An untold story...

At around 6:10pm on the 18th September 2011 when people were busy preparing dinner and children studying, a powerful earthquake ( of magnitude 6.9 measuring on the Richer scale) hit the state of Sikkim and its adjoining hills areas.

As the earth started shaking, the power went off and the entire area was plunged into darkness. I was in my room in Darjeeling when the earthquake hit. I ran to switch on the solar lights, caught hold of my head light and ran towards my mother’s room, where my mother and aunt along with my two children were. I switched the solar lights on there and told them not to panic as they were terrified and praying aloud.Slowly and carefully we all managed to come out to a safer place.

After a few minutes, news started pouring in from all quarters and we got to know that the epicenter of the earthquake was in the small town of Mangan in North Sikkim.  Mobile connections were interrupted and some which had network suffered congestion as everyone out of Darjeeling and Sikkim were trying to reach their loved ones back home.It is very sad to know that the earthquake has caused more than 100 deaths.  The figure is rising rapidly everyday as the villages of North Sikkim are still difficult to access. The reports are coming in gradually.

I decided to move to Sikkim and wanted to be there at ground zero to be with the people and to help them in whatever way I could but I was informed by my friends from the Press that there were many people involved in the rescue and other NGOs were actively providing support.

The same night I received a call from Mr. Martin Singh, a respectable person in Maria Basti inviting us to visit Kagey, Maria and the surrounding villages to assess the destruction there. Maria village falls under Kagey gram panchayat; a remote village in Kalimpong - 2.

The very next day early in the morning I headed alone to Kagey with around 20kg of tea which had been donated by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) North Bengal and 2 kg of local biscuits packed in my rucksack. I reached Maria at 4:30pm and on the way I saw houses which were damaged by the earthquake. I took some pictures of the houses and spoke to the people to which they belonged.  In the evening I sat with the local people where I was told that in Maria itself, there were 17 houses which were fully damaged and 45 houses which were damaged partially. I was also told of a village named RABEK which fells under Kagey Gram Panchayat which had been badly hit. I had been working with the people in that area since 2006 but this was the first time I had ever heard about this particular village.

I was informed that hardly anyone visited this village;not even people from Maria. They told me that the path to reach this village was very dangerous as the village was built on a steep slope and boulders keep falling from top of the hill.

 In my mind I was wondering how they must’ve been living there after the earthquake. But there was no turning back as I had decided to visit them. We decided that next day we would get up at 4:00am and move around Maria, Gerok and  Samak Young  and visit the victims of the disaster.

On 26th September 2011, our day started early as the houses in Maria, Gerok and Samak Young were far from each otherand some hiking was required. With our head torches on we paved our way through the cardamom fields. I slipped and fell down many times on the way and when we reached the first house it was almost dawn.

Most of the houses were left abandoned and on the way we met people who had spent the night at their relative houses. It was disheartening to see the small mud and stone houses flattened by the earthquake. Most of the houses which we visited had stone walls which were either broken down or walls tilted by the impact of the quake. While talking to the owner of those houses, I could still feel the fear and sorrow of losing their house as they choked while narrating their story.

We returned back to the Parish Priest’s house for breakfast and saw that seven to eight leeches were feasting on my feet! After freshning up and having a solid breakfast we headed towards Rabek.

I was very excited to see this place and meet the people there but soon this excitement turned into fear. It had been raining since morning but by now it had turned into a downpour.The slope started becoming steep and slippery. The path which we were walking seemed to turn into a small mountain stream flowing towards us. On one side of the path there was a steep slope going right down; I could hear the sound of the river below.

We were totally wet and cold so we stopped at a house. I was surprised to see that this happened to be a small shop. I asked the owner if I could get some warm water to which he happily agreed.  I also decided to buy some packets of sweets for the children in Rabek. I bought 3 packets of sweets at Rs 80/- per packet which we normally get for Rs 40/- per packet back in Darjeeling.  I understood how difficult it would have been for the owner of the shop to get the sweets here.

We bid the shopkeeper good bye as he told us to be careful of the slope and falling boulders. On our way I started to pray silently and tried my best to show that I was not scared and willing to take this challenge but I am sure my other two friends Mr. Pius Tamang and Ravi Rai knew of my real feelings.

As we paved our way through the jungle,  my left foot started to ache  and hurt. Now it was difficult for me to move downhill as I was not able to bend my left leg. On the way we saw huge cracks in the ground which was approximately 1 ft wide and this crack ran across the hill. It was still raining and rainwater was getting inside the crack. I was scared of  landslides which could occur anytime.

