About My Project...

As a kid every time I would cross a river in India, be it the Ganga or the Yamuna or any of their tributaries, I would have a feeling that the water levels of these rivers were receding... my heart would sink seeing the industrial pollutants making their way into these rivers...

On the contrary the feeling I would get seeing these rivers close to their origins… especially the Ganga in Rishikesh is indescribable… no pollution, no signs of water level depletion … so calm and so serene… the scent of freshness in the air…

I am documenting the life around river Ganga… the life as Ganga sees and feels it... the culture the river has supported for thousands of years, the people it has sustained over the centuries, and also the human interference it has suffered over the last one century or so...

Towards that I am following the river from its origins high up in the Himalayas all the way to where it merges with the Indian Ocean. All the while I am meeting with people who have been close to the river to narrate their feelings about the river, what they feel about the part Ganga has played in the Indian civilization and culture, what we human beings have done or could do or have not done to save this mighty river…

My final aim is to narrate the whole documentary as a multimedia and a book. I invite anyone and everyone to please help me with suggestions... critique... and hospitality. I would love to hear your suggestions and incorporate them into my project.

Note: The contents of this blog including the pictures are copyrighted and may not be copied or downloaded without prior permission of Rahul Rathi.
Disclaimer: This is a personal project of Rahul Rathi. He is not responsible for the accuracy of the contents here in and may not be sited as a reference without confirming the accuracy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Kahalgaon: Plight of the fishing community there!

Kahalgaon: Although I started my Bihar journey from Bhagalpur, but I am narrating my visit to Kahalgaon first and foremost. That is because it was in Kahalgaon I realized that this project of mine is much more than just a photographic journey. The plight of the fishing community in this town was heart-breaking
India used to have "zameendars" during the British occupation. [Zameen = Land; Dar = Owner/Lord]. In the state of Bihar the waters of river Ganga were also "owned" by "zameendars" and this system was termed "paanidari" [Paani = Water; Dar = Owner/Lord].

Although "zameendari" system was abolished by the Indian government in 1954, the "paanidari" system was not. It thrived for a long time, with "paanidars" holding onto waters of river Ganga and making the fishermen fish in those waters. But the catch however belonged to the "paanidars" and the fishermen were left with almost nothing. Plus they were taxed on top of that. [According to Tarun Kanti Bose, the Ganga was divided into two stretches between Sultanganj and Kahalgaon, each stretch belonging to one "zameendar", thus there were only two such "paanidars"].    

In 1982 the fishing community from the Kahalgaon area started a movement to get the "paanidari" system abolished. It was the Ganga Mukti Andolan [Save the Ganga Movement]. 

I am addressing the fishing community at the Ganga Mukti Andolan head-office in the town of Kahalgaon. After listening to their plight it was hard to concentrate on my photo expedition. I promised them I would try my best to get their situation known to the world. Photo: Subhasis Dey
The fishing community won their battle against the "paanidari" system in 1990, only to lose it again in 1991. This time to the government. The waters of river Ganga from Sultangnaj all the way up to Kahalgaon and beyond (areas bordering the state of West Bengal) were declared a sanctuary. As a result fishing was prohibited!

--to be continued--

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bihar - How I started

I went back to India in October of 2012 to move forward with my project. In my last trip I covered most of the Eastern UP. That part of UP was a little bit of an unfamiliar territory for me (but it still was the state where I grew up) and compared to that Bihar was a complete foreign land for me especially growing up and reading only negativity about the state in media. Still I was a little at ease as the language in Bihar is also Hindi.

I started my Bihar trip by jotting out places where I would be visiting, and other than Patna I hardly knew anything about the state. One of my good friends Atul Kumar Singh suggested Bhagalpur to me because of the Gangetic Dolphins. Upon googling the Gangetic Dolphins I came across the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary wikipedia site from where I came to know about Dr Sunil Chaudhary.

While still in the US I wrote an email to Dr Chaudhary and in less than 24 hours I heard back from him promising me all the help he and his team could provide me towards my project. That was a big relief for me for this would be my first time traveling all alone with all that expensive equipment. We exchanged several emails between my flying to India to taking the train to Bhagalpur and by the time of my final email Dr Chaudhary had planned my whole trip to the area.

The other place I decided to go was Munger, mainly because of the Bihar School of Yoga and then its notoriety for illegal manufacturing of guns. While at Meerut in India I was trying to find out a place to stay at Munger and came across Munger District's facebook page! My first impression was that it was started my some local person. Nevertheless, I wrote a message through the facebook page. To my utter surprise I got a reply back in less than 30 minutes. And again by the time our conversation was over in about an hour with messages going to and fro I had a place to stay in Munger too. My host would be Mr Rajesh, Deputy Collector - Banking, and I would be staying at the circuit house (guest house for government officials). Later I came to know that the person I was exchanging messages with was the District Magistrate of Munger District.

Then of course was Patna. Thanks to several of my friends Neeraj Sharma bhaiya, Kumar Rahul, Praveen Bahl and Neeraj Nath who helped me out. I could not decide where to stay till the day I was in Patna (I eventually stayed at SBI guest house arranged by Neeraj Nath, not far from the Ganga river and the railway station).

So this was how my journey to Bihar began, planning at the very last moment but everything getting materialized!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dalmau, where Holi is celebrated 3 days later!

Dalmau, is a small town situated on the banks of river Ganga located not far from Kanpur. It's true... the festival of Holi (Badi Holi or Khelne waali Holi) is celebrated 3 days after the actual date, although the Chhoti Holi - that falls a day before the main Holi (Badi Holi) is celebrated the same day as rest of the world where ever Holi is celebrated.

This is because, some 600 years ago, the founder of the town of Dalmau - Raja Dal Deo - was murdered on the day of Holi by Sultan Ibrahim Sharqi. Dal Deo had fallen in love with Salma, daughter of Baba Haji - a minister of Sharqi's, and had asked for her hand. This was not acceptable to Baba Haji nor to the Sultan who then attacked Dalmau on Holi and beheaded Raja Dal Deo who was in the state of festivity.

To commamorate his death people of Dalmau celebrate Holi 3 days after the actual date of the festival.

Dalmau is also famous for being the work place of Surya Kant Tripathi "Nirala", famous Indian Writer and Poet. Although born in Unnao he worked mainly in Dalmau which was his wife's hometown too.

OK, history aside, what is Dalmau like right now? As expected the fort of Dalmau is in complete ruins. Part of it is being used by the irrigation department of Uttar Pradesh government as a guest house. It's a pitty that nothing remains of the fort although locals still refer to the almost non existent ruins as "killa" or fort.

The ghats on the banks of river Ganga, said to have built by Raja Tikait Rai in the 18th century, are a piece of marvel, still intact pretty much, but as expected not clean. No caretaker could be seen around and only a few pilgrims or locals could be noticed. The ghats also lacked a good road link from the main road which was only a couple of kilometers away. I hope these ghats remain intact till some government can think about them and get them cleaned and well taken care of. On the contrary all around the Dalmau area, there were big colleges and schools being constructed, apparently by those close to the present chief minister of Uttar Pradesh ...  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lord Brahma idol ... there is one in Garh Mukteswar too!

