I was the only person who survived. I saw the flash flood which swept away many people and their houses in a matter of few seconds: Gyani Gurung, a survivor of Seti flash flood, at Kharpani

By LB THAPA FOR ONTOTHEROAD.COM

After 6 years of Seti flash flood disaster

Saturday 5 May 2012 was an ordinary day like many other days. I was busy in writing an article for The Rising Nepal, a national daily. Meanwhile, about 11 o’clock in the morning a police van began moving around the Seti River and warned people for not going nearby the gorge. A team of police had walked down to the Seti River bank where many people were busy in collecting sand from the River bank.

I stopped a police van and asked them why we should not go near the river. Upon this they told me that a massive flash flood was on its way to hit the Seit gorge soon. And they were right. A massive flash flood had been formed due to a landslide in the icy mountains which had caused the flash flood. Thanks to an Avia club pilot who spotted a brown cloud above the mountains and immediately informed the concerned authority in Pokhara. Had he not informed immediately about the impending danger, many people would have lost their lives for sure.

During the flood most of the people died here. They were busy in cooking morning lunch, while kids were playing around. Photo: LB Thapa
The Seti River flash flood had torn apart this suspension bridge. Photo: LB Thapa
Gyanu Gurung was the sole survivor of the Seti flash flood. It was a sheer miracle that she survived. Photo: LB Thapa

It was Saturday 19 December 2015. I decided to visit Kharpani also called Tatopani where flash flood had played havoc some three years ago. I had duly charged my digital camera on Friday evening and my kitbag was ready. I checked my mountain bike, pumped little air on both of the tires and oiled its chain. My original plan was to visit the disaster struck place and meeting the people who had experienced the horror.

It was my first solo long route cycling on mountain bike; otherwise I had always ridden in a group. I woke up at 5 o’clock in the morning and got ready to set out at 6am. I slung my bag on my back and began paddling confidently. I rode confidently and had reached the half way the black tarred road; the remaining road was in very bad shape. In many places the condition of the trail was so bad that I got off my mountain bike and carried it on my shoulders.

It took nearly two hours to reach Kharpani. It was my second visit to Kharpani. When I had been to this place for the first time, this was a bustling bazaar. There was almost everything available that a local bazaar should have. The local bazaar was always packed with the people from nearby villages. Local villagers would regularly throng to the bazaar to sell and buy goods of their daily requirement.

Until a few years ago Kharpani was unknown for the outsiders, but after the discovery of hot spring ponds the place drew many people’s attention. Soon people began talking about the medicinal properties of hot spring water of Kharpani. Foreigners and domestic visitors began regularly visiting the place to take a plunge. I have personally met many people who had taken a dip into the hot spring ponds and got rid of chronic diseases.

Show must go on…people have come back on their day to day business. Photo: LB Thapa
Many people visit this place to take bath in the hot spring water. On the very fateful day of the accident all people who were taking bath in the hot water ponds could not survive. Photo: LB Thapa
While returning from the Kharpani disaster place, I stopped for a moment to take the photo of these lovely kids. Photo: LB Thapa

Kharpani today

It took about two hours on my mountain bike to reach Kharpani. After having reached there, I could not believe in my eyes for what I saw there. The entire area of Kharpani, which had once been occupied by the bustling bazaar, was completely wiped away and leaving no traces behind. A thick layer of sand has spread around the area of Kharpani. The local administration has made a park in the memory of those people who had lost their lives in the flood.

I walked across the suspension bridge to reach the other side of the bridge there I met a lady named Gyanu Gurung. She was the sole survivor of disastrous Seti flash flood. Speaking with this scribe she said “I was right in the middle of the bazaar where my job was to collect fees from the people who wanted to take a bath in the hot-spring. I had completed my morning shift and wanted to go to my house for the lunch.

Some of my friends in the group insisted me on having lunch with them at a restaurant but I refused. I was walking towards the bridge in the meantime we heard a roaring sound. We looked around but could not see anything. Some people beside me said that the sound must have been from a helicopter. They began looking at the sky above their heads. However, I continued walking towards the bridge. I had barely walked half way down the suspension bridge then I saw a gigantic size of wave which was swirling towards us.

For a moment I was at a loss as to what to do. Whether I should return or run fast and reach on the other side of the bridge. I saw all the people who were walking with me over the suspension bridge began running back. For a moment I did also think to follow them, but I changed my mind and ran fast to reach on the other side of the bridge.

Thanks god I had taken right decision at right moment. Had I decided to return back, today I would not be here speaking with you. I think god wanted me to live for my family. However, I vastly disagree with the government data of people who had lost their lives in the flood. According to them only 31 people had died in the accident but it is squarely untrue. There was a crowd of people mostly outsiders. All of them were swept away or buried alive in the sand. Those among dead could never be known”.

Gum Bahadur Gurung is a local resident of Mersa village of Machhapuchhre village development committee. “Usually I would regularly come to Kharpani to sell local produce. I would always sit in the middle of the bazaar and sell local goods, but on the very day of disaster I felt nausea and decided not to go to Kharpani. I am sure if I had been to Kharpani on that fateful day my name would be in the list of the dead”.  

After the disaster satellite images have made it clear that a big rock had obstructed the path of the river over the mountains. An artificial dam was created which stored tons of water before it broke loose. The gushing water swept away everything that came on its way. The flash flood spread at Kharpani and destroyed several houses, restaurants, and hotels in a matter of few seconds.

My quest for knowing the life of local people at Kharpani was almost over. Now it was time to return to Pokhara. I was there with my mountain bike and when I was about to mount it, Mangal Gurung, Gyanu Gurung’s husband advised me to paddle across Dhirpan and Ghachowk to reach Pokhara. I accepted his advice and began cycling uphill towards Ghachowk.

On the way I met with Tanka Gaire who was feeding his mountain dogs. Tanka Gaire and his friend were taking care of about 600 goats and sheep in the dense forest of Dhirpan. “It is entirely impossible to take care of over 600 goats and sheep by two of us. Our job has been made lot much easier by our mountain dogs, three of them. They are very skilled at doing their part of job. These mountain dogs have amazing talent. They will never let a single goat or sheep go astray. Had these dogs were not employed it would be almost impossible for us to take care of such a large number of goats and sheep” said Tanka Gaire.

When asked why he did not use normal breed of dogs to take care of his goats and sheep. He said “We tried to train normal dogs in the past but those dogs could not learn the skill we wanted. However, mountain dogs are highly intelligent and they are meant to perform this type of task”.

I paddled across the Machhapuchre village Development Committee and finally reached Pokhara, with the vivid memory of disaster.

LB Thapa, the blogger, stands on the other side of the river where death river had taken the lives of many people.

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I am a travel blogger.

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