When I arrived in Leh, I was ill with altitude sickness, so it came as no surprise when Raj, the man at our guesthouse who nursed me better, suggested a trial hike before committing to be our Himalayan trekking guide days later.
On out sample hike he took us over a mountain to the neighboring village of Saboo. With packed lunches we set out to test our resistance to the altitude. We were fine and enjoyed a lovely picnic, but on the way we witnessed the damage of the monsoon of 2010.
Leh and the surrounding area is technically a desert and according to Lonely Planet, it receives less than 11cm of precipitation a year. Last year, however, in 22 minutes more rain came than had fallen accumulatively over the past decade. Major flooding followed with many casualties, but by the next day the ground was again bone dry.
The news casters quoted fatalities around 300, but our guide emphasized to us that in reality closer to 1400 people died, if you accounted for the deaths in the surrounding villages and those who were not Indian residents of Leh, such as the many Nepalese immigrants and hill people.
In Saboo a large empty riverbed runs through the middle of the town. Raj had not been there since the flood and when he illustrated a before picture to us we joined him in speechless dismay. Trees, homes, fields and roads had been wiped out and in their place was sediment and rocks in a newly formed canyon. Days later, on our 10 day trek of Markah valley, Raj continues to point out the destruction the unexpected monsoon has caused. This serves as a constant reminder of how difficult it is to live at altitude where the weather has such an incredible influence on daily living.