The Final Two Weeks – The Rain Arrives!

The main theme running through the blog will be the arrival of the monsoon. I’ll describe the arrival of the monsoon in Kalimpong, the impact it has on The Hills, and also some links to some of the wider monsoon-related concerns across the rest of India.

This blog post is very delayed. I simply didn’t have time to write it during my last week or so in India. Since returning to the UK, I have attended and presented at this 3-day conference in Newcastle, spent the weekend there, travelled to my home in The Lake District and returned to London, where I’m uploading this from. I will cover my last 2 weeks in India. Because this is a long time to cover in one post, I will change format slightly, choosing to group days together rather than working through topics on a day by day basis.

I spent the last 2 weeks of my trip in Kalimpong, trying to draw my experiences, discussions and ideas together before returning to the UK. The main theme running through the blog will be the arrival of the monsoon. I’ll describe the arrival of the monsoon in Kalimpong, the impact it has on The Hills, and also some links to some of the wider monsoon-related concerns across the rest of India. 

Monday (01/07) & Tuesday (02/07):

I was feeling much better after coming down with something in Gangtok and recovering over the weekend. The first two days of July were ahead, the sun was still shining, and I had an important meeting to attend. On average, it would be expected that the monsoon would have arrived by now — the lack of rain was starting to become a concern for the people of Kalimpong. It was fitting, then, that there was to be stakeholder engagement meeting for a project which is looking to tackle this issue of water scarcity. The meeting was scheduled for Tuesday. I had made a connection with the project during my first week in Kalimpong and had since met with one of the project managers in Gangtok – there was scope for cooperation. Praful, my main contact, was also involved and as a result I was invited to attend the ‘pre-meeting meeting’. Conveniently, the meeting was to be held in a hotel 30 seconds walk from mine, where two of the project members were also staying.

As I mentioned above, the project defines itself as working on ‘springshed management’ (Sharma et al., 2019) . The term ‘springshed’ is used to shift the water management focus from ‘watersheds’ to ‘springsheds’, an approach more suited to addressing water scarcity in mountainous regions – the water supply in such regions tends to be supplied by springs and thus groundwater aquifers, as opposed to lakes and reservoirs (Tambe et al., 2012).

So why is this project necessary? Why, in a green and lush region which: receives 2000-4000mm of rain annually; suffers frequently from flash floods and rainfall triggered landslides; and has a relatively low population density, is there water scarcity? Of course, there are some physical complexities to contend with; the rainwater is falling on steep slopes which rush the water into fast flowing rivers; most of the rain falls across 4 months of the year, and there is some evidence to suggest that climate change is unsettling established rainfall patterns. However, that is only a small part of the story. The correct answer, in fact, applies not only to The Hills, but also the rest of India. Whether its reservoir depletion in Chennai; extreme flooding in Mumbai; shoddy borehole management across North Western India; or aquifer depletion in The Hills, the answer is not that there’s too much or not enough water — the answer is that poor water governance is endemic in this diverse country. I’m certainly not the first to arrive at this conclusion, blogs and opinion pieces have been popping up all over the place during this period of transition between dry season and monsoon, where these issues come sharply into focus – I’ll let you google those! The issues facing water governance in The Hills largely reflect the same issues facing disaster risk governance, in fact you could say they basically the same. I have covered these in previous blogs, and other perspectives are widely available. I came across this article the other day – ‘Decoding the Darjeeling Dilemma: Why There is Rain But No Water’. This article covers a lot of ground and also has a pleasing title for someone who has spent a year reading about ‘assemblage theory’. Coding, in Delandan assemblage theory, refers to certain expressive components of assemblages which ‘code’ their behaviour and guide assemblages towards one of many virtual outcomes. Examples include language, policy, religious values and unwritten rules of communities. Anyway, enough of these Deleuzo-Guattarian abstractions, lets return to the politics of hydrology!

