Adios ‘2018

Few more days to go before 2019 walks in and it’s goodbye 2018. It has become customary to think of what has gone by and what better way to live the new year. The past year has been an absolute roller coaster. As far as memory goes, no other year has shaken me up with joys as well as absolute disasters like 2018. Peaks and valleys in both personal and professional fronts rocked our daily lives—sometimes the same day. I can go on and on and on…..

Despite all the drama, I managed to reach my reading challenge of a meagre 25 books through the whole year. And it so happens that one of the last books I read was “Sikkim: requiem for a Himalayan kingdom”. This was triggered by a recent trip to Sikkim and surprising revelations about the state.

On our first day in Sikkim, as we drove through the mountain roads, our driver guide casually said, “Please ask me whatever you want about Sikkim, including its history.” I thought for a while and wondered every Indian state has a similar history for the last two centuries since the British took over every nook and corner of the country. So what’s so different about Sikkim. May be he sensed my ignorance and summarised the history in one line. “We became the 22nd state of India in 1975. Until then we were a separate Buddhist kingdom.” My jaws dropped. How did I not know such an important part of our country’s history.

This is why the book by Andrew Duff ended up in my reading list. It took me a whole month to read through the book but at the end, I realised the Chogyal of Sikkim went through highs and lows throughout his life for his dream of an independent Sikkim which in any case came crashing down before he died. People came and went in his life—some in support and some against. Yet all along he stood to defend his unwavering love for his kingdom and to safeguard their interests. He might have been stubborn to an irrational degree but lived his life for his passion, dreams and belief. And taught an extremely important lesson to everybody—no amount of time spent chasing your dreams is enough and there is no guarantee of dreams coming true. But that’s the only way I would like to live my life.

A great earthquake overdue in the central Himalaya

February 12, 2015

A team of scientists have been digging deeper into the central Himalayas, only to discover a previous pulse of great earthquakes followed by a long quiet period since the last great earthquake under the huge layers of rock and soil within those mountains.

The earth’s crust is broken into distinct regions, called “tectonic plates”. It is well known that Himalayas are the result of converging continental tectonic plates. There is an ongoing northward movement of the Indian plate towards Tibet at the rate of 20±3 mm/year and the southern part of Tibet that interfaces with India is absorbing about 80% of this convergence. This means that these regions are accumulating a large amount of strain, which they release in the form of great earthquakes (greater than magnitude 8).

The central Himalaya is considered to be historically a “seismic gap”..In the past centuries, only two earthquakes have occurred in this region whose magnitudes weren’t enough to release the strain that is building within the plates. So, are we missing some great earthquakes that occurred sometime in the past?

The excavation sites near Ramnagar in Central Himalaya suggested that there have been successive occurrences of two great earthquakes in the region in 13th and 14th centuries AD but none since then. It means that the strain is accumulating and the region is currently locked, only to get released anytime in a great earthquake. Longer the relapse time since the last earthquake, larger will the expected dimensions of the potential future slip and greater would be its damage potential.

A great earthquake in the central Himalaya will be most devastating and damaging for a wide swath of Gangetic plains of north India and the Himalayan hills. Mitigation of damage from future earthquakes is based on hazard scenarios developed from earthquake history; geological evidence from past earthquakes is an essential component in probabilistic seismic hazard assessment models. This study helps to fill that important gap in data for the earthquake history of the central Himalaya, a region, which several previous studies have postulated to be ready for a great earthquake.

Further work in the area is required to refine the results and tectonic models to understand the rupture segmentations along the arc. Dr. Rajendran said, “All the major cities in the region need to get ready for this major hazard, which is going to be economically and otherwise most devastating, as the risk has increased multifold over the centuries due to population increase and expansion of built environment. From the Government level serious thinking should go into evolving effective methods to meet such eventualities. Effective hazard reduction models may be available from the western United States and Japan. Urgent action plan should be put in place for public awareness and enforcement of building codes and related environmental laws – important hazard reduction steps in the current context of expanding urban centres with high-rise buildings. Heritage structures and monuments and the critical facilities in the region require reinforcement and retrofitting to withstand severe ground shaking”.

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