from the glacier to Teesta Lo Dam Project at 27th Mile in Kalimpong district.
The path of the GLOF with distances and elevations are plotted in 3 maps below:
In order to preserve records of this historic disaster, STH has blogged extensively on the flooding. In continuation, on 29Oct2023, our small team consisting of Praveen (Junkeri Studios, Kalimpong) and I travelled to Dikchu (see route) to photograph the damage.
Tar Khola (27 07 53.1 N 88 30 6.4 E Elev: 264m)
The W Bengal side had a few families who lived on the river bank.
Rajesh Tamang (41yrs), one of the victims said that 20 of them would not be alive today had it not been for the intervention of the W Bengal police who forced them to move to higher ground. 9 homes were swept away here.
On the opposite (Sikkim) bank, Patel Engineering had a large complex which was constructing the power house for the Teesta VI dam which is at Sirwani near Singtam. The GLOF took away everything and the company has suffered damages to the tune of Rs250crores.
What is left of Patel Eng. complex at Tar Khola (Sikkim). Most of hardware and offices have been swept away by the GLOF (Drone images by Praveen).
Mangled remains of NHPC’s bridge over the Teesta at Tar Khola. The bridge was swept away by the GLOF.
The pillars of NHPC’s bridge over the Teesta at Tar Khola
Partly destroyed parts of the Patel complex from the opposite bank
The human suffering from a disaster. A husband and wife team digging out parts of what was their home at Tar Khola in order to perhaps find some documents, some valuables?
What the waters left behind – mud covered kitchen utensils in a home which was covered by the GLOF at Tar Khola.
Other places enroute to Singtam
We stopped by at small places enroute to SIngtam to record the impact of the disaster
Panchay Line on NH10 (27 08 52.7 N 88 31 55.7 E) Elev: 266m
Prannay Tamang (42yrs) of Panchay line related a rare success story, worth emulating: they heeded to the first warning and left their home with their documents etc, they even evacuated their vehicles parked in the low lying areas. What is more the 6 pigs out of seven escaped from their sty and survived the GLOF.
Where the excavated sand is being dumped (27 08 14.1 N 88 30 46.4 E)
Andheri on NH10 (27 09 57.5 N 88 31 55.3 E) Elev: 300m
Yogen Mangar (21yrs) student stands next to a massive tree trunk which the GLOF brought to his place while taking away his home.
Millions of tree stumps litter the banks of the Teesta river and are stuffed in every crevice possible (especially of dams). One of the biggest destructive impacts of the GLOF must be on the forests of Sikkim and W Bengal.
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The blog on our trip from Tar Khola to Dikchu being too long, I have divided it into Part I and Part II. This one covers only our trip upto Rangpo.
Part II (in a few days time) will cover Rangpo, Singtam and Dikchu.
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