Thursday, December 4, 2014

(Part 10) Getting Stuck in Kutton during Monsoon Floods

Jagran Resort Kutton

This is Neelum Valley Travelogue Part 10
Click here for Part 9 Part 8 Part 7 Part 6 Part 5 Part 4 Part 3 Part 2  Part 1

Day 17: Wednesday, September 3, 2014
The Early Warning
Late last evening, a hotel staff knocked our door and warned us about the possibility of floods in the coming days. Heavy monsoon rains had been expected inundating the rivers and tributaries all around the valley and chopping off the road infrastructure. The resort got the early warning from the metrological department and was instructed to inform visitors as well. The attendant clearly conveyed us that we should either leave as early as possible or otherwise we would have to wait until it would be over, which could take at least 2-3 days or at worst a week, or more! According to him, we were otherwise safe at the resort as it was located out of the danger zone. He also assured that some of the staff would remain there with enough food supplies should we decide staying.

A Catch 22
In case we decided staying, we did not know how many days the flood would prevail and what would be the condition of roads once it would be over. And in case we decided leaving and commencing the long journey back home we could get stuck on the road, an even worse scenario. Groups of tourists which we saw the day before were also leaving hastily with their vehicles. They were more worried about landslides. Finally, amid all the panic, we decided to stay put postponing our departure until things would get clear and hoping that it would get clear soon.

Jagran Resort – an Unforgettable Experience
The place we were staying in, Jagran Hydroelectric Resort, was not a bad place for getting stuck. It was adequately furnished, well maintained, aesthetically designed, and was surrounding by an enchanting scenery. The resort was actually a housing colony made for the foreign engineers who looked after the construction of a 30 MW Jagran Power House on the Jagran water stream. The power plant was located further uphill and could only be accessed through a four wheeler. After completion of the project, the overseas staff departed back and the facility was converted into a tourist resort. Due to its better upkeep, which is not so common in Pakistan, it had become the most sought after tourist spot around and that too within a reasonable price range.

Unbelievable Pricing
A furnished chalet, with a working kitchen, attached bathroom, double bad, and a small study cum dining room was priced at only PKR 1,400 per night (USD 14). It was almost free! Single room was even cheaper while a few fully furnished villas were also available for bigger families. No surprise why the resort remains in high demand during summers and can only be booked in advance from Muzaffarabad if and only if it is spared by high-ranking bureaucrats and powerful politicians. An attendant also told me about the recent visit of Faryal Talpur, an influential politican and sister of our ex-President Zardari, and how all of the resort, which can accommodate 200-300 people, had been vacated due to her protocol!

Best attraction of the resort was its exemption from the load shedding. Yes, you read it correctly; electricity was available uninterrupted 24 hours a day. That was because the place was sort of a communication hub for the Jagran Power Station.

‘Came’ What May!
As per the prediction, around noon strong clouds engulfed the blue sky which was mostly clear till the morning and soon it was all covered and started drizzling. Consequently we had to cut short our exploratory walk around the apple and pear orchids and hurry back to our dugout before it would get worse. Contrary to our apprehension, the precipitation never converted into a fully fledged rain, but neither did it stop. It was a consistent harmless looking gentle rain which continued for the rest of the day nonstop. Staff at the rest house looked really worried and glued to the television. According to them, that consistency was the sign of an imminent big time flood. They were recalling the 2010 calamity, when all the roads were washed away due to landslides and tourists at the resort had to stay back for more than a week.

But it did not look so bleak. The only repercussion for us was that we could not move out much, and frankly speaking we did not want to undertake any further trekking. So we were kind of well off with the proposition and enjoyed our time; eating Chicken Karhai, watching television, and relaxing!

Day 18: Thursday, September 4, 2014
Monsoon Finally Arrived, and in a Big Way
As expected, it kept thundering and lightening furiously throughout the whole night. The monsoon was late this year and probably why it was so angry. When we woke up in the morning, it was still drizzling mildly with the same pace it was falling the day earlier. Outside, it was not that bad. I took kids out for fruit picking and ordered for the breakfast in the meantime.

Playing Both Sides of the Fence
The attendant informed that there had been no major damage in Kutton village, however, television reported massive destruction around Kashmir, especially hitting Bagh district of Azad Kashmir and Sri Nagar – the capital of Maqbooza Kashmir. Road network in both parts had been disconnected. For the vagaries of nature, the manmade fence, the Line of Control, had no meaning.

Loved Ones Back Home were Anxious
Around noon, another attendant knocked our room and advised to visit the office to attend the telephone call from home as the internal telephony network had been turned off as a precautionary measure. I assured my worried mother that we were safe and healthy and will only be moving out once the situation would revert back to the normal.

The Scenic Jagran Stream Transformed into a Monster
I borrowed an umbrella from the staff and ventured outside the resort to grab some latest news and snacks – our favorite family pastime then. In front of the resort’s main entrance, Jagran Nala, which was a pretty looking blue stream only a couple of days back, had been converted into a giant mud-colored uncontrollable water force looking ready to run over the side walls. Flowing like a monster it was several feet higher than where it was before the deluge. A sight I cannot forget throughout my life.

Slow Poising Continued
The drizzle continued the whole day and with the same moderate tempo. To make things worse, the electricity was also disconnected in the evening as the power plant had to be shut off due to the rising water level. As a result, the television, our main connection with the outside world, also switched off. Interestingly, since power outages were uncommon, there was no emergency light in the resort so during the night we had to use cell phones as torches!

Finally, the weird feeling of getting stranded had started catching upon us!