Just about everything in India is politicised, including water provision and/or disaster management. To give an example of the latter, the former dominant and now resurgent party of the Gorkhaland movement, the ‘Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) recently established a ‘Disaster Management Committee’ (DMC) to support the existing District Disaster Management Department and the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) disaster management department; currently under the administration of the Gorkha Janmutki Morcha, the party which has dominated the Gorkhaland movement since 2007 but whose governing faction is now seen as a puppet of the West Bengal government. We should also not forget the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), a wing of the Indian military which is deployed during major crises. Confused yet? I have deliberately muddied the waters here a little, but the point is that this multiplicity of departments and parties are all apparently working towards the same goal, but don’t appear willing to do so ‘under the same umbrella’, if you’ll pardon the monsoon pun. Why? Well, partly because the political conflict of the region has created a governance landscape which is more of a conflict mitigation measure than a solution-oriented system of government. Another factor is that short-term disaster response can come in handy for parties which require support from the ballot box. This of course is a contested and personal opinion, but it is amazing what a landslide protection wall, an earthquake resistant building or a river diversion scheme can do for a party’s reputation, especially in an area where the capacity for development is otherwise limited. A number of research projects have looked into this phenomena the world over (Pelling and Dill, 2010; Kelman, 2011; Siddiqi, 2013, 2014), and often look into the study of what political incentives drive disaster risk reduction (Williams, 2010; Jones, Oven and Wisner, 2016)). Is the same true for water?

Well yes, kind of. Like disaster management, different parties are involved in providing and managing water for the people of The Hills. However, I think the issue with water is more of a kind of ‘by-product’ of a political struggle which has strangled the socioeconomic development of the region. This has not only held infrastructure development back but also created a kind of water governance vacuum which has since been filled with a variety of individuals and groups manipulating the water supply to their own political and economic ends. One manifestation of this is the provision of water by Jeeps carrying water tanks, a service provided by what a local person described as ‘basically a mafia’ who extract groundwater or draw water from natural springs. It is not only organised groups, however, who operate ‘in the gaps’. A small number of individuals will also tamper with the over-ground water pipes, diverting the flow or simply unscrewing the valve and filling up jerry cans — you see this happening all over the place!

I think it is also important to note that it is not only the fault of the authorities. Actions from individuals outside of government exacerbate the issues too. For instance, lots of households could take steps to improve their own household’s water management. The main option available here is rainwater harvesting, which is widely practiced but certainly not universal. Both Individuals and the authorities are complicit in the concretisation of the landscape, reducing the ability of soils to absorb rainwater and thus recharge the aquifers which supply the springs.

The outcomes of such state ‘vacuums’ are not inevitable, as much critical literature has shown – particularly in reaction to Hardin’s reductionist and now largely discredited and disproven (Ostrom et al., 2002) theory of the ‘tragedy of the commons’. Nonetheless, in Kalimpong, the lack of capacity, accountability, education and information; created by the under resourced and fragmented system of governance, are certainly the main problems facing sustainable water management there. This is where springshed management project is looking to help – hoping that a improvements in information and education might help to address the issue of accountability.

The Monday planning meeting was fairly short, with most of the time spent arranging the room and getting the projector in the right position! There was a debrief on who would be attending and who the most important people to ‘engage’ would be — the proposed site of intervention requires permissions and cooperation from a variety of stakeholders, from private land-owners, the military, the GTA, and the district authorities. After only a couple of hours, the small group disbanded and I returned to my hotel before heading to my second home, Café Kalimpong. I would also head out for my usual walk around the hill-top, giving me views both East and West from Kalimpong’s ridge-top location. My hotel faces East, away from The High Himalayas of Nepal and Sikkim, and towards the slightly lower hills between Kalimpong, Bhutan and The Plains.

Looking West from the Durpin side of the ridge which Kalimpong sits on — On a clearer day, you would see rolling mountains rising towards the High Himalayas

Tuesday meeting:

It was a relatively early start on Saturday. The schedule was for a 9:30 arrival for a 10 am start. I showed up just after 9 to meet the team. I would mostly just be observing for the day, but arrived a little early to get a quick chat with everyone before it began. The public meeting was held in the top floor conference room of a fairly large and quite upmarket ‘colonial style’ hotel, just next to mine. Before the meeting began, welcome tea/coffee was provided in the restaurant area. I managed to get a little bit of networking done before everyone moved upstairs. There were around 40-50 people at the meeting, spanning government officials, journalists, private land owners and school teachers. Praful acted as the MC for the event and gave a good introductory talk which outlined the problem and the purpose of the meeting. Before the NGO leaders spoke, it was time for introductions. I thought this meant the speakers and perhaps the more ‘important’ stakeholders. In fact, it meant everyone in the room! The roaming mic was passed around and everyone gave their name/affiliation in turn; myself included, an unexpected but useful opportunity to reach out. The front row was reserved for the senior government representatives and a senior representative from one of the NGOs. After the introductions, they were wrapped in a kind of garland/scarf in a customary show of respect, I think!

