Malayalam film actress Manju Warrier was stranded in a remote village in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh after incessant rain, snowfall and landslides ravaged the region. The actress narrates her ordeal in the flood-hit Himalayan state and how she along with the film crew managed to survive the deluge.
“We saw the faraway hill collapsing. We held on to each other as we slowly climbed down the snow-clad mountains. The snow was around 3ft tall. Some small groups were walking ahead of us. It had not stopped snowing even then.
The villagers had warned that the hill might collapse at any time, glaciers might slide down. Their words kept reverberating in me.
We had walked over six to seven hours to from Chhattru to reach Shiyam Goru village for the shooting. None of us in the film crew knew mountain climbing. We were accompanied by a gang of experienced mountain climbers. They were aware of the place and the conditions.
During the initial days of shooting, we faced no issues. It was a beautiful atmosphere. But all that changed suddenly. Even the experienced members in the gang and the villagers did not expect this. The snowfall suddenly increased. Snow covered most parts of the region.
We had set up tents at a valley of the village. Security officers asked us to move our tents, citing the possibility of landslides. We shifted the tents. We decided to return to Chhattru the next day. That was a treachrous journey. The valley does not have electricity or shops. Chhatru is 90km away from Manali. As we moved from one mountain to another, we saw snow several places covered in snow. Landslides had rigged several mountains and we saw soil being washed away. These sights were scary reminder to the words of caution issued by the villagers, ‘The paths might be washed away at any times.' We walked with bated breath till we reached Chhatru.
However, when we reached Chhatru, the weather worsened. Some of us got buildings to stay at, others had to make do with tents. Several tourists had also reached there. Some of the students, who had studied at the Sainik School along with my brother, were officers in the region. I personally knew many of them. But there was no means for communication from the area.
The army officers, who reached the camp around 9pm, said that the women and children among us could make one call via the satellite phone. I called up my brother and informed him about our predicament.
While I was making that call, we were left with food for only two more days. Some of the soldiers said that the snow and rainfall would intensify in the coming days. Even in those harsh conditions, they were extremely courteous and well-behaved to us.
Some of the soldiers, who came the next day, enquired about my name. They hinted that messages had been passed on to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan. I was also told that the Union Minister had called the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister.
We decided to move to Manali the next day. However, the more experienced people there warned that it was dangerous to go to Manali from Chhattru in these conditions. It cannot be said when the Army can come to your rescue in case of landslides on the way. It was also not known where and all food would be available.
More tourists decided to stay at Chhattru even though the food was scarce as it was a safe place. We also had to take back all the equipment we had brought for shooting. Though it was suggested that we could split into groups and make the onward journey, we decided to stick together. By afternoon, food was provided to us. Even then, the rain continued.
I am saying this as we crossed the Rohtang Pass. As the dark clouds surround us, we cannot see things that are at a distance. It’s as if we have been engulfed by mist. We cannot believe that we have returned safely. Water is flowing as big rivers in certain areas and big boulders are also strewn on the way. Huge earth-movers are put to work along with the help of the soldiers. Manali is 50km away from here. The soldiers said that we need to travel for eight hours to reach Manali.
I can see a long line of vehicles waiting their turn to move on. The wind continues to blow strongly...”
Early, on Thursday morning, Manju Warrier also took to Facebook and shared a photo of hers with the team saying that they are completely safe. She then also shared a Facebook video of their 'adventuroud trip' from Sheagoru to Chhatru.