Earthquake comes without a warning and when it comes, it shakes the entire shit out of you especially with the knowledge deeply imbedded into our brain by science that Bhutan is within the active seismic zone. Even the slightest trembling of the Earth a few days back sent many of us into panic and forced us out of our houses. The tremors recently felt in Bhutan was nothing compared to what we experienced in 2011. The earthquake that shook Bhutan on 18th September 2011 was the strongest shock I have ever experienced in my life so far, but the memory of how I instinctively reacted to it still makes me giggle sometimes.
On 18th September 2011, I and two of my other visually impaired friends were on our way to Dhaka, Bangladesh to attend the 1st ever South-Asian Disability Forum but due to bad weather, our plane could not take off. We waited at Paro International Airport the whole day hoping that the weather conditions would return to normalcy. We were even served our in-flight meals at the airport itself and patiently continued to wait for our plane to take off. We were booked for the ATR aircraft which supposedly needed clearer weather to take off than the other airbus fleet. However after waiting for the entire day, the announcement finally came at around 5 pm that our flight was cancelled and that we would be flown to Dhaka the next morning in the Airbus aircraft. Those of us who had come from Thimphu were kept in a resort at the expense of Druk Air. One of my friends was living in Paro and he went back to his house. But two of us who had gone from Thimphu were kept in Tenzinling Resort. We were escorted there in a Druk Air bus and we were left in our room.
I was just exploring the room when the earthquake struck. It was about 7:30 pm. My friend was on the phone with his wife informing her how our flight got cancelled and where we were kept for the night. “Earthquake! Earthquake!” he shouted and frantically started looking for the door. Both of us are totally blind and we hadn’t even finished exploring the entire room. We weren’t even sure where the door was. As the house began to shake violently, I became worried if the ceiling would give way and fall on us. So I began to look for something I could hide underneath. I soon came across a bed but when I tried to put my head underneath, I found out that it was an enclosed bed. There was no way I could squeeze myself under it. Then when I turned around, I found a small dining table. I tried to squeeze my head under it, but once again to my disappointment, the table was partitioned with a large divider from beneath. So I could put my head only half-way through. Nevertheless, I remained there with only my head hidden under the table hoping that I might be able to save at least my head. Meanwhile, my friend had managed to locate the door and he invited me to come to the door. I knew there was no protection at the door but my friend stood there just clinging on the traditional belief that the door-frame would not easily fall down. I refused to pull back my head from underneath the small table thinking I was safer there than standing vulnerably at the door just chanting some Mantras. There was no way we could rush out and run to safety as we were very new to the whole environment and we had no sighted people around to help us. But to our luck, the trembling finally subsided and we breathed a huge sigh of relief. The next ordeal was to reach out to our family in Thimphu to find out if everything was fine with them. The mobile networks had broken down and only TashiCell seemed to work but the network was very poor. After several frantic attempts, we could finally talk to our wife and children and we were relieved to find out they were still fine. That was the most traumatic experience of my life. After an anxious night at Tenzinling Resort, we safely flew to Dhaka the next day. Despite going through that horrifying experience, we greatly enjoyed the hospitability of Druk Air.