I, like many others, always thought there was only one temple dedicated to Lord Brahma - creator of universe - in the world, and that was in Pushkar in the Indian state of Rajasthan. But when I searched over the Internet I found out there were other places that had Lord Brahma temples or idols (Wikipedia). However, no where is it mentioned that there is one Lord Brahma idol also in Garh Mukteswar.

This idol is adjacent to the Goddess Ganga temple. Lord Brahma's idol is placed here - as per the priest of the temple, Sri Anil Kumar Tiwari - because Goddess Ganga reveres Lord Brahma as her father. There are other beliefs about Ganga's birth, however, all declare her to be raised under the guardianship of Lord Brahma. The idol of Lord Brahma used to sit next to Goddess Ganga's idol but now it has been moved into a new room. The difference between this idol and the one in Pushkar is that this one is carved out of white stone and the idol is depicted as sitting, unlike in Pushkar where the idol is carved out of black stone and is standing.

There was a Sanskrit phrase written on the walls of the temple that translates into: One attains Nirvaan if s/he take a dip in the waters of river Ganga during months of Ashaad at Ganga Sagar (where Ganga merges with the Indian Ocean), during months of Kaartik at Garh Mukteswar, during months of Vaisaakh at Hardwar and during the months of Maagh at Allahabad (Link to Hindu Calendar).

There's also a Lord Ram temple in the vicinity. All these temples are situated up on a hill and there are 101 steps leading to the temples. There is a mysterious sound associated with these steps.  If one walks down the steps, the sound reverberating from the foots is that of pebbles thrown in a river or lake... amazing!! The sound can only be heard by someone standing on the top of the hill and not by the person walking down ... 

Another uncommon thing I noticed was the presence of the priestess (Smt Maheshwari Kaushik) and not a priest in the Lord Ram temple. She told me that her family has been taking care of the Lord Ram temple for last 18 generations. One can thus imagine how old the temple must be. One unique thing about the Lord Ram idol here is that its is carved out of a black stone, unlike any other Lord Ram idol one must have seen. There is another in Nasik in Maharashtra also in black stone.

The priest at the temple told us that till 1947 river Ganga was flowing just a few yards from the steps. However now it is not even visible even from the hill top. According to the priest there are plans towards bringing Ganga closer to the temple in the form of a men-made canal.

I asked him about the name Garh Mukteswar. Contrary to what others on the Brij Ghat told me - related to Garhwal rulers - he had a different but a more likely version. According to him the city was called Shiv Vallabhpur initially and then the name was changed to Gan Mukteeswar (Gan: People - here depicting followers of Lord Shiva; Muktee: Nirvaan; Iswar: Lord Shiva). It slowly changed to Garh Mukteswar. It is believed that it is the Mukeswar temple in Garh Mukteswar where Lord Shiva's followers were absolved of their sins and attained Nirvaan (Nirvana). Mukteswar Temple Nakka Kuan (नक्का कुवाँ)  - dedicated to Lord Shiva - is another famous temple in the city and is presently occupied and taken care of by the followers of Lord Shiva belonging to the Juna Akhara 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bhagirathi almost vanishes in Uttarkashi...

On our way back from Gangotri we stopped again in Uttarkashi... another holy town on the banks of river Bhagirathi. As the name suggests it is Kashi of the North (Uttar). The other Kashi is of course the Kashi of the East or of Plains which is Varanasi. Both these towns are situated on river Ganga (Bhaigirathi), and also on two other rivers which are called Varuna and Asi in both the towns, although they are not connected to each other. Both the towns have temples dedicated to Lord Shiva (Vishwanath). The Vishwanath temple in Uttarkashi has a huge trishool (trident) which is said to have been used by Lord Shiva to kill demon Vakasur. The priest there told us the meaning of "Kashi" as a place where ones sins get absolved.

All that aside, what really bothered me was a dam in Maneri on river Bhagirathi, one kilometer from Uttarkashi (going towards Gangotri). The dam literally brings Bhagirathi to a standstill, with water just trickling through one of the openings in the dam. The stretch following the dam and before water, post power production, is thrown back into the river through pipes, Bhagirathi is transformed into a tiny almost dry stream. For a moment I felt very disheartened seeing a breakage in the flow of Bhagirathi. Again the same debate crops up. Those who work and earn from the dam do not care a bit, but the religious people and the environmentalists feel these dams are meddling with faith and environment, respectively.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gangotri ... the first village that Bhagirathi touches ...

Gangotri is the first human settlement that Ganga (or Bhagirathi - the main tributary of Ganga) sees after originating at Gaumukh. Gangotri is nothing more than a stretch of some shops, mainly restaurants on top of which are hotels catering to the devotees and tourists (especially the tracking enthusiasts). It is famous also for the Ganga temple that was built in the 18th century by Amar Singh Thapa, a Gorkha general. Gangotri shuts down during winter months, and by shuts down I mean completely shuts down. Even electricity and water supply to the village are shut. People move down to nearby towns during these months and come back up again during summers, when the Ganga Temple and the Gangotri National Park reopen. 

The Ganga Temple closes on Diwali day every year and reopens in summers usually in April or May. When the temple is closed the idol of Goddess Ganga is said to be brought down to another Ganga temple in the village of Mukhba. This is what is written all over the internet and is perceived by most. However, the priest at the Ganga temple in Mukhba told me that it is not the whole idol that is brought down, but it is only the "mask" of Goddess Ganga. The mask then is placed inside a tiny chamber in the chest of the idol of Goddess Ganga in the temple in Mukhba. When the temple in Gangotri reopens, the mask is then taken back in big procession with all pomp and show.   

We (I and my brother Lt Rajul Rathi and our driver Naeem) headed towards Gangotri on May 10th. It is required that one gets a pass to enter the Gangotri National Park where Gaumukh glacier is situated. Towards that I had a meeting with District Forest Officer of the area - Dr IP Singh - in Uttarkashi, who would issue us a pass. Now a days it is only 150 visitors per day that are allowed into the national park to go to the Gaumukh glacier. This is to protect receding Himalayan glaciers from human activities, according to Dr Singh. And the passes can only be gotten at office of the forest officer in Uttarkashi- the district head quarters of the area. It was at the Forest Department guest house that we stayed overnight before heading to Gangotri the next morning.

Dr. Singh also briefed us about the actual situation on the glacier. It sure is melting, but on top of that it is getting dirty too, mainly due to plastic bags and other non-biodegradables left behind by trackers, especially westerners. An idea was implemented few years back to take a refundable deposit of Rs 100 ($2) per person before s/he enters the Gangotri National Park. This deposit would be refunded if the person brings back all the plastic bags s/he carries into the Park. Rs100 is a lot for many, but for a westerner it is not a substantial amount to worry about bringing back all the plastic bags... and many, if not most, don't.

We reached Gangotri around noon, it was raining... and cold...really cold it was. Headed directly to the forest departments guest house where we would be putting up for the night. And ... no electricity! no running water ... was told that we would not be able to get a guide to the glacier as the park was not officially open yet. The caretakers of the guest house were really nice...they offered us hot tea.

My plan to visit the Gaumukh glacier during this trip was cut short due to inclement weather (rain and sub zero temperature), and lack of electricity and running water in Gangotri. We were two days early before the Ganga temple, and thus the village of Gangotri, would open and supply of electricity and water to the area would resume. I decided that I would come back to Gaumukh later, and maybe also cover Tapovan then.

