The owner of an award-winning restaurant in Ballater destroyed during the flood has vowed to rebuild, and come back better than ever before.
Chef Raj had just finished an unbelievably successful year with India on the Green, making history by becoming the first Indian restaurant nominated for the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards, and winning the Chef of the Year category in the UK-wide Asian Curry Awards.
But Raj closed up and went home the night before the flooding started, only to be woken up the next day by a phone call telling him there were boats outside its front door.
He went in the next day to find his restaurant was three feet under water.
“When I went in to start cleaning up it was completely destroyed,” he said.
“I saw the fridges and equipment floating past the tables and chairs.
“Now every time I walk through the door, it’s just heartbreaking. I spent two years building this restaurant up and establishing its reputation, and just at its highest point, it’s been taken away from me.
“My staff are helping me clean up, though they don’t have to, but they’re nice people. And I’ll use my contacts in the industry to help get them new jobs, and if worst comes to worst they’ll just come and stay at my house for a bit.”
Raj is no stranger to flooding, originally being from the low-lying Bangladesh. He was visiting his homeland when the 2004 flooding which covered half the country struck.
“What happened here is awful,” he said, “but here in the first world, this is just a taste of how bad flooding can be.
“A few hundred houses were taken in Ballater, but in Bangladesh whole villages can disappear in a single night.
“This is a bad time for Ballater, but hardship makes people stronger. Ballater will come through this a stronger community.”
The damage to India on the Green is in the tens of thousands - the carpets, equipment and drinks selection have all been savaged - and though re-opening is estimated to be around four months away, Raj is already thinking about the future of the business.
He said: “The bottom line is that I want to get India on the Green back up and running as soon as possible.
“I want us to come back better than ever before and make Ballater proud.”
He received a hand-written letter of sympathy from Prince Charles and a bottle of slow gin, and is now planning a grand re-opening to which the Prince is openly invited.
Raj added: “Ultimately, this needs perspective. It’s just my business that’s been affected. My heart and thoughts go out to all the people who have lost their homes.”