Presentations from the two NGOs followed, covering the science behind the project and providing specific information on the sites. I had seen much of this at the previous meeting — which was more specifically targeted at the ‘community level’ — but it was good to refresh my memory. After some more tea, a representative from the Government of Sikkim — where similar springshed management projects have been successfully rolled out across the state — gave a talk. The representative had, in the past, presented the work at a UN conference as an example of good practice on water governance. Of particular interest to me was a reference she made to her experience of working with government officials in Darjeeling. She said that in the past, she met with several Block Development Officers from Darjeeling District who were interested in rolling out similar projects in their respective blocks. Unfortunately, she went on, these BDMOs are usually transferred after a few of years, taking their newly acquired knowledge of springshed management with them. As a result, she said, they now prefer to work with NGOs in Darjeeling and Kalimpong ‘because they are more likely to stick around’! What emerges here then is an apparent mismatch in capacities. Unlike BDOs and government officials, NGOs — specifically their staff — are not likely to be either voted out of office or removed from their post following political upheaval. As such, they are able to both ‘think long-term’ and also deliver projects which might have very long time-frames. However, they do not have the power, mandate or capacity to deliver these projects at a block or district wide scale. The latter, of course, would normally fall under the purview of the government — but the turnover of staff means that, in practice, their abilities to deliver such projects are limited. These capacities are also limited by the absence of a functioning panchayat system in The Hills of West Bengal; unlike Sikkim, where their panchayat system is generally regarded as very effective.

The issue of long-term planning would crop up again following this presentation, in the stakeholder dialogue meeting. The army representative — present because part of the proposed site fell into military-controlled land — indicated his admiration for the project, but said he would have to speak to his superiors, because ‘The Army has strict plans which have a time frame of 20-30 years, so we’ll have to check that this doesn’t undermine any future plans we have for this land’. Obviously, these plans are subject to change as the military is, by default, constantly responding to forces beyond their control. Nonetheless, unlike their counterparts in other government offices, they are given the time, space and power to create and deliver long term plans without too much interference from the voting population. I am by no means advocating for the removal of universal suffrage — despite the individuals it has delivered to the world in the past 2 years(!) — but it does seem that the short-term nature of the politics the current system gives rise to, there is certainly scope for governance reform! Similar responses were given by the other ‘important’ stakeholders — or the ones with the power to say no! All were generally very welcoming and positive about the project, but almost all said they would have to receive clearance from their superiors — something Praful had previously said was inevitable.

The senior representative of the large NGO facilitated the more open ‘stakeholder dialogue’. Once the front row had had their say, the less influential stakeholders were given the opportunity to speak and ask questions. Several interesting points were raised in this session. One particularly interesting remark was made by a representative of an international NGO external to this project but who work in Darjeeling and Sikkim. He referred to the presentation given by the official from the Government of Sikkim, and pointed out that they also found it ‘much easier to work in Sikkim’ than West Bengal, where ‘things are much more tricky!’. Most of the ‘less influential’ stakeholders were very cooperative and willing to get on board. Of course, those furthest from power are often the ones with the most to lose from environmental degradation and water scarcity. The main theme put forward by the NGO rep in the ‘wrap-up’ was the need to ‘shift our objectives’ in order to facilitate a more sustainable development pathway — a point I whole heartedly agree with! In fact, right at the end of the dialogue, the facilitator put me on the spot and asked me to weigh in with my own opinion — panic! I could hardly say no, so decided to quickly outline why I was interested in this project in the context of my research, before coming out with the usual plateaus about ‘how we need more cooperation across government and society on risk reduction and sustainability challenges’ in Kalimpong and all over the world etc. I also thanked everyone there for making me feel welcome. After the closing formalities, it was time for lunch. A nice selection of food was available on the buffet ­— so nice that I went back for seconds! The lunch gave me another networking opportunity, where I was able to shake some hands and even organise a meeting for later in the week.