After staying in Gangotri for a few hours, visiting the Ganga Temple and collecting some holy water, we returned. What really interested me was that the color of Bhagirathi here at the origin were the same as that of river Ganga anywhere else - greenish. No wonder Bhaigirathi is the source river of Ganga.

After leaving Gangotri we made a night halt at Harsil. The weather was still terrible. It was very very cold and it was raining. Thanks to the Indian Army base at Harsil, we had a nice overnight stay ...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Banaras... city of Temples,

city of Ghats, city of narrow alleys, city of Saarees ...

I was in Varanasi (or Banaras) from 28th of April till the 1st of May. As I got off the train, the city did not look any different from any other city in India. Same rickshaws and auto-rickshaws (by Bajaj), same compact cars, bicycles, trucks, tthelas, and a crowd of people on foot. All trying to make their way ahead of everyone else.

There was something very different still... and that was the site of temple tops in almost every direction one could see... indeed - I said to myself - Varanasi is a city of Temples! It is the holiest city for the Hindus and also referred to as Kashi, meaning - a place where your sins get cleansed. Varanasi is also the seat of the holiest of twelve Jyotirlings (Jyoti: Light; Ling: Mark, thus Mark of Light) in India. It is believed that Lord Shiva first manifested himself as a Jyotirling before appearing in a physical form, thus the importance of a Jyotirling. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the Jyotirling in Varanasi. Vishwanath means the "ruler of the universe".     

The city and its dwellers are blessed, they say, and so are its visitors. Varanasi is to Hinduism as Mecca is to Islam, Jerusalem to Judaism and Bethlehem to Christianity. Religious Hindus from all over the world try to visit Varanasi at least once in their lifetime ... to be blessed...  or want their body to be brought for cremation here ... to attain moksha.  

The Ghats: Varanasi is situated on the western banks of the holy river Ganga, and all along the length of the city by the Ganga are the Ghats. There are in total 84 ghats and they are all lined adjacent to each other, and each of them has its own significance. Dasaashwamedh Ghat (Das: Ten; Ashwa: Horses; Medh: Sacrifice) is the main ghat in Varanasi. Every evening a prayer to Goddess Ganga (Ganga Aarti) is offered at many ghats, but the main aarti is at the Dasaashwamedh Ghat. Hundreds of devotees and tourists frequent the ghat  to witness the aarti. Adjacent to Dasaashwamedh Ghat is Dr Rajendra Prasad Ghat (named after the first President of India) and is equally popular for the evening aarti (pics 3 & 4).

Assi Ghat and the Westerners: I started my Varanasi tour on the banks of river Ganga at the Assi Ghat - one of the 84 ghats along the Ganga river in the city. What surprised me was the presence of several westerners relishing their morning tea on the ghat and chatting ... and many of them were speaking in Hindi. It was as if they were at home...

I hired a boat for the city tour on the Ganga. The boatman told me that these westerners actually live in Varanasi and many of them have been here for several years now. They have a locality of their own and they run their own schools for kids too... and many of them end up marrying local men and women to get Indian citizenship, and thus remain in India.

Swimming lessons in the Ganga: At two of the ghats I witnessed swimming lessons being given to young kids, under the watchful eyes of the coach and mothers of the kids. On being asked about swimming being taught in the polluted waters of the river... I got two different answers from two teachers. One said "Actually, we clean the area where we teach swimming and that the flowing waters make students tough and gives them more stamina"... and the second one asked me back "Where else?" Lack of any functional swimming pool in the city makes people look towards the Ganga. And why not... it's free to operate, there's is no infrastructure to maintain, and it's free running water. 

Narrow alley ways and the Banarasi Saree: If it was not for my boatman who also was my guide during my stay in Banaras, I would have been lost in the intricate cobweb of narrow alleys of Banaras along the Ganga. The alleys were really narrow, yet they were lined not only by shops on both sides, but also by doors that lead into big houses (pics 16, 19, 20), and even hotels (mine was situated in one of these alleys, and I was provided with a map of the alley ways, just in case I lost myself). Most people walked in and out of these alleys, but many used their two-wheelers too... What was amazing was the efficiency these narrow alley-ways were used without anyone hitting anyone else.

In these narrow alleys are also situated the factories of the famous Banarasi Saree. By looking at a saree, it cannot be imagined that these sarees are painstakingly hand-made usually by a single person (pic 8). No wonder the Banarasi Sarees are so expensive. A saree factory in this area is nothing more than a house with several rooms, each room being used - in one way or the other - for the production and shipping of sarees - and all very efficiently. A whole documentary can be made just on Banarasi Sarees.      

Life on the river Ganga: You come to Banaras, and you can see people living their life on the banks of river Ganga (pic 1), just like in most other towns situated along the river. They wake up, take a bath in the holy river (pics 6 & 14), they brush their teeth (pic 15), have their morning tea (pic 13), they play, they sleep, they just live their... Ganga brings some kind of peace into their lives. Ganga invigorates them... and for some reason, despite all the pollution in and around the river, I felt the same. I did not want to leave Banaras...

Death on the river Ganga: Religious Hindus want to die in the Holy city of Banaras, or at least want to be cremated here. It is believed that if one dies in this city or even if cremated here, attains moksha  or nirvana, meaning, liberation from the cycle of repeated death and rebirth (reincarnation).

That belief apart, I was told by my boatman/ guide that cremations run 24 hours in Banaras and is a multi-million dollar (or Rupees) business. And that this business of cremations is handled by one family - the family of the Doms. There is a palace on the river Ganga that actually belongs to one of the Doms.

The Raja Harishchandra Ghat and the Manikarnika Ghat are the two cremation grounds where the dead bodies are cremated. I was not allowed to take pictures at the Manikarnika ghat, probably because it holds a higher status amongst the two ghats.

The open air cremations in the area is a common site for localites, but for foreigners it's a very unfamiliar site. One can see several boats around the cremation areas full of foreigners who want to witness this uncommon or for some bizarre site. For the localites it's so common that children even swim near a body being cremated, clothes get washed on the adjacent ghat...

[I could not complete the city of Banaras during this trip and will be visiting this magnificent city again]

Monday, June 7, 2010

Published in Hindustan (National Daily in India)

My story has been published in Hindustan - a National Daily in India.

A correspondent from the daily came to know about my work. I was interviewed during my last trip to India and my story was published in the newspaper of May 26th, 2010.

The title reads "गंगा बचाने निकला एनआरआई भागीरथ" (An NRI Bhagirath* comes forward to save Ganga). *Bhagirath was the king who brought Ganga to earth from heaven, according to Hindu mythology. He was one of the forefathers of Lord Ram, of the epic Ramayana. And an NRI is a Non-Resident Indian.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The atomic power plant and the strewn idols of deities at Narora...

When Narora comes into any conversation... if it at all does... it's not Ganga that comes to mind...it's just the atomic power plant that one can think of. Ironically though the plant is situated on the banks of the Ganga itself and uses its waters to cool the reactors and to produce steam that in turn moves the turbines which eventually generates power...

So, Ganga not only produces hydro-power (dams) but also atomic-power. This power goes to the our houses enabling us to watch TV, run our refrigerators, coolers, ACs, fans...even charge our inverters. But why don't we think a little in depth? It's all because of the river Ganga that we are able to get this luxury called electrical power... and yet we are running from our responsibility to keep it clean...