Day 19: Friday, September 5, 2014
Dark and Silent
Without the electricity, and the emergency light, it was a pitch black night. And the silence was pin drop! It was like we were placed in the set of a horror movie! The only sound we could hear was emanating from the enraged Jagran Stream which was getting noisier with every passing moment so much so that at one point I thought the water will enter our room crashing the doors and the windows – although it was a couple of hundred meters  away and our room was located at a reasonable height.

Life was Getting Tougher
First thing in the morning, I walked to the outside market and bought batteries for the torch. It was still drizzling, almost 48 hours nonstop, with the typical slow rhythm. On any other day, it would have been a perfect setting for a romantic timeout. However, the furiousness of Jagran Stream and the worrying faces of locals had been telling a different story. After electricity breakdown the day before, phone lines had also been cut down disconnecting us fully from the outside world. Locals were discussing about landslides and jamming of power plant’s inlet by big rocks flowing with the flood.

Hats off to the Resort Staff
In that difficult time, attitude of the resort’s staff was our only ray of hope. All of them showed great character and made sure our comfort in the given conditions. They mostly belonged to the nearby villages and were as courteous and friendly as other locals I met around Kutton. A group of staff trekked down all the way to Kundal Shahi by foot to help restore another small power plant along River Neelum. They came back with the latest news which was not so encouraging. Still then, their support was instrumental in keeping our morals high otherwise we would have been cursing our decision of staying there rather than leaving a couple of days back.

Fruit Picking
We had nothing to do except for eating, relaxing, and picking apples and pears from the trees around. Apples were especially in such abundance that we never felt awkward if one or two of them came under our feet! They were all around; on the trees, on the cottage roofs, in the gardens, and on the alleys and roads. Besides apples and pears, we also picked ripe plums and unripe persimmon, kiwifruit, and figs.

Some Light at the End of the Tunnel, Finally
Things started getting better in the evening; the rain was finally having breaks, although it was not fully over, and the sky started peeking from one corner.  The resort management also turned on the heavy backup generator for an hour, connecting us back to the world through telephone and television. While going to sleep, we were praying our hearts out for a much awaited clear morning.

Day 20: Saturday, September 6, 2014
Enough is Enough
The sky was partially clear and the rain had stopped when we woke up. It was our fifth day in Kutton and twentieth on the road. Despite of living in a very comfortable and beautiful setting, all of us started getting homesick. Warm sunrays were giving us a hope that we would be leaving soon.

One More Day
At the breakfast, the staff told us that the road from Kutton to Kundal Shahi had been badly hit due to the flood water. Parts of the road had been wiped out by the landslides. We could also hear the sound of the heavy machinery busy in unblocking the trek. Government authorities were there and Kutton road was up in the priority due to the Jagran Power Plant. Still it could take several days to fully store the passage given that there would have no more rain. The staff suggested us to stay there for one more day until the situation would get clearer. We obliged to their advice and spent the day wandering around the resort.

After the lunch, I went out again to the market for news and grocery. People coming from the downhill enlightened about the real situation on the ground. Kutton road had been washed away from two points; however, the bridge did not collapse contrary to the rumor among the resort staff. One of the landslides was also expected to get clear by the evening improving our chances for the coming day. At the market, I had interesting conversations with the locals; some of them had been to Karachi for work. They were all friendly and hospitable. The tea vendor not only denied charging for the cup of qahwa but he also baked a fresh corn from his fields for the kids!

Electricity also got restored around the sunset adding to the good omens. We packed our entire luggage before calling it a day and went to the bed much relieved.  

Jagran Resort is Operated by the Hydro Electrci Board
Main Entrance of Jagran Resort
Single and Double Bed Rooms
Our Cozy Cottage
We Could be Reached at 3.1, Jagran Resort, Kutton, Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir
Note the Falling Apples on the Roof
Kitchen was Clean and in Working Condition
The Backdoor Trek to Our Room
Misha Wanted to do that Without Support
Having Street Food
The Mosque Inside the Resort
The Defunct Fuel Tank Had Been Used During the Project Construction
The Furious Jagran Nale Outside the Resort After Floods
A Pear Tree Inside Jagran Resort
A Pair of Juicy Pears
Figs Were Not Ready Then
Pink Apples!
A Hard Target
Those Pink Colored Apples Tasted Differently
Normal Apples
Guess What!?
It was Unripe Persimmon (aka Japanese Fruit)
The Plum Tree
Plums on the Ground
Mikael Liked Apples
Smurf Style
Another Mushroom
I Loved Them
Out of Curiosity I Uprooted this One
Mushroom Growth
Land in Kashmir is so Fertile that it can even Grow Chewing Gums :-P
Adding to the Beauty
The One in the Nursery
Jagran Nala Before Floods
The Same Jagran Nala after the Floods
The Cloud Attack Announcing the Flood Coming
It Kept Overcast and Drizzling for More Than 50 Hours Nonstop!
The Whole Valley was Seized
Jagran Resort after the Rains
Finally We Saw Some Clear Sky After 3 Days
A Memorial of 2010 Floods
Near Kutton Bazaar
The Way to the Uphill Jagran Power Station
An Under Construction Mosque in Kutton Bazaar
Politics Catching Up the Countryside Also
Government High School in Kutton
Finally I Found Desi Eggs!
The Local Specialty!
An Elevated Guesthouse in Kutton Bazaar
Another Shoddy Looking Guesthouse
An Advertising Opportunity
No, He is not Going for Jihad!
These Naughty Teens Did Not Even Spare a Grave Cradle
They Were Searching for Grapes
One for You!