It was already 3pm, so I didn’t do much else other than go for another evening walk over the ridgetop!

Wednesday – Friday, meetings.

Wednesday is market day in Kalimpong. Given I was in my penultimate week, I decided I should go and see the market — known as ‘Haat Bazaar’ — in full swing. I needed to buy a couple of things in town anyway. Before that, I had a meeting arranged in the morning. The meeting went well, and was conveniently held in a place which was on the way to town/the market from my hotel.

Kalimpong grew as a trading centre during the period of British rule, becoming a vital node in the global Tibetan fur/wool trade network. Before the technological advances and geopolitical posturing which dried up the cross-border trade, haat bazaar was the beating heat of Kalimpong, and would have probably had a much more interesting selection of goods available! There are still the photogenic spice and fruit stalls, curious little Buddhist icons and artworks, crowds pushing past each other down the narrow aisles, the smell of street food, and the buzz of negotiations and exchange; but the furs, the wool, the foreign traders and the wealth have been replaced by cheap imported knock-off branded clothing, plastic utensils and generally poorer merchants.

I spent the afternoon arranging some more meetings and watching England vs New Zealand in the final group stage round of the world cup. It was another hot and humid day in Kalimpong, so I was glad to get in and cool down. Praful had invited me up for dinner in the evening. It is quite a steep walk from my hotel, so by the time I reach there I’m usually a sweaty mess — this time was no different! It is always a nice evening spent there, with nice food and interesting conversation. I was given a lift home by his son.

On Thursday I had 2 quite long and interesting meetings. On Friday I had a bit of a nothing day, taking some time to speak with family and get on with some admin tasks — I managed a walk too.

Saturday – RAIN.

I woke up on Saturday with a clear objective in mind — buying gifts. I decided my first stop would be café Kalimpong. The café is very much focussed on promoting local products and the district in general. It has a shop in the same building, run by the same group but under the name of the ‘Kalimpong local project’. I needed to get cash still, but earmarked what I wanted to buy and decided I’d have a quick cup of tea before venturing to town to get cash and other gifts. Just after I finished my tea, however, the heavens opened. Up until that point, any rain which came had lasted no longer than 1 hour and was usually followed by a long dry spell. Such was my faith in the lack of rain, I hadn’t even packed my umbrella. Little did I know, that this particular shower had essentially been the curtain raiser for the arrival of the monsoon-proper in The Hills. The rain didn’t look like stopping, so I ordered another drink and settled in to working on a presentation for a conference I would attend 2 days after arriving back in the UK. I got a bit carried away with the work and a couple of hours flew by. It had finally stopped raining at some point during that time, so before the afternoon was out, I decided I’d go and get some shopping done at least. Almost as soon as I got to the till to pay my bill, the heavens opened again! So back to work it was for another hour or so — no shopping would be done today! After nearly 2 hours, the rain was still falling heavily and I was starting to get a bit of cabin fever. I waited and waited but eventually I decided that I was just going to have to get wet. It is quite remarkable how little time it takes to be totally soaked by these monsoon rains — we’re talking 30 seconds max and you’re completely drenched. It was a long and wet 5-10 minute walk up to my hotel. Of course, 15 minutes after I returned, the rain stopped!

After drying off and apparently undeterred by the arrival of the monsoon, I decided that I should really get out of the hotel on my final Saturday night in Kalimpong. Thus far I hadn’t really explored many of the bars in the town, partly because I’d been told that the successive agitations had left the town’s nightlife on the floor. Nonetheless, I had heard of one place, Roxberry Pub, which was supposed to be half decent and which served veggie food. It was about 15 mins walk downhill from my hotel. It was overcast but feeling quite dry when I left between 7 and 8pm. The bar was a little tucked away from one of the main streets in Kalimpong, but I was pointed in the right direction by someone standing outside. It was quite big inside, looking like a standard Western bar/club. There was a semi-outdoor seating area upstairs, but this was packed out. I ended up sitting down in the main bar area, which was really quite warm and muggy. I ordered a bottle of Budweiser, which was ice cold and sweating in the muggy heat — it tasted great. The music was a predictable mix of Justin Bieber and Western monotone electronic hip-hop — not my taste but familiar at least. I ordered malai kofte and rice and had a few more beers. At around 9, I asked the waiter if I could get a taxi around this time. His face didn’t fill me with confidence but he said he’d ring some numbers — no luck. Unknown to me, tucked away in a muggy and windowless bar, the rain outside was absolutely torrential. I waited in vain at the door for about 15 minutes, but the rain just wasn’t going to stop. Armed with a small umbrella and with my backpack on my front, I headed out into the rain (again). The umbrella kept my head dry, but that was about all. The water was streaming down the roads, high enough to flow over the top of my shoes when I crossed — it was a squelchy walk back up the steep hill to my hotel. My room was now full of drenched clothes, the prospect of drying them anytime soon was looking slim!