I have a suggestion. Why doesn't the Atomic Power Plant at Narora sponsor the ghats at least in Narora. Or, why don't some private companies sponsor these religious places... they are making millions of dollars... they can definitely spare some change...

Lord Hanuman's broken idol lay on the banks of Ganga as a tractor gets a wash. 
In the far background is the Narora Nuclear Power Plant. 

What utterly surprised me in Narora was idols of deities... hundreds of them... strewn all along the bank of the river. The idols, big and small, all just lay there abandoned. Granted these idols were broken (Hindi: Khandit खंडित ; they say there is no God in broken idols), but why throw these idols as if they meant nothing to anyone at anytime. Believe me these idols, although khandit, seemed to have a soul, they seemed to ask why they were thrown there... as if begging to be taken back to their temples... aaaah!!! :(  

A beautiful example of religion and pollution...

[Please read the comment by Dr Swatantra Pidara]

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Further Plans... Maha Kumbh and back to science!!

I will be heading back to the waters of the Ganga in April 2010. This time I plan to cover the Maha Kumbh Mela at Haridwar, travel all the way up to Gaumukh (the glacier where Bhaigirathi the main source river of the Ganga originates) and then head back down along the Ganga to cities of Narora, Farukkhabad, Allahbad (Prayag) and Banaras. By the end of this trip I will have covered a little over half of my journey along the Ganga...

Considering my science background, my father, Dr YPS Rathi, a retired virologist, suggested me to test the quality of the Ganga waters at various places. So, I will be detecting the presence of the virus - Bacteriophage in the waters of the Ganga collected at various places during my journey. Talks are on to get some more scientists along who can help us measure other parameters to determine the quality of Ganga waters which would include Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), Fecal Coliform Bacteria, pH of the water, Total Suspended Solids (TSS), Oil and Grease, Heavy Metals etc.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Purity of Ganga water...

I did a small experiment myself... I had a bottle of Ganga water which my father collected around 6 years ago.  I never opened it. Two days ago I opened it... it looked very clear (no impurities at all)... I smelled it... no smell whatsoever... and I drank a spoonful (rather reluctantly)... and to my surprise it tasted like water from a fresh stream. Indeed the water of the Ganga is clean and pure...   

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Garh Mukteshwar...why do we blame the government only???

I reached Garh Mukteshwar on December 1st 2009. This was my last week in India for the trip. Garh Mukteshwar is a small town 100 or so km from Delhi and around 7 km from it is Brijghat where Ganga flows. The combined name of the place is derived probably from the Garhwal rulers of the area and the temple of Mukteshwar Mahadeva, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Garh in hindi also means a fort. The Mukteshwar Mahadeva temple was built by King Shivi, an ancestor of Lord Ram. There is also a famous Ganga Temple in Garh Mukeshwar. It has 101 steps which once upon a time led to the banks of the Ganga. That's when Ganga used to flow very close to the temple (now it flows a few kilometers away). Ganga after all changes its course every once in a while. (please view my other story on Garh Mukteswar for more information)

Brij ghat is a holy place for Hindus. Although it is not as big as other holy cities on the banks of the river Ganga, but since Haridwar and Rishikesh are now a part of Uttrakhand - the new state carved out of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) - the U.P. government is planing to invest a lot of money to develop Brij Ghat on the lines of other holy cities. Thousands of devotees come here to take the ritual bath in the river Ganga daily, and especially during the full moon day in the month of Kartik (called Kartik Purnima) of the Hindu calender (usually falling in the months of October and November by the Gregorian calender). During Dusherra too there is a big fair held here. 

A few years back it was reported in the Times of India that the area was becoming a sanctuary for wildlife with birds from Siberia seen and the fresh water dolphins spotted in the waters of the Ganga (Ref).

Slide Show (please use arrows to scroll)

As in most other holy towns or cities situated on the banks of the river Ganga, there is a cremation area (murda ghat) in Brijghat too where dead bodies are cremated in open air. People also come here to immerse the ashes of the dead who were cremated else where. The process of cremation is referred to as the antim sansakar (last rites) in Hindi. According to Hinduism there are sixteen sanskars one goes through as s/he passes through life, with Garbhdhan (conception) being the first and Antim Sanskar or Antyeshti being the last.

I was told by locals in the area about the murda ghat and I headed towards it right away, realizing that I have missed the cremation aspect of Ganga thus far. There were several cremations going on... and to be true these were the first I have ever seen, other than on television and movies. There were hordes of people accompanying the dead body. They were mainly relatives and friends of the diseased, but also were friends to the kins of the dead. Then again, there were cows roaming around sniffing the dead bodies, just to be shooed away by people... then I also happened to see a dog feeding upon something white in the Ganga. They were bones... but was hard to figure out if they were human or animal. There were people selling wood for cremation and all other stuff needed for the same... and you could easily find a priest too who would perform the last rites. Ganga gives us business in so many forms... and in return what do we give her?

As I was taking pictures, two gentlemen approached me wondering what I was doing. I told them about my project and both of them were very supportive of it. They talked at length about the idea of cremation near the Ganga. According to them it was not a wise idea if you have to travel a long distance to come to the river. They said it was a waste of time for all those who had to come or in other words were made to come. Hmmm...they were not wrong. I could see people talking on their cell phones, probably handling their business, and were not very interested in the rituals... after all the dead person was not one of their family members. The two also suggested that the best idea is to cremate in their own village or town or city and just come to the Ganga to immerse the ashes. In fact that's what most people do... yet there are some who prefer to cremate the body on the banks of the Ganga.

But anyway, I am not concerned about that. What I was concerned about was: who would clean the area where you just cremated the body. In fact no one does. The area is left as is, for water to come someday and take away the remainder of the wood and ashes. And sometimes, the bodies are not even let to be cremated (read burnt here) and are disposed off into the waters of the Ganga. It could very well be a ritual, but not when one sees dogs feeding upon bodies. The clothe that the corpse comes wrapped in and any other material including bags etc that are used to carry stuff to the cremation ground are either burnt in the cremation fire... or people just leave them there. How convenient. And of course it all finds its way into the Ganga... even more convenient. And then we blame the government for inefficiency... or the tanneries for dumping chemicals... but what about us?

I moved away from the cremation area, towards the bathing ghats. And the scenes were not very different from all other places I have been to recently. Children throwing magnets into the river to collect coins... only the shape of the magnets had changed, now it was a big block of magnet instead of several small pieces attached together. This time around I also saw a guy sifting through the sand collected from the river bed looking probably for coins. The dialect of people changed. Surprisingly I did not come across any beggars, but monkeys were there... and then several people praying to mother Ganga and taking a holy dip or just offering Ganga water to the Sun God. The boatmen were there ... offering boat rides across the Ganga. There were stalls selling religious stuff... so the place was not very different from Haridwar, just a little smaller. And the most common site so far was land (river bed ) being used for seasonal crops...   

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Haridwar... mighty Ganga enters the plains

Returning from Devprayag I stopped at Haridwar (or Hardwar). Hari meaning God and Dwar meaning gate, Haridwar stands for Gateway to God. Some people refer to it as Hardwar, with Har referring to Lord Shiva, and others as Haridwar, with Hari referring to Lord Vishnu.

