On a trail of the Ganga - PART 1I

On a trail of the Ganga - PART 1I


-Saraswati Kavula


After Kompeng, the temperature cooled and the views too were worth a dekko. But still, not what it must have been with the original beauty of this famed land, which locals call,
 “Dev Bhoomi” or “Land of the Gods”.


We could see more signs of the destruction that was happening to these areas: mountains being blasted at many places, to make way for new roads, or to widen existing ones; new bridges, and of course the new Hydro Electric Projects. My taxi man said, “See if there are two vehicles coming across each other, then there is not much space to overtake, so we need to widen the roads”. We could see the heaps of broken rocks lining the roads. I said, “When that road is widened, then more vehicles will come and then you will have to further widen the roads”. My taxi man said, “Well, we need to do that, after all, we have to have good roads to facilitate the traffic.” A new area of the mountain was blasted, just before we climbed the mountain to Kompeng, and a new road was being laid on another side, I wanted to know what that road was for, “That road is being laid by the Hydro-electric project people, to facilitate the movement of their vehicles, they are also constructing new bridges in many places. Traveling will become easier in future”.  I just remarked looking at the blasted rock, “I suppose, this is development”. My co-passenger, a sheep rearer by profession, remarked, “Depends on how you look at it, vikas or vinaash – development or destruction”.


I was a keen enthusiast of trekking. At one time I thought this was the best way to encourage nature friendliness amongst the young and old alike. But now, after a visit to Gangotri, I am not so sure. Gangotri is a very holy place for all Hindus, and there is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Ganga, on the banks of the river, built by Raja Amar Singh Thapa of Nepal in 1800’s. The area is open from April until November (till Diwali) after which it shuts down in winter due to heavy snowfall. Every day, hundreds throng the temple town, which is more like a large village. But the journey is not complete without a visit to the Gomukh Glacier, from where Ganga emerges.


Gomukh is about 20 kilometres away from Gangotri. There are two kinds of people who go to the Gomukh glacier – the pilgrims and the trekkers and a third kind, the local sadhus. And there are only two ways to go up to Gomukh – either on foot or on a mule. I chose the latter, since I was not sure I could complete 40 kilometres in one or even two days. I was to realise later that going on foot was any day advisable than 40 kilometres on a mule. I did intend to walk up to Gomukh and was making preparations, when I met a trio of trekkers at the temple, as the aarti was going on, the day before. They were from Pune city and told me that they were going beyond Tapovan until Nandanvan. Tapovan is about 5 kilmoters beyond Gomukh and although initially I had plans to go up to Tapovan, I dropped the idea, since people told me one has to walk across the Gomukh Glacier and carry one’s food and tents etc along with some experienced guides, to go there. My friends from Pune told me that they were hiring porters and had their tents etc and were planning a longish trip.


So, while the men from Pune set off on foot the next day, I hired a mule and went on my journey. The first stop was a kilometre away at the entrance to the Gangotri National Park. And right next to the board, was a huge bin with lots of trash – various food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic carry bags etc. There were a few dhabas enroute, in the style of a Sarai, which could accommodate people for a night. The first one was after the 5 kms, near a big stream. On the way I could see water bottles, food wrappers, chocolate wrappers, gutkha wrappers thrown here and there: people too busy to bother to pick up the trash that they bring with them on their way to the Glacier.  In the Dhabas one finds everything possible – soft drinks, Instant food, bread, cigarettes, chocolates…like any other store in the plains. For the travellers, there are beddings available in case they wish to break the journey at night. But one thing I fail to understand, while there is so much fresh, clear, sweet water available en route, why do tourists ask for Soft Drinks? Surely, if they did not ask for such things, one would not find them in the Hills and especially, in such eco-sensitive areas?


The next break was at Chirbasa, another five kilmeters away. I met my friends from Pune at that place. I was saying, “Do you see, the topography undergoing a change? I feel that even trekking in these areas must be banned. Today, there is this dirt road, and dhabas. Tomorrow, with popular demand, there could be a road laid, and hotels will come up all the way. And soon, cars and may be even helicopters will go up to the Glacier like it happened in other places”. To which, one of the men, Sanjay, I think he works as a consultant for Agricultural firms, replied, “Well, if that happens, then it is good, the local people will find employment, since this is a poor belt”. I replied, “Then this whole area will get populated and polluted”. To which, one of them who is an electronics engineer, replied, “In that case, we can find other routes for trekking” He did not get my point, so I stressed again, “Then even that place will slowly get polluted, don’t you think, this whole idea of adventure tourism is also causing environmental degradation?” Sanjay, the Agricultural Consultant replied, “See, what you don’t like may seem like degradation to you, these changes happen in nature, it is a cycle, even we as human beings keep changing isn’t it?’ A bit later our talk turned towards what is happening in Agriculture, especially the GM crops. Sanjay, the Agricultural consultant remarked, “See these Americans, how horrible they are, they have introduced these terminator seeds, which will enslave the farmers to the companies, and not only that it will destroy our bio-diversity”. I wanted to say, ‘Well, all this is part of the cycles in nature isn’t it? What you don’t like may seem like destruction to you’, but of course, I refrained from doing so.


Photographs “Blasting for Roadways ” -Kishan Rao,  Shop on  Gangotri Highway-Saraswati Kavula


( To be continued.)


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