Final week:

Saturday’s rain, which actually started on Friday night, sparked the beginning of what would be an exceptionally wet week right across India’s North East — particularly in The Hills. As the rain continued over the weekend, the landslide reports began to come in. I’m in a group chat which is concerned with various hazards and environmental issues in The Hills, made up of local and international academics, NGO workers, government officials, journalists, concerned citizens and everyone in between. It is perhaps one of the fastest ways to understand when and where landslides are happening in the region. It is also useful to understand if roads have been closed etc — something which happens often. The chat is also used to circulate weather forecasts and warnings, though it’s unclear whether these warnings are really acted upon! A few reports came in on Monday morning. Sadly, a couple had lost their lives due to a landslide at 1:30am on Monday morning. The slide occurred in Darjeeling district and was one of many which happened over the weekend and early part of the week. Save the Hills have covered this period of heavy rainfall and the landslides triggered by it.

After a weekend of heavy rain, many were hoping for a drier period. These hopes would never materialise, as the rain continued to fall. Much of the rain fell overnight, the rain pounding on the metal roof certainly helped with sleep! It often fell during the day too, sometimes for hours on end. I had a few meetings arranged, which were luckily unaffected by the weather. However, much of my week was spent keeping dry in the hotel and/or Café Kalimpong. I had hopes to head out into some of the rural areas of Kalimpong District with Praful, but these plans fell away with the roads. Before the week was out, some areas had already surpassed the monthly average for rainfall in July. In some areas, the monthly average was reached in only 6 days. This chart from Save the Hills gives some more details on this.

Rainfall data 06/07/19-16/07/19 collected and presented by Save the Hills – http://savethehills.blogspot.com/2019/07/extreme-event-in-darjeelling-himalayas.html

The rain continued through the early part of the week. I was beginning to worry about my journey home, which would involve travelling down the notorious NH-10, which I have discussed before. There had been a few minor landslides early in the week, and then on Thursday, this happened…

Photo sent to me of Seti Jhora on the morning of 11th of July. Someone has provided footage here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14QpW7h6Gjg

A huge landslide had completely covered the NH-10 at Seti Jhora, only around 10km from Sevoke, the place where the road moved away from the trouble caused by the Teesta. The road would remain closed for the day, but could be cleared by the weekend — if it stopped raining…

The rain continued, of course. All over The Hills, roads were shut down, holidays were cancelled, plans were shelved and properties were damaged. The rain and disruption made the national media, with the earlier fatal landslide and a fatal car-crash on the NH-10 a few days after providing fuel for dramatic media coverage. These rains and events have been part of a period of extensive damage and loss across the entire region, summed up here by the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Given my research focus, this was all quite interesting for me. It seems difficult to really draw any conclusions about how people perceived such events in The Hills. Certainly, they’ve seen it all before. The rains and landslides always cause a bit of a stir, but people all over the world always talk about the weather! I did sense that there was a sense of helplessness or inability to really do anything about the landslides. I think the people are more than aware that the government and public authorities could and should do more — but no one actually expects them to do it. Even some of the people in government don’t expect the government to do anything about it! There is also a sense that even with 100% commitment and all the money in the world, there would still be landslides here — which is probably true. I think there is genuine concern about the impacts of this continued degradation, which one official described as the result of anthropogenic and natural processes, at a ratio of 50:50. I have heard a few people mention that many of the non-native businesses are beginning to up sticks and move away from Kalimpong, sick and tired of both the lack of water and unreliable roads. There is a concern that the current political set-up is only equipped to stand by and watch the economy and socio-economic development of the hills slip away — in a metaphorical and literal sense.