Haridwar is one of the seven holiest places in Hinduism. It is where the river Ganga first reaches the plains. It is thus also known as Gangadwar (Gate of the Ganga). It is one of the four places in India where the Kumbh Mela is held. I will be back in Haridwar in April to cover the Kumbh Mela. Har ki Pauri (Har is God, Pauri is Steps) is the most sacred ghat in Haridwar, and it  is where thousands of devotees gather daily for the evening Ganga aarti, and millions gather during the festive seasons for the ritual bathing.

As I was heading towards the Himalayas during my first trip, I noticed that the Ganga was very dry here at Haridwar. Then we crossed over a bridge where from I could see a barrage, or maybe it was a small dam that was cutting the water off from the main river and diverting it towards the Har ki Pauri. This time on I was at the Har ki Pauri and could see the water of the Ganga in full flow. Very close by is a another small dam, which is used to divert the water back into the Ganga if there is a over flow especially during the rainy season. Otherwise, most of this water at the Har ki Pauri, instead of flowing back into the Ganga, now flows parallel to the Ganga in men-made canal called the Upper Ganga Canal. The Upper Ganga Canal has helped irrigate millions of acres of agricultural land in north and central Uttar Pradesh, but at the same time it has also severely depleted the waters in the Holy Ganga.

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I reached at the Har ki Pauri just before the evening Ganga aarti. It was getting crowded. People rushing towards the ghat to attend the aarti... many praying to the setting sun or to the river Ganga... many getting prayers done for them... several taking a holy dip in the river... some cleaning the area for the evening aarti... There were street vendors all around... selling roli (red powder)... small boats made of leaves containing flowers and an earthen lamp (part of a ritual to immerse the boats into the river)... pitchers for devotees to fill up the sacred water from the Ganga to carry back home... all sorts of religious stuff used in Hindu prayers... There were stalls of religious books and CDs... with music emanating from their shops at full volume... And of course there were men in blue shirts asking for donations towards Ganga cleaning (hmmm really?)... then others asking for donations towards the Ganga aarti...(hmmm Oh really??)

The first impression I got was that people have commercialized the Har ki Pauri, and they have commercialized the holy river Ganga. People now are using the name of river Ganga to earn money... faking it to be for cleaning. It's not what I am saying. This is what I was told by some locals at the ghat itself. They have never seen anyone actually clean the river here... and no one knows where the money they collect actually goes.

I was also told that people come here with offerings and with ashes of their diseased beloveds... which are immersed into the waters here at the ghat. But the bags the ashes or the offerings are brought in are also thrown into the waters... or if not into the waters the plastic bags are left on steps... and then one day they find their way into the Ganga... of course... after all Ganga is a natural sewage system.

Devprayag: The divine confluence...

On November 28th, I headed back to Devprayag (Dev + Prayag = Divine + Confluence). Devprayag is a small township in the Himalayas (at around 2700 ft) where two rivers - Bhagirathi and Alaknanada meet forming the Ganga. Bhagirathi is considered to be the source stream of the Ganga. Devprayag was where Lord Ram came to atone for killing Ravan, who was a Brahmin and a devotee of Lord Shiv.

Devprayag is one of the five holy confluences or Panch Prayag in the Garhwal hills where different tributaries merge with river Alaknanda. Devprayag is considered to be the main confluence because it is here that Bhagirathi merges with Alaknanada and the combined waters are from now on called The Ganga. The other five confluences (prayag) being Vishnuprayag, where the Alaknanda is met by the Dhauliganga River, Nandaprayag, where it is met by the Nandakini River, Karnaprayag, where it is met by the Pindar River, and Rudraprayag, where it is met by the Mandakini River.

The waters of the rivers Bhagirathi and Alaknanda looked very clean and untouched. Very much unlike what I had just seen in Kanpur a few days back.

I met Sri Dinesh Bhatt, the priest at the ghat and also some tourists (Ramesh, Devesh, Abhijeet, Dinesh, Manoj) from the Delhi area. According to the priest, Devprayag is the actual place of the Kumbh Mela, but due to space constraints it was moved to Haridwar. On the issue of the dams on the Bhagirathi, he was of the opinion that the dam should not have been built. He said, on one hand the government is talking about reducing the pollution, and on te othe rit is creating pollution by building the dams, by going against the nature. He was the opinion that the amount spent on building the Tehri dam was much high than the amount of power it would ever generate. These dams would eventually lead to nature imbalance leading to loss of life and eventually Ganga will vanish from the face of earth.

He was bold enough to say that he has done nothing to save the Ganga. All he could do was to write letters to the Prime Minister, but to no avail. The bureaucrats and the politicians are the main culprits according to him. He also blamed the ineffectiveness of social activist Sunderlal Bahuguna towards Ganga or towards Garhwal.

For the tourists from Delhi, Ganga is a Pavitra (pure) river. Despite the fact that all the garbage from the Himalayan towns and villages is dumped into the Ganga or its tributaries, yet one feels cleansed after taking a dip in the river. They were also of the opinion that Ganga is our life line, so stopping the river for making electricity is not acceptable from one perspective, but then on the other hand if we are getting economically better by production of electricity, it is also acceptable. Yet, over all it is more harmful to mess with the nature for the benefit of human beings, according to them. They also suggested the use of solar and wind power to generate energy. 

As I headed back up towards my taxi, I couldn't resist myself from snapping this picture... a stream of garbage directly being dumped into the Bhagirathi river.  So much for the Divine Confluence. But then again where do the locals dump their waste... in the sewers provided by the authorities and All the sewers lead to the Ganga. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chromium... why has it to go into the Ganga?

Among the industries, I guess the leather industry is the one that comes to mind when talking about Kanpur... and as we scroll through the media reports related to Ganga pollution, everyone seems to primarily blame this city and the leather tanneries inside the city for the same. The media reports are not wrong.

However, my take on this debate is, it's not only the tanneries that should be blamed, the blame should equally be taken by the law enforcers in the city, and also the Central Government. The law enforcers, because they are corrupt and for a hefty sum as bribe they give a clean chit to the industries that are dumping their waste, especially the carcinogens (chromium used in tanning of leather) directly into the Ganga. It be known that most tanneries are conveniently situated near the banks of the Ganga. By law each one of them has to have its own waste water treatment plant that can trap the chromium to be reused in tanning (NEWS in Times of India). However, most choose otherwise... it is cheaper to buy new chemicals rather than to set up a waste treatment plant.

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November 18th my father-in-law arranged for a visit to one factory which actually uses their own waste treatment plant, and they had no problem, what so ever, to show us around. However, there are hundreds of other factories that do not have those treatment plants, yet they are not only functioning but are thriving... courtesy corrupt law enforcers in the city. This is despite numerous reports that chromium from these leather industries is seeping into the food chain. The chromium goes into the Ganga waters and this same water is used for irrigation... and during the dry seasons the fertile Ganga water bed is also used to cultivate Water Melons, Melons, Bitter Gourd, Cucumber, etc...

I just wonder why pollution of this great river does not matter to them? I guess it is because their livelihood is not directly dependent upon the quality of water in the Ganga... and they make more in bribes than what they get in their salary... 

