Himalaya // India
Late June, 2013 – Relentless, torrential rains hit the Indian upslope of the Himalaya, causing thousands of deaths and cutting off tens of thousands of people from the outside world. The monsoon season continued for months – leaving behind devastating landslides, entire sections of highway gone, villages completely washed away.
It was September before Waves For Water could venture to ground zero. The following is my account of traversing the length of the Indian Himalaya in jeeps full of filters and buckets in an attempt to get as much clean water to as many survivors as possible.
My primary job is to inspire those who have safe water to share with those who don’t. In this case, several friends and colleagues stepped up to help get me to India with hundreds of water filters. Funds arrived, doors opened, and, after much planning and travel, I found myself at the Parmarth Niketon Ashram overlooking the Ganges in Rishikesh – the place where flood waters raged out of the Himalaya, across India. While assessing the situation, and planning my journey into the heart of the Himalaya, I began doing clean-water trainings and distributions at nearby schools. Gradually a team of volunteers joined my efforts and together we loaded buckets on the roof of our jeep, and us inside, and began the slow crawl over endless mountain ranges.
Vertical walls are cut with one and-a-half lane roads. Under normal conditions these provide for extreme risky adventure, as around every blind curve you meet giant trucks, buses, motorbikes and every other kind of vehicle imaginable – and herds of cattle and goats and donkeys, and it’s just a miracle you make it to your destination. Add to this an endless chain of massive landslides and you realize you’re in the middle of a disaster movie, with absolutely no turning back.
The road has disappeared, crumbled down thousands of feet to the river below – what we are traversing is a dirt trail (just big enough for a car) cut into the side of the still active landslide – meaning at any moment the loose material soaring thousands of feet above can come crashing down and swoop you into oblivion, or the loose material you’re inching across may give way and you free fall to hideous death below. Not a single landslide passage like this would ever be allowed in the US - and I needed to cross hundreds over the next three weeks if we were going to get our clean-water systems to the thousands of people who desperately needed them.
Needless to say, I found it easy to remember the spiritual side of life, always giving thanks after each safe passage. In surfing there’s an expression that applies to traversing landslides in the Himalaya. While intensely paddling, there comes a moment of truth when you have a split second to decide whether or not to drop into a giant wave – to join with a power greater than your own. When you say ‘yes’ it’s called ‘committing’ to an irreversible choice, for better or worse. Every single day, in every far corner of the world, the extreme field work we do requires the same intense level of focus and commitment.
And somehow we make it through each new challenge, grateful to be alive, walking on a dirt road in middle of nowhere, surrounded by unbearable beauty and such humble, gracious and loving people with every step we take. As revealed in our photos, the payoff for doing what we do is getting to work and laugh everyday side-by-side with the most amazing human beings – both the locals we are serving, and the variety of helpers who show up and truly make each project a success.
We’re all used to stark, rugged, forbidding images of the Nepal side of the Himalaya. What I discovered on this trip is the south facing Indian side is lush, warm, inviting - beautiful beyond description - a treasure. Trails everywhere, connecting high villages throughout the full expanse of endless mountain ranges – you can walk forever and never be alone – greeted by strong, slender, vibrant mountain people who love to feed you and provide warm shelter.
I could write volumes, but each time I try to bring back a scene (one of hundreds each day) I am rendered speechless – and then recall the soft, quiet way of being that overtakes everything else in the steady pace of remote mountain living. So, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Many of these I took, some were taken by Robert Moses and the amazing close-ups of kids in alpine villages were taken by Rama, our swami mountain guide.
Each year the monsoon season causes great damage and hardship. This year I am willing to return in July with more clean-water systems. Our local networks are all set up and waiting. This time we will be able to get safe water to people right when the disaster is occurring.
We have jeeps, trucks, helicopters motorbikes, donkeys, mountain guides and porters at our disposal. If you would like to help us continue this effort, donate here on site, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a cost of one dollar per person we can bring safe drinking water to anyone, anywhere in the world. Goal for Himalaya Phase 2 is $20,000. - which will give access to safe drinking water to 20,000 people.
"Take a course in good water and air;
and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own.
Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you".