My Earthquake Experience in Darjeeling: I Survived

On 25th April 2015, Nepal was hit by an 8.1 magnitude earthquake killing nearly 9000 people and injured nearly 22,000. It was the worst in about 8 decades and caused damage of $10 billion. And the aftershocks continued for about 4 weeks. The earthquake was not localized to Nepal, it also affected parts of India, China, and Bangladesh. And the Aftershocks of the earthquake found its way down into Darjeeling. “And on 25th April 2015, I was in Kolkata, West Bengal, India for my vacations on way to Darjeeling and then Sikkim”. This is the story of my earthquake experience at a night in my hotel room in Darjeeling.

Okay, so I am writing this in May of 2019, about 4 years after it happened so I’ll try to be as accurate as possible of the things that happened. Well, I remember everything, like one, cannot forget such an incident.

Reaching Kolkata

So we, we as in me, my mom, and her friends family, a total of 6 people reached Kolkata early in the morning by train. The next train was late in the night. So we had a whole day to travel around the city. We kept our luggage in an IRCTC room at Howrah station that we took for a day, and these rooms are really good and then booked a car that took us around the city. And the view from that room, all these beautiful ambassador taxis, all yellow perfectly lined up.

Yellow ambassador taxis from howrah station in kolkata.

A Day In Kolkata

So we went to Victoria Palace, a science exhibit kinda thing, then to the famous temple in Kolkata, hope I am not wrong about this, Kalighat Kali Temple. So we went there, there was this huge line and I am an atheist. We bailed out after a while, we just lost our patience. We just were looking around the shops buying some stuff when it felt like something happened, it just didn’t felt right.

Victoria palace in kolkata when we spent one day in kolkata.

So what happened was a breeze came out of nowhere, like it was calm but this wind came and the ground also shook a little bit, but we just didn’t feel it. But then the things over street-side shops feel down, it kinda felt like it was because of the wind. And that’s what everyone thought no one had a bit of an idea what just happened, this very incident took place at the same moment the earthquake hit Nepal and destroyed Kathmandu. But this is not it like seriously this is not the earthquake experience I am talking about. Because we didn’t even know it was an earthquake, the real story lies ahead so keep on reading. So after that, we went for some shopping ate some really good street food. And we’re off to station to catch the train for our next destination.

Reaching Siliguri

So our next destination was Siliguri we reached there by train in the morning, don’t know what time. Then came out and booked a cab for Darjeeling from local travel agencies outside the station. They were like overcharging us but we came to a fair price and were on our way to Darjeeling.

Reaching Darjeeling

So before reaching Darjeeling, we had a few stops in the way. First, we stopped at a little shop to eat chowmin, which is just noodles in away. The best part was that the owner, she told us to come behind the shop, the shop was at a roadside and there was a valley behind the shop. She told us behind her shop it is officially Nepal.

Like literally we stepped into Nepal just like that, because of its an open border between India and Nepal. Next stop was Mirik Lake, this place is gonna come up again. We spent some time there and then continued on our way to Darjeeling, at that moment everything was fine.

We spent the first day there good, the fun fact no one was talking about the earthquake in Nepal, it was like nothing happened but the other day, it came. Till now we had no idea that we will be experiencing an earthquake here in Darjeeling.

The Hotel in Darjeeling

So our hotel was at the roadside, and all buildings there are like hanging on the cliffside. And the second floor of the building was at road level and the first and ground floor below. And also the construction was weak, they were like single brick layered structures. Our room had a balcony through which we could see the whole city down the hill and the valley. I even clicked this photo in that balcony.

The balcony of our hotel room in Darjeeling which was hit by earthquake.

The view from the balcony was great. I didn’t have a that great of a camera back then, this is shot on my old phone.

The view of the valley in Darjeeling from my hotel few minutes before the earthquake

The Earthquake came out of nowhere

We were travelling the whole day, reached the hotel in the evening. Me and my Mom we were watching TV just sleeping on the bed. We were just relaxing not knowing what was about to come. And the Aftershock came, and it rocked the whole city. The entire Hotel was shaking like the building will fall any minute.

And at that moment I and my mom didn’t even say a word, we just looked at each other and just ran out of the hotel. We left everything inside, we didn’t even think we should take this or that we just ran out on the road. It is at these moments when that survival instinct snaps in you.

Now, this was us me and my mom, but my mom’s friend and his family were also there. My mom’s friend, his wife, daughter were in the room. But their son, he was in the bathroom. And… I mean it is not funny but the door was just not opening. He just couldn’t open the latch from inside and the building was shaking. Luckily the door opened. He didn’t even have time to wear his pants he just pulled his sweater down and ran outside.

It was one hell of an experience, I never thought I will be experiencing an Earthquake, that too in Darjeeling. It was frightening, confusing, all the mixed feelings. I know that when an Earthquake is hit you should not run out. One should find cover and stay put. But as I told, the hotel and all the buildings in Darjeeling were like, they were built on a cliff. So I am gonna take my chances running out for safety than staying put.

The decision to move ahead with the Trip and go to Pelling

Everyone was safe, no one was hurt, That night we went out, the whole city was out on the streets, had food. And that topic came like we should turn back cancel our trip in the middle and head back to Mumbai ASAP. We were having calls from our families back in the city to turn back. But it would have been madness to turn back because that thought would have come in everybody’s mind and everyone would be on their way back. The worst possible case, we might reach Siliguri but would be stuck there because of no trains. So we turn by turn stayed up that night in our rooms. And took the best decision next day to move forward to Pelling, and we would have really regretted if we didn’t go to Pelling.

That day we also got the news that the lake that we had visited on our way up, Mirik Lake it was also hit by an aftershock and it was completely destroyed, houses fell down, there were injuries. Don’t know about casualties there. But the locals assured us Pelling is safe, and it was. The best part we were in the offseason so there was not much tourist there. So it was just so peaceful. And from our hotel window, we could see the Kanchenjunga range, it was so beautiful. Only if I would have at least had a good phone to click, I had Karbon A2 +, don’t even google it, its as bad a phone can get and I was not even into photography back then.

Rest of the Trip went really well

From there we continued to Gangtok, Sikkim went to Nathula pass, Tiger hill, and few other places, completed our trip and were on our way back to Mumbai. On our way back on the train, I ordered a new phone which had a decent camera, Moto E2, which started my Instagram and all the things that followed.

After reaching back and seeing all the news and seeing the devastation the earthquake caused in Nepal, I can only say we’re just so lucky to come home safe and sound. And also I can say now that I experienced an earthquake first hand now.