We also visited a water treatment plant that was commissioned in the 80's as a part of the Ganga Action Plan (phase I) to treat the waste water from the city and that coming from the then existing 175 tanneries in the area. And today there are over 400 tanneries ... and the treatment plant still runs at the same capacity it was built for... what a joke!!! Didn't the government realize then that the number of industries would go up in the area? On top of that there is no money for the upgrading the facility.
Prior to taking this tour of the city we went for a boat ride in the Ganga to see the plight by our own eyes. The sewage was being dumped with no check at all... no cleaning what so ever at all. The flow was so fast that if it was night time it could easily be mistaken for a water fall... this was at Jajmau. Not only that... as we rode up stream... there were slums all along the Ganga... and the waste from individual houses was finding its way into the river...

Yet again... Ganga has given us so much... this time a natural and free sewage system and we are just taking away life from the river who many regard as माँ (mother).

Later that day we went to another ghat where they build boats. I assumed there would be big factories building boats... I couldn't be more wrong. The boats were being built by hand, and the industry was almost non- existent with only one family busy with the boat making. Reason being... there was no money in the business. Any one person would make only like Rs 400 per boat... with a boat being sold for about Rs 7000 and profit divided between the workers - 4-5 of them.

Before I end this post I have to write about this gentleman. I saw him early in the morning as we were having our breakfast of Chhole Bhature near the Green Park Stadium. He was igniting the coal in an angeethi (an open stove that uses coal to cook or warm). As he was doing that he was also singing... although not a singer myself or having any knowledge of music... I was pleasantly surprised by his voice... and I could not resist myself from recording it. It is here:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The historical and holy town of Bithoor...

... is around 27 kilometers (17 miles) north of Kanpur. According to the Puraans (holy scriptures in Hinduism) it is at Bithoor that Lord Brahma commenced the creation of the mankind. It is thus also referred to as Brahmavarta (seat of Brahma) and considered to be the center of Universe (Brahmaan), according to the Puraans.
Historically, Bithoor has been closely associated with the Indian rebellion of 1857 for independence. Nana Sahib, one of the leaders of the rebellion had his head quarters here, and at one point it was also home to Lakshmi Bai - the Rani of Jhansi - the most well known of all characters associated with the rebellion. Other leaders of the rebellion like Baji Rao Peshwa, Dhudu Pant, Tatya Tope were also associated with Bithoor. 
On Novmber 17th we were in Bithoor. I met with two priests who performed the daily Ganga aarti at the ghat. I was told that unlike other holy places in India only Bithoor has 4 names - Utpalaranya, Brahashmatipuri, Brahmavarta, and Bithoor is the latest name. It is the most sacred of all nine aaranya mentioned in the ancient Hindu scriptures. According to them, in Satyug, Tretayug and Dvaparyug there were Gods and Goddesses living on the earth, however in the present Yug - the Kaliyug, Ganga is the only Goddess that is present in its visible form (साक्षात रूप ). The other Gods and Goddesses have gone to their original seats in the realms of the cosmos. They felt that it's a miracle that she is here in the visible form and that she will be here till the end of this Yug... she will not dry up... and if she does... it will be the end of life on earth...

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As regards to the plight of the river in the present day, they were very concerned about the pollution and over extraction of water. It not only hurt their religious feelings but also was resulting in dwindling in the fauna population of the river especially the turtles and the fish. There was a time when people would flock to see turtles here... but now there are hardly any in the river.

Despite all that they felt that Ganga is and will always be clean, relating Ganga to a mother on who a child urinates... the mother cleans the child first and then cleans herself too... thus Ganga will always be clean and holy for us... cleaning us of our sins and also cleaning herself...
We took a short boat ride later to see the Ganga for ourselves in the area. We came across a very historic, although dilapidated men-made cave on the banks of the river. The cave led to Nana Sahib's fort and was used by the ladies of the fort to come down to the river to bathe. I truly wish the state or the central government could do something to preserve these historic monuments. Nana Sahib's fort has been closed to the public... it was actually destroyed by the Britishers who attacked Bithoor in 1857.

A bridge was being built over the Ganga connecting Bithhoor to the state capital Lucknow. The workers were standing almost in the river... the bed I mean. And of course this would be the best time to work as the water levels were really low.

The now very common feature for me to see was the use magnets to pluck coins from the river and the use of the river bed - for sure very fertile - for seasonal crops. However, this time I also learned that this use of river bed as land is very risky for farmers. These farmers, who are also seasonal doing other stuff in other seasons, spend a lot of money to buy seed to cultivate, but every once in a while the water from the dams and barrages is released and it inundates the land leading to crop loss and with that their livelihood for the season. How sad...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kanpur... any story on river Ganga is incomplete ...

... without a mention of this city. I reached Kanpur on the 15th of November.

Kanpur is the most industrialized city located on the banks of the river Ganga and is the economic capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Kanpur holds an important place in history too, it being one of the few cities where the Indian rebellion for independence first spread to after starting at Meerut in 1857.

My team changed in Kanpur. Now I was with my brother-in-law Nitin and his friends Surendra, Nagendra and Deepak.

The morning of November 16th we headed towards the Anandeshwar temple situated on the banks of the Ganga. After reaching the Temple I directly headed down to the ghat where the Ganga flows just a few feet away. I learned that the Ganga had migrated, changing its course, several kilometers away from the ghat, but after the barrage was built on the river it changed its course again and came back to where it used to be – adjacent to the temple. Although, the Anandeshwar temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, yet it has several other smaller temples dedicated to other Gods, Goddesses, and Saints. I was thrilled to see an idol of Goddess Ganga. I am sure as I visit Gangotri during my next trip I will have a chance to see another idol of Goddess Ganga... that time high up in the Himalayas very close to where Ganga originates.    

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The chants at the Temple were mesmerizing. As the morning prayers went on in the temple, the crowed swelled with every passing minute... people came down the ghat  to offer prayers to Maan Ganga and to the rising Sun... many would ask the boatmen to fetch some Ganga water for them from the center of the river... there were kids who would throw very powerful magnets attached to a rope into the river to collect coins that the devotees throw into the river... there was a snake charmer too... and of course beggars, sadhus (the holy men), restaurateurs, cows, baby goats playing over rose petals...  it all looked so beautiful! What a diversity ... what colors... just amazing!

As I was taking pictures on the ghat a boatman sitting in his boat uttered something in a very sad tone. Taking the opportunity I went closer to him asking him what he said… he was pointing at the garbage that came from the temple and was strewn on the banks of the Ganga. He said no one cares about the trash here and it is piling up and destroying the sanctity of the holy Ganga. The garbage he was talking about were flower offerings to Gods at the temple that were later dumped outside. The worst part of it was that the offerings were in polythene bags...

Soon after the temple we headed towards the barrage. It was built a few years ago and enabled the Ganga to come back to its original course. As we stood on the barrage, we could see the river bed ... cultivated with seasonal fruits and vegetable (Water Melon, Melon, etc). There were boats running from the banks to the land in the center of the river ferrying farmers to their “fields”. Several boats were busy in their business of fishing, and the complaints were of the decline in the fish population since the barrage was built, but it was still enough for their survival.

At the ghats near the barrage, we came across the remnants of a religious ceremony of idol immersion. Idols of Hindu gods (especially Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga), are immersed into a water body. Not very long ago the idols were made of clay and painted with natural colors (vegetable colors), and when immersed would just degrade over time without causing any pollution. However, more recently the idols are made from Plaster of Paris and synthetic colors containing heavy metals (like mercury and lead) are used to decorate them. Plaster of Paris takes anywhere from several months to years to degrade and mercury and lead used in colors are toxic to living beings. These metals are finding their way into foods that are grown on the beds of the river. 

