Landslides in Udayagiri, Kodagu, Karnataka.  / Photo: Deepa Bhasthi
Landslides in Udayagiri, Kodagu, Karnataka. / Photo: Deepa Bhasthi

The waiting game in Kodagu

On the August 2018 floods that devastated the coffee country in Karnataka.

In mid-August 2018, people in far-flung villages of Kodagu – a district of 554,000 in Karnataka – reported hearing a sound they described as the explosion of a bomb or a cloud burst, perhaps the rumble of an earthquake – like earth's anger, something bursting at its seams. None of these had ever occurred in the district before; all people had for the analogies were things they had read or seen in news from elsewhere. The consensus, however, was that it was a sound that they would never be able to properly describe. What happened in those hours between 15 and 18 August, would wipe entire villages off the map, give birth to new rivers, change courses of old rivers, obliterate land and hearths, and mark lives forever.

Around the time that national and global attention was turning towards the unprecedented devastation caused by floods in Kerala in southern India, across the border in neighbouring Kodagu, traditionally known as coffee country, it started raining very heavily. Situated in the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats – a mountain range that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most biodiverse spots in the world – Kodagu sees heavy rains during the monsoon. But this year, after drought-like conditions for three preceding years, the rains lashed and left behind a frightening trail of destruction the likes of which no one in the district had heard of or seen in living memory. The loud boom that people heard was the sound of mountains caving in, of landslips along stretches up to seven kilometres long that buried entire villages under earth, and of rivers that gushed out from below the surface of what once used to be flat coffee plantations, sweeping away people, animals, houses and futures.

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Himal Southasian