Does this indicate that there is a hunger for change? Certainly, but there doesn’t seem to be much actual momentum or organisation to achieve this, perhaps other than the usual suspects who are vying to continue to nearly achieve Gorkhaland… There is certainly an argument to be made around the merits of decentralisation in relation to environmental governance and disaster risk management. Can this argument be made in a way that the more emotive demand for ‘Gorkhaland’ is addressed but not the central message? Not for a long time is my immediate feeling, but there is a sense that time is running out.

One thing is clear. Understanding these complex and competing imaginations of what people want to see happen in The Hills is vital for anyone trying to understand why landslides continue to happen here. That is what I will try to understand when I come back in September.  

Saturday:

I had spent Friday nervously willing the rain to stop, aware that without the NH-10 opening, the usual 2-hour journey to the train station in Siliguri was looking more like a 5/6-hour journey. Luckily, my train wasn’t until 8pm, so time was on my side. It rained overnight on Friday and I woke up to drizzle on Saturday morning. In order for my driver to get back to Kalimpong, we were scheduled for a 10am departure — pushed back from 1pm due to the continued rain. I would be joined by some relatives of Praful’s who needed to get to Siliguri too. The road remained shut, but we had a trustworthy local driver and the WhatsApp chat on our side. We set off with a few alternative options in mind. Praful’s relative and the driver decided that we would try and get past the landslide, which was apparently being cleared. If that didn’t work, there was an alternative road we could take which essentially climbed off the NH-10 to the top of the valley and then plunged back down on the other side of the landslide. We passed a few minor landslides on the way to the big one, before coming to the long line of traffic which preceded the landslide by 1-2kms — see video here.

A ‘smaller’ landslide we drove past on the NH-10
My own picture of Seti Johroa landslide at around 11:30am on 13/07/19

Seeing as we were there, we three passengers decided to walk along to assess the damage. It was very hot and humid down in the Teesta valley — some of the people had been waiting for 5 hours. The road had been just about passable until about 7:30am, but the authorities were now clearing away the rubble, so the way was shut for now. We decided, based on the amount of rubble remaining and the time it would take for the hundreds of vehicles each side of the landslide to clear, that it would be just as quick to take the detour than it would be to wait. It might be a bit cooler and more scenic too!

The road we took was exceptionally steep and narrow. A lot of people had the same idea as us, so the traffic going both ways was really far too much for these roads to handle. The journey was long, arduous and at times a little nerve-racking!

The alternative road – a long and steep descent is seen to the left

The most congested area was a village where a funeral wake was taking place, meaning that the narrow raods of the village were swelled with relatives of the deceased, who appeared to be very popular. It was interesting to note that the landslide we were avoiding was around 1000m below where we were driving — the run-off water responsible was seen rushing over our road (video here). After nearly 3 hours, we arrived at back at the NH-10, and the traffic jam caused by the landslide was only just beginning to clear. I was going to try and find the route we took, but the road doesn’t appear to be on google maps! The road was still congested, as the search and investigation into the fatal car crash around the coronation bridge on the NH-10 was still underway, blocking part of the road. The rest of the journey was relatively smooth, and almost 6 hours after leaving Kalimpong, I arrived at my destination.

I had arranged to meet a PhD student I had been put in touch with a colleague here in the UK. I had met her briefly on my previous visit to Siliguri as she was studying in the geography department at North Bengal University. She kindly invited me to her family home where I was given some lovely food. I had a few hours to kill, so she and a friend showed me around Siliguri. There isn’t really much to say about Siliguri, it’s a very busy city which is rapidly growing. There is no discernible city centre, I have been told it has changed about 3 times since the British constructed the railway to Darjeeling and kickstarted the urbanisation of the town.

A side street in Siliguri

It was dry there when I arrived, but it didn’t take long for the rain to start. We were forced to dive into a tea shop and then a momo house! After a while we returned home and then they took me to the bustling New Jalpaiguri station. We arrived quite early, so waited a while before her Dad helped me through the crowds to my platform and saw me off on the train. I was quite exhausted after the journey. As a result, the combination of the sound of heavy rain on the metal roof and the gentle rocking of the train on the tracks had me asleep in my cosy bottom bunk in no time — there wasn’t much socialising or free food on my return journey!