On one of the gates of the barrage was struck a dead human body - a not so un-common feature according to the locals. Time and again I recall the song from the classic Guru Dutt movie Pyaasa [All time 100 best films according to TIME magazine] entitled Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai... and the stanza that struck me seeing this body was...  Yahaan ek khilonaa hai inasaan ki hasti, Ye basti hai murdaa-paraston ki basti, Yahaan par to jeevan se hai maut sasti... Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai...[English Translation coming].

Regarding the issue of dead bodies in the Ganga,  I happened to talk to a gentleman probably in his late 60s, on one of the other days while still in Kanpur. According to him, in Hindu religion dead bodies can also be ceremoniously immersed (visarjit in Hindi) into the waters of the Ganga to purify the body of all diseases [read my previous post on bacteriophages]. The body eventually is supposed to be eaten up by fish and turtles in the waters. However, since the erection of dams and barrages along the river, not only has the fish and turtle population decreased but also the dead bodies get struck there. The other, and maybe a more important cause of dwindling fish population is the industrial pollution making its way into the Ganga. But then who knows if these bodies were immersed ceremoniously or unceremoniously (read murdered and dumped).

Ganga takes everything that you immerse/dump into it... ceremoniously or unceremoniously... this is all what we humans have given to her!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ganga changes its course near Hastinapur

On November 13th 2009 we headed towards the ancient city of Hastinapur located on the earlier course of the holy river Ganga. Hastinapur is mentioned in the great Hindu epic The Mahabharataan as it was the capital city of the kingdom of the Kauravas.

In the present day Hastinapura, which was re-established by Jawahrlal Nehru (first Prime Minister of India) in 1949,  is a small town around 110 km from Delhi.

Now the Ganga flows in Makdumpur another 5-6 km from Hastinapur. We reached Makdumpur in another 10 or so minutes driving through beautiful farmlands and tiny villages. We drove all the way to the banks of the Ganga where we met some villagers. Ganga looked very dry with its bed visible almost every where and it flowed more like a small river.

Most surprising was to know from the villagers that the Ganga we were seeing was never here earlier and that it had changed its course by several kilometers. [I came to know later that Ganga has a tendency to change its course very often]. The river has done so in just last 10 or so years, according to the villagers. The changed course has taken over the land that belonged to the farmers. The villagers we talked to told us that the river still is eroding away the land of the farmers in the area. Farmers with the help of some nearby sugar mills are trying to stop the further erosion by building wooden barricades [See Picture] to slow down the flow of Ganga waters along the edges. The efforts are however proving futile with the river rising during the monsoons and taking away the barricades.

Farmers were using a boat to ferry their equipments including tractors across the Ganga to go to their farm lands, that have risen back as Ganga waters have subsided due to winters. I intended to see the land but it was quite late in the evening and decided to come back later after the 24th when, according to the villagers, the temporary bridge would be ready for our vehicle to cross the Ganga. [I called around 28th of Nov to see if the bridge was ready, but it wasn't and I had to drop my idea to visit Makdumpur again in this trip].

The original course that Ganga traversed is now being used as a natural sewage by the factories in the city of Bijnor on the other side of the river. The sewage water finally merges with the Ganga downstream. Is the water cleaned / processed before it is dumped into the Ganga needs to be found out, however, it looks highly unlikely as the villagers told me that the water is darker than my black pants I was wearing. A stark contrast to what I have just witnessed during my trip to the Himalayas along the river….

The pollution aspect of the river has begun... and my next stop would be the city of Kanpur... in-famous for polluting the Ganga.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rishikesh... as serene as ever...

November 12th Afternoon. As we descended into Rishikesh we saw a dry river from high up in the mountains. As we reached nearer we were told it used to be watered by the Glaciers but now it is fed only by Monsoon rains. Another example of global warming leading to disappearing of glaciers...or not?

On reaching Rishikesh, we right away headed to the Laxman Jhoola one of the two suspension bridges connecting the two banks of the Ganga in the town. We spotted the bridge and went to cross the river but midway realized it is the other bridge – the Ram Jhoola. So be it, and I started taking pictures. I talked to a small girl who was selling flour balls to feed the fish … I asked her if she studies to which she said yes, during the day she works and in the late afternoon she goes to school. On being asked what if Ganga dried up, she naively says she would go up stream near Laxman Jhula and sell the flour-balls there.

As we were crossing the river over the Ram Jhoola, I happened to spot a holy-man crossing alongside. I asked if I could have a chat with him in regards to the Ganga, to which he agreed vehemently and asked us to walk with him to a place more serene. We walked for about 5 minutes and then sat on two big rock like benches (not sure what they were though) along the banks of the Ganga. His name was Anand Baba and my utter surprise he taught meta-physics at various universities in the US. And despite that he just carried a back-pack with all his belongings in there. He talked at length about all the aspects of the Ganga – religious, pollution, water extraction, and economic (The details of our conversation would be posted on a separate page on this blog).

As we moved on, we saw a sadhu (Holy man) taking bath in the Ganga, a dhobi washing clothes, a lady selling flower garlands, some young guys having a picnic, one man just sleeping on a rock, a westerner meditating, several beggars begging, tourists from all over India and the world... and a cow drinking water from the Ganga... couldn't resist thinking Ganga has given so much to so many of us... from all backgrounds and species. And the question comes back...what have we given her?

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We then went to the Laxman Jhula for a bit, had our lunch and headed back towards the Parmarth Niketan to attend the evening Ganga Aarti. On our way we stopped at the banks of the Ganga on the other side of the Parmarth Niketan where we met two boys selling chat and namkeen. On being asked what Ganga meant to them, both said almost simultaneously "She is our maan (mother)". They used the Ganga water to drink, cook and wash clothes and utensils. I asked if it was a clean water, one of them went forward took some water in his hands and drank it right away. When I told them about the sewage system of the cities and towns dumping polluted water into the Ganga ... the answer that was shot back at me was "Ganga cleans even the sewer waters, and its the purest water". Was it their faith that was speaking or did they know that Ganga water was clean? Well, they were not wrong.

The waters of river Ganga are indeed clean. It contains a virus termed Bacteriophage that feeds upon the harmful Bacteria, thus preventing deadly diseases like Cholera and Dysentery. The other thing very peculiar about these waters is its ability to retain high amounts of Oxygen... 25 times more than any other water body in the world. (How that helps...I am trying to find out).

We reached the Parmarth Niketan almost on time to catch the evening Ganga aarti. There was a large Havan Kund, the sacred fire from which filled the air with a very tranquilizing smell. The aarti was truly mesmerizing with chantings of Gayatri Mantra, Hanuman Chalisa, Ganga Aarti and more religious hymns... it was very relaxing. Every one was chanting... adults and kids, Indians and Foreigners... rich and the poor... there was a feeling of oneness... Ganga does bring us all together... another thing that Ganga has given us...  

Later that night soon after the aarti we headed towards the historic city of Hastinapur, our next stop...

Back from Tehri...

On November 12th we headed back from Rani Chauri where we had stayed over night. We decided to go down to Rishikesh instead of going further up to Uttar Kashi which would be covered on my next trip to India in April. We took the direct route to Rishikesh from Chamba avoiding Devprayag which would be done when I come back after the 24th to cover the area of Haridwar and Rishikesh again.

