With courage and a prayer, French tourists soothe Leh

By Rahul Vaishnavi, IANS
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NEW DELHI - They gave their medicines, assisted in rescue work and chanted Buddhist prayers to console the bereaved and displaced - a group of French tourists are on their way back home from flood-hit Leh, relieved to be away from the horrors of the disaster but also wishing they could return and help out more.

“We sat with the victims and consoled them. We also chanted Buddhist mantras with them so that they could forget the painful incident,” said Christine Bedon, a 50-year-old who is part of a group of around 20 tourists from France.

Bedon, her husband and others landed in Jammu and Kashmir’s Leh town Thursday morning and hours later were caught in a terrible nightmare. The town was wrecked by flash floods caused by Friday’s cloudburst that claimed as many as 165 lives and left a trail of destruction behind.

Bedon and her group were lucky. They escaped nature’s fury virtually unscathed.

They were back in New Delhi Wednesday morning and plan to fly back home Saturday. But their thoughts are still with the people in Leh trying to put pieces of their life back together. Bedon wishes they could have stayed back to help a little more.

“Only when normalcy returned there did we decide to return to Delhi this morning. Still, I wish I could have stayed there longer,” Bedon told IANS.

The group is at present staying at the D’Marks hotel and resorts in Mahipalpur in southwest Delhi.

Recalling the horrible night, Bedon’s husband Jean Claude Mathieu said he heard a loud bang at midnight followed by lightning and incessant rains.

“I have not seen anything like that in my life before. The fan and the windows were rattling. It was a scary sight,” 57-year-old Mathieu said.

Added Marie Paule Delaere, another member of the group: “There was a small river near our hotel but in a matter of few hours it began to overflow because of the cloudburst.”

“We packed our luggage and went to a higher place above our hotel as we feared that the building would collapse.”

Suzanne Bousquet couldn’t help but remember the day after the flash floods.

“It was indeed a difficult experience for all of us. The next day after the incident there was an eerie feeling in the atmosphere. The whole town was quiet, markets were closed and roads deserted. Everyone, including us, was depressed,” she said.

Despite 23 foreigners losing their lives in the devastating floods and most visitors being desperate to leave the place at the earliest, the bunch of French tourists stayed back for four days.

They went to ground zero last Saturday and gave their medicines to the locals and also assisted in the rescue work.

Delhi-based tour operators, Waymark Adventures, who organised the tour, said the French group had shown everyone what “responsible tourism” was.

“It came as a pleasant surprise for us. It is heartening to see tourists helping out the injured, assisting in removing the debris. This is what is called responsible tourism,” Rajesh Langer, director of Waymark Adventures, told IANS.

Going back to the days after tragedy struck, Bedon said calm slowly returned to the town.

“The army, locals, monks and NGOs assisted the victims with food, medicines and clothes. Some shops reopened too. Gradually, things were getting normal,” she recalled.

The nightmarish experience notwithstanding on their first trip to Leh, most members of the group promised to be back soon.

“This was my first visit and I would definitely be going back there again. I am not at all afraid by the cloudburst. Such things are part of life,” said Bedon.

(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at rahul.v@ians.in)

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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