I woke up with 40 mins or so to go until I reached Sealdah, Kolkata, shortly before 9am. I took an uber to my hotel and then had some breakfast, I would have to wait a little time before my room was ready. For the rest of the day, I had only one real plan — the cricket! I spent some time refreshing myself after what was essentially 24 hours of travelling. It was hot in Kolkata, comfortably 35C by lunchtime with humidity at about 90%. I did want to see a bit of the city, and had an urge to see the Hooghly River — a part of the Ganges system. Prinsep Ghat was recommended to me as somewhere to visit which would take me to the riverside. Prinsep Ghat is a kind of memorial to an influential British colonialist. The ‘ghat’ itself is a big white pavilion type building, and is quite uninspiring in many ways. The garden it sits within is more attractive, and sits at the end of a pleasant riverside promenade. I got a few nice pictures and built up a good sweat during a 15 minute walk down the river front!

Prinsep Ghat and a bridge over the Hooglhy River behind
The Hooghly River, Kolkata (Ganges)

Without further ado, I ordered an Uber and headed swiftly towards a nice chilled pint of draught lager — my first draught pint in 7 weeks! I chose to go to the ‘Irish House’, which is located within a very posh shopping mall. It wasn’t like other Irish Bars I’ve visited, more like TGI Fridays but with an Irish theme! I watched the first innings there and then took an auto-rickshaw to a place called ‘The Monkey Bar’ where I would watch the 2nd innings. I would go on to make an error of judgement, summed up in this twitter thread!

An early start on Monday morning with a bit of a sore head followed. My journey from here onwards was pretty smooth, save a very long wait to check my bags in at Kolkata airport. I would touch down by 18:30 UK time. My journey wasn’t really over until I arrived in Newcastle on Tuesday evening, for a 3-day conference Wednesday-Friday at Northumbria University, my old institution! It was nice to be back in the UK and back in what is probably my favourite city. I was tired by the time I reached Newcastle on Tuesday, having been in 5 cities for no longer than 24 hours since Saturday morning!

I’m not planning on writing another post before I return to the field in September, but you never know!

Thanks for everyone who has been reading so far, its been nice to know people are finding my posts interesting, if nothing else!

References:

Jones, S., Oven, K. J. and Wisner, B. (2016) ‘A comparison of the governance landscape of earthquake risk reduction in Nepal and the Indian State of Bihar’, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. Elsevier, 15, pp. 29–42. doi: 10.1016/J.IJDRR.2015.10.011.

Kelman, I. (2011) Disaster diplomacy: how disasters affect peace and conflict. Routledge.

Ostrom, E. E. et al. (2002) The drama of the commons. National Academy Press.

Pelling, M. and Dill, K. (2010) ‘Disaster politics: tipping points for change in the adaptation of sociopolitical regimes’, Progress in human geography, 34(1), pp. 21–37.

Sharma, G. et al. (2019) ‘Water management systems of two towns in the Eastern Himalaya: case studies of Singtam in Sikkim and Kalimpong in West Bengal states of India’, Water Policy. doi: 10.2166/wp.2019.229.

Siddiqi, A. (2013) ‘The Emerging Social Contract: State-Citizen Interaction after the Floods of 2010 and 2011 in Southern Sindh, Pakistan’, IDS Bulletin. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 44(3), pp. 94–102. doi: 10.1111/1759-5436.12036.

Siddiqi, A. (2014) ‘Climatic Disasters and Radical Politics in Southern Pakistan: The Non-linear Connection’, Geopolitics. Routledge, 19(4), pp. 885–910. doi: 10.1080/14650045.2014.920328.

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Author: Peter McGowran

PhD Candidate at King's College London Broadly speaking, I am researching landslides in the Darjeeling Himalaya region of India. I’m particularly interested in how processes and practices of development and/or governance are shaping a future where landslides continue to occur, and thus also how we can change these processes and practices so that the region can move towards a more sustainable and landslide-less future — assuming that both of these things are outcomes of the same type of development.

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