At Chamba we talked to a few locals about the Tehri dam project. Chamba is a town situated not far from the dam but far enough not to have drowned under the reservoir. The people were not happy – they did not receive any compensation because their town was not drowned, and they lost business due to migration of people from the nearby villages. However, according to them people whose villages were lost and did get compensation are very happy. They got land and money and most of them sold their land at a good price. Most people we tried to talk to were reluctant to come on camera, yet again. They would talk at length as long as it was not being recorded (or in other words if they did not see my microphone)

Our drive from Chamba towards Rishikesh was one of the most beautiful I have ever had. Although there was no river Bhagirathi that we were following but we did follow another river – Havel – that finally merges with the Ganga in the town of Shivpuri not far from Rishikesh. I met with some people who lived along the stream of the Havel and I felt jealous of their beautiful, stress free lives surrounded by nature. Maybe they have stress of a different kind...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tehri Dam... are the locals really unhappy?

The Tehri dam on river Bhagirathi (main tributary to Ganga) is the main dam amongst all other that are part of the TDP (Tehri Development Project), and is 5th tallest dam in the world (260m tall), and tallest Embankment (Earth and Rockfill) dam in Asia. A piece of marvel indeed!

The proposed benefits to the project include generation of 2400 MW of electricity (2000 MW from the Tehri dam and 400 MW from the Koteshwar dam), irrigation of 270,000 hectares of land, 270 million gallons of drinking water to 3 states (Delhi, Uttarpradesh and Uttrakhand).  

A clear example of water extraction! Water extraction leading to disturbance of the mother nature... the flora and the fauna in the area, but then again generating power and getting drinking water to millions. Now debate is between faith and environment on one side and economy and livelihood on the other.

The other side of the dam is the reservoir (an artificial lake to store water). It looked really beautiful as the dawn was falling upon the area. What's the name of this beautiful lake? Tehri lake? Tehri dam lake? ... hey wait... there was no lake here...it's that tiny stream of the sacred Bhagirathi river that has now been converted into a lake! The flow of water has been stopped... to fill the reservoir.

As the reservoir filled up, it submerged the town of Tehri and around 40 other small villages. As we drove along the Bhagirathi "lake" we noticed the top of a submerging Hindu Temple. It was almost dark by then, I had to crank up my Canon 5D's ISO to get some snaps...

Were the locals unhappy about the temple going under the water...No! No they were not! Why not... well they got employment at the dam, they could send their children to school and had enough to eat... and the TDP build a new Temple higher up at the New Tehri town. Looks like faith is losing it's ground here in the debate. And then I happened to talk to another local who said "King Bhagirath brought down the river Bhagirathi for the benefit of the mankind ... and Tehri dam on Bhagirathi is benefiting the mankind in the form of power, irrigation, employment etc... then why the fuss about?" Is he right... for many yes... for many others no... and most do not even care!

We drove to Rani Chauri, the hill campus of our Alma Matter - Govind Ballabh Pant University - and retreated for the night. The buildings reminded us of Pantnagar... and seeing the students brought back the memories of our student life! Very nostalgic.

The Dams!

The first dam we came across was the Koteshwar Hydro Electric Project dam which was under construction. It's a part of the Tehri Development Project (TDP) that aims to generate electric power of about 4000 Mega Watt from several dams. The Koteshwar dam looked like a huge dam to us... but that was only till we saw the main Tehri dam.

On seeing the constructions, the first feeling was - why are we messing with the nature? The beautiful Bhagirathi that we were moving along had all of a sudden changed into a men-made canal sort of. It was blocked at several places and made to flow through pipes. And in a few days, when the dam would be functional, the area would be flooded by the reservoir water inundating the nearby village(s). I felt a sense of bereavement. Ganga was indeed dying...

A few kilometers further up Bhagirathi looked as untouched as ever ... but then we started to see broken mountains, dust, construction vehicles... and then we noticed the humongous Tehri Dam. A piece of marvel indeed... but yet again at the cost of Environment and Cultural beliefs. Now the debate is between faith and nation's progress. Faith says no dams, but a nation's economic progress needs electric power, people need water...

I started talking to locals... no one would talk to me when I asked them if I could record their voice or take pictures. Then I decided to hide my microphone. The first impression I got was... the locals were not all that unhappy about the dams after all. As per them first they got employment at the construction facility, then at the dam itself, and if their house went under the water of the reservoir they got a good compensation in the form of money and a piece of land near Haridwar (at Patthree). This land, as I heard, most of the beneficiaries sold for a hefty sum of around Rs 30 to 35 Lakhs ( ~ US $80,000).

Towards Tehri via Devprayag

As we passed Rishikesh, we started to drive into the Himalayas and the Ganga looked smaller and smaller with every kilometer we drove. The Ganga looked like a beautiful stream, no where like the majestic river we just saw in Rishikesh. All along the river there were temporary camps nestled in the valley where from people would raft their way down towards Rishikesh (for Rs 500 per person i.e. $10). People were even rock climbing. All this made me feel, this river has indeed given us a lot, and made me wonder even more as to what have we given her in return!

A suspension bridge over the Ganga

We reached Devprayag via Byasi and after clicking a few snaps headed towards Tehri right away. It was a narrow road but had hardly any traffic on it, it not being the main route to Tehri from Rishikesh. Bhagirathi ran along side the road. We crossed several tiny villages on our way. There was a village almost every 5-10 km on the road and several other in the mountains.

One thing that really amazed me was to find cacti on the Himalayas... have they always been there or are the Himalayas warming up... or were they really cacti?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Start off!!

We (My brother Lt Colonel Rajul Rathi and myself) started off from Meerut evening of Nov 10th 2009, halted at Muzaffarnagar where we would get our taxi from (arranged by my cousin Vikram Veer), and headed towards Tehri on the morning of Nov 11th.

Our plan was to reach Tehri before dawn via the town of Devprayag. It was an extra 100 km to go via Devprayag but the idea was to check out the route and take pictures on our way down. 

The day started well and we were very excited to have begun the project. Passed Roorkee on our way and reached Haridwar where we got the first glimpse of the Ganga. It being winters, the glaciers had stopped melting and there was so little water in the Ganga that I could easily see the bed of the river. That's when I realized that most of the water was being diverted through a barrage towards Har-Ki-Pauri - a very religious spot for Hindus to bathe at. Most of the water then went into the Upper Ganga Canal (A men-made canal system that runs parallel to the Ganga river, helping irrigate the land in the state of Uttrakhand and Uttar Pradesh), and some was re-diverted back into the Ganga (if there was water in excess, mainly during the monsoons).

We carried on towards Rishikesh and that's where the Ganga looked very majestic and beautiful. It was wide and full of water. Rishikesh is a bustling holy town full of tourists from all over the world - many of them come looking for enlightenment, and most just for fun.

As we drove by Rishikesh we noticed a completely dry river … later we were told that it's a seasonal river and collects only rain waters.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I plan to take several trips to India in a span of coming few years, covering parts of Ganga in each trip with over 2500 km (1500 miles) in total. I am going to India on my first trip for the project this winter... and I will be blogging the story as it unfolds... please stay tuned.

My next trip is scheduled in April of 2010 during the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar.