A historic landslide’s impact on a Shimla neighbourhood

About one and a half kilometre away from the Shiv Baodi temple, in Shimla’s Summerhill, search teams try to retrieve the body of Ish Sharma around 3 pm on 19 August. R Umamaheshwari
28 September, 2023

INDEPENDENCE DAY is usually celebrated at the Shiv Baodi temple, in Shimla’s Summerhill, with a bhandara—feastcooked by locals and enjoyed by people from far and near. In the past, the bhandara used to be served at the temple, on its terrace and by the roadside next to it. If it rained, as it usually did that day, the five hundred or so attendees would run for cover, either to the temple or under a tree. This year, a newly constructed two-storeyed cement structure, which would soon have a Hanuman temple on top, was to hold the bhandara.

By a twist of fate, on 14 August this year, people did gather within the new structure; food, water and other things did arrive, but only to join in attempts, with feeble hopes, to find the approximately two dozen people presumed to be stuck in the debris of fallen trees, bricks and heavy metal from the landslide. Many locals wondered aloud if Shiva had saved thousands of people and animals by bringing all that devastation upon himself. Had the landslide occurred a few metres away, it would have wiped out an entire neighbourhood.

The place I live in is a five-minute walk away from the disaster site. At 3 am on 14 August, having felt a tremor in the ground, I awoke unsettled and heard the persistent rain outside. I made myself a cup of tea and decided to complete a long-pending copy-editing task. A few hours later, lightning struck, without the associated thunder, and I could hear an unusually loud sound of water in the khad—rainwater drain—downhill. I assumed it was on account of the previous night’s rain. Then the power supply went off. I decided to take an early walk with Oli, my canine companion, but the persistent drizzle stalled our plan. Around 7.30 am, there was some commotion outside, which I assumed to be children running off to school. However, a phone call from a former neighbour, to check my well-being, gave me the news: a landslide had occurred at the Shiv Baodi.

Oli and I rushed out and saw hundreds gathered at the temple site, which had, by then, been cordoned off by the administration. Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, had come and gone. The temple had been razed to the ground. Only a smaller shrine next to it stood, holding debris on its dome. As I completed this text, eight days had passed and, despite unprecedented efforts, three bodies were yet to be traced.