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Flood Panic sets in Surat

The Tapti licks the Adajan-Hazira Road; the white visible through the trees is the main river body(10 a.m)

The Tapti licks the Adajan-Hazira Road; the white visible through the trees is the main river body(10 a.m)

It is 5.30 a.m when suddenly the phone rings, waking me. I do not pick up on the first call believing it to be a false call as my name is alphabetically usually at the top of the phone-book. However, the caller is insistent;he calls again. I pick up.

“It is flooding in Surat. If you want to run to Baroda to your relatives, you still can.”

“Are you serious?” I ask, as there have already been two flood scares this year.

” Shop-owners have already started started shifting their stuff elsewhere.I have personally shifted stuff for two houses.” This makes me sit upright on my bed.

This sets my pulse racing. I live in Adajan which is low lying as compared to the rest of the city and the river is just two and a half kilometres from my home. The duplex house I am living in had gone underwater in 2006. If a flood actually came, I would have to shift all my stuff downstairs to the first floor, and it is a lot of stuff I am talking of.

I decide to go on a reconnaissance mission immediately to the Tapti. I wear my raincoat as it is still raining like it did all day yesterday.

The signs of unrest are clear almost immediately. The milk booth has 30 people standing in front of it. Traffic seems unusually high at 6 in the morning.  A hundred metres ahead, there is a mini traffic jam with all vehicles queuing up behind each other. Coming closer, I realize, the vehicles have been purposefully lined up in front of the closed petrol pump so that they can tank up as soon as the pump opens in the morning ( it is still dark outside).

The newly built flyover is littered with vehicles left on it in the night by people who got the news early.It has now been closed by the police. I continue onwards to the bridge; I decide to go to the ‘Makai Pul’ which is the lowest bridge among the river bridges of Surat. The sight is overwhelming. Two days ago, the river was a narrow strip in the centre of the bridge and most of the massive river bank was just black mud pockmarked in portions by rain water. Now, there was only water from end to end with the religious sites at the river banks already under water. The river water is moving underneath at a frightening pace, one that brings to mind the Ganga of Haridwar.

I have uploaded a brief video at Youtube of the water flowing at Makai Pul at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzPOK_QT2bQ (pardon the video quality, it was taken by a basic phone)

The bridge to the other side to of the city is still not affected that much by traffic but jams occur nonetheless as Surti public, true to its kind, is motoring on the ‘wrong side’ on the bridge after witnessing the spectacle of the overflowing river. Making the long U turn is something they simply cannot do( there is something in the Surti air I guess).

An ambulance stands in the water below Sradar Bridge at 0930 hrs

An ambulance stands in the water below Sradar Bridge at 0930 hrs

The road parallel to the river I travelled through at 6:30 am is fully flooded at 0930 hrs

The road parallel to the river I travelled through at 6:30 am is fully flooded at 0930 hrs

A man drags his Activa through the water;nothing unusual for him as this road gets flooded almost every year

A man drags his Activa through the water;nothing unusual for him as this road gets flooded almost every year

I am unable to make the return on the same road on the way back as it has been blocked due to excessive traffic. I thus use the road running parallel to the river.  I keep to the right side of the road as water is pouring onto the road on the left. At current speed, this road will be unmotorable within two hours (the pics show this road. it is called the Bapu Nagar Road)

As I return home at 6:45, I find that the kilometres long traffic jam has begun and milk booths have run out supplies. Neighbours ask me whether I have enough stock of food. Fortunately, I have enough food to survive for several weeks.I curse myself for not filling up additional water yesterday from the municipal supply. I set my mobile immediately on the charger.

Local news reports that around 5 lakh cusecs have been released. This is a lot more than the 2.5 lakh cusec releases that had created the earlier scares of this year or the minor flood of 2012 in which water had entered the city through the gutter. This time, the river itself was entering the city.

One line from the Lord of The Rings:Two Towers seems pertinent: “So it begins.”

Update 10 a.m: I do another hour long reconnaissance. The situation is now truly alarming. Water has flooded Hazira Road in Adajan and the parallel road i talked of earlier has indeed gone underwater 3 hours ago. The river has moved inwards by around half a kilometre from its banks in all areas.

Water situation at 9:45 a.m near Morarji Desai garden, Adajan;  People can be seen carrying gas cylinders

Water situation at 9:45 a.m near Morarji Desai garden, Adajan; People can be seen carrying gas cylinders

Vehicles in houses near the river are standing in water. Police have cut off traffic to major bridges leading to the Adajan area of Surat becoming almost cut off. Many provision shops have run out of supplies.

Adajan Hazira Road: Further along the road, the river had completely overflown the road and I had to wade my cycle across to get home

Adajan Hazira Road: Further along the road, the river had completely overflown the road and I had to wade my cycle across to get home

Let’s hope electricity lasts.

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Cycling Diaries: Surat

I have spent over 10 months now in Surat and undoubtedly, the diamond city is the most cycle friendly city in India that I have seen thus far. Here, the folks actually have a cycling culture. One would be hard pressed to find as many Hero Hawks and BSA Machs in any other city. Not only do kids cycle to school, a fairly good percentage of them use road bikes instead of the ubiquitous MTBS/ATBs (mountain/all terrain bikes) that go for popular cycles in this country. The city has a cycling group and several retailers of high quality cycles including imported ones. The presence of such fellow cyclists indubitably makes for a better riding experience.

My Firefox Road Pro 2200

My Firefox Road Pro 2200

It is not as if Surat has more sports lovers than other places. The phenomenon is more likely due to the awfully good roads. The sheer quality and width of the roads is so inspirational that within five days of landing here, I went ahead and bought a Firefox Road Pro 2200, complete with a headlight, blinkers and a speedometer confident that if the machine was built for any Indian city, it was built for Surat. The city road infrastructure is growing at such breakneck speed that in just 10 months of my being here, one flyover and one bridge have been constructed from scratch and several are nearing completion.  The roads are mostly pothole free and extremely wide so that road space is not an issue.

The Sardar bridge sits over the Tapti river:one of five bridges In Surat (one is under construction)

The Sardar bridge sits over the Tapti river:one of five bridges In Surat (one is under construction)

Traffic Sense (or the absence of it)

In other cities, people work in contravention of traffic rules; they take pleasure in breaking them and getting away with it. Surat isn’t one of those cities. It is a city in which people simply have not heard of traffic rules. They may know the very obvious ones like, stop when a policeman blows a whistle or, reverse your motorcycle when you see challan-slip wielding cops and you obviously do not have a helmet on, but they have no idea about concepts like right of road or the free left turn or wrong and right sides of the road. They simply do not know. So I have seen sights like a huge bus coming down the wrong side of a main road at 50 kmph at 10 o clock in the night or motorcycles standing at right angles to traffic direction at red lights or vehicles stopping in the middle of the road at main traffic circles and consulting for directions.

Cycle’s Mileage

Moving back to cycling, recently, I managed to measure something you folks might have never thought was measurable. It was an unintended consequence of my cycling expedition to purchase some merchandise, I ended up calculating the mileage of my cycle! For 25 km, I had to tank up twice on Mousambi  juice drinking three glasses of 300 ml each. At Rs 20 a glass it is about Rs. 67 per litre, same price as petrol! 25 km per litre of Mousambi* does not seem good as compared to 55 kmpl on a motorcycle guzzling on petrol. Next week, I am gonna experiment with a different juice.

*Disclaimer: Performance is contingent on the user, traffic, temperature, humidity and sugar content of the juice.