Many times, Mr. Pius Tamang, who was with me stopped suddenly and told me to listen carefully. It was raining and foggy too so nothing could be seen .  But yes, I could hear rumbling sounds of stones rolling and he told me that landslides were taking place. We realized to our surprise that we were near a landslide and yes indeed, stones were rolling down the hill. I wanted to shoot with my camera but I thought it would be safer if I  put the camera inside the bag and waited for the stones to stop. Then I ran across without looking anywhere and we managed to reach across the slide safely.

On reaching Rabek we started meeting the victims and assessing the the damage. Only a few  houses which fully damaged and most of the houses were damaged partially. The fear of rolling boulders were expressed by everyone in the village.The area where they were staying needed serious thought as due to the earthquake the soil had become loose and  the continuous rain  was causing landslides.  Throughout the area we witnessed huge cracks which was very dangerous. At one point we reached a certain height and on looking down I could see some houses which we had visited earlier. I also notice that we were on top of a landslide and there were huge boulders which were very dangerously placed. At any time it looked ready to fall and there were houses below. Every villager to whom we spoke had only one grudge that no one came to this village to inquire about anything.

On my way to Kagey I had spoken to Ms. Diki Bhutia (Magistrate) in charge of disaster management in Kalimpong. I was informed that they had made 7 relief camps in Blahukhop but no camps were made in Kalimpong 2 area.

After observing the area and accessing the damage I  felt that a government relief camp would have benefited the people there .

Just imagine a place which is a good 2 hrs 30 min walk to the nearest motorable road. There is no electricity in this area, no primary school, no ICDS facility,no health centre and an acute water problem during winters.

As the day was coming to an end ,we decided to meet at one location and call all the remaining villagers there. As we reached the meeting place there were around 50  to 60 villagers waiting for us. Firstly they thanked MARG for visiting them and told us that never had any one come from the government or any organisation to inquire about them; even before the earthquake. They specifically told that our visit was historical and was very important, I could sense that they wanted me to be their window so that the world could know that there existed a village named Rabek.

Afterwards,we bid goodbye to the villagers and started our uphill hike. By then my left foot had already started hurting seriously, but I dragged my self through. At certain points Mr Pius and Mr. Ravi had to hold me. After a long tiring hike,we reached Maria Busty at 7:30 pm and we realized that we had walked for almost fourteen and half hours.  Maria Basti which I always regarded as a  rural and a backward place was heaven to me.  As we arrived Father Paul Rai was waiting for us. I sat down on the verandah and removed my boots and found that there were around 12 leeches swollen with my blood. I felt it was a good blood donation camp.

Though the journey was very dangerous and tiring, I discovered this beautiful village named RABEK. I am sure many people living in Kalimpong area are also not aware of this village. I wanted to see this place with my own eyes and tell my friends about the hardships faced by the people here.  MARG has lived up to its motto of ‘Igniting Smiles’ by this visit and in the days to come MARG is going ahead with  fund raising for the people of Maria Basti area  and Rabek who have been hit by the recent trecherous earthquake.

We may not be able to build houses, but a small support like a bag of cement or a tin roof of 3’x6’ would make a lot of difference to the people there. I request all my friends, sponsors and well wishers to donate generously for this noble cause and lend a helping hand to another fellowbeing less fortunate than us.

MARG is going ahead with FUND collection for the earthquake victim in RABEK VILLAGE and Kalimpong 2 area villages. MARG will provide 80G certificates to the donors.

 Please send in your contribution in the form of DD/Cheques in favour of  MANKIND IN ACTION FOR RURAL GROWTH at the following address.

Nirnay John Chettri
14/B, Dali fatak,
Darjeeling – 734101
West Bengal, India
Phone: 9434811016

When we gear up to  celebrate Dussara, Diwali, Christmas and New year with our loved ones lets us remember in remote villages where the earthquake hit some  were unfortunate and lost their loved ones and their life will never be the same again. Can’t we do something for them? Join with MARG and SUPPORT us to Ignite their SMILES.




1.     Mankind in Action for Rural Growth (MARG)                Rs 5000/-
2.     Ms. Renuka Pradhan, Darjeeling                                Rs 1000/-
3.     Ms. Sharon Gyamtsho, Darjeeling                             Rs 1500/-
4.     Ms. Utkrishtha Chettri, Darjeeling                              Rs 1000/-
5.     Ms. Prem Lata Pradhan, Darjeeling                             Rs   500/-
6.     Ms. Rebecca Chettri, New Delhi                                  Rs 5000/-
7.     Mr. Bipin Chettri, New Delhi                                       Rs 2000/-
9.     Mr. Bhushan Rai, Mangpoo                                        Rs 2800/-
10.   Dr. Basheerhamad Shadrach, New Delhi                      Rs 5000/-

                                                     TOTAL      Rs 23,800/-

R1  R2

R3  R4

R5  R6


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