Tag Archives: Himalayas

Ghaggar River: The Lost Glory

Introduction

The rivers in India are of two types. The ones like Ganga and Indus are perennial in nature because they originate in Himalayas and are fed by melting ice. Others are intermittent in nature. Their catchment area is foothills of Himalayas and these flow in full glory only during monsoons in the catchment area in hills.

River Description

One such river is Ghaggar. It originates in the village of Dagshai in the Shivalik Hills of Himachal Pradesh at an elevation of 1,927 metres (6,322 ft) above mean sea level and flows through Punjab and Haryana states into Rajasthan just southwest of Sirsa, Haryana and by the side of Talwara Lake in Rajasthan. Dammed at Ottu barrage near Sirsa, Ghaggar feeds two irrigation canals that extend into Rajasthan.

The wild grasses growing in the bed of river

This river is located just a kilometre from our home and I visit it almost daily for morning walks and nature photography. Present conditions are described below:

Present Scenario

Amidst a quite big bed, water flows in a thin winding strip. Wild shrubs like Kans grass (Saccharum spontaneum), acacia trees grow in its bed. Many people use it as a garbage dump and also for open defecation. The river bed is ruthlessly mined for sand and pebbles by the sand mafia. Of course, during the monsoon season the river is in spate. But rest of the times one can walk through it with ease from one bank to another.

Muddy water flowing in the river during rains

The bed is home to many species of birds like Ring Plovers, Pratincole, Steppe Eagles, Wagtails, martins, lapwings and wiretails. Snakes also roam during summer mornings. During winter some migratory birds also come here.

A little ring plover in the river

Past Glory!!!

Standing on its bank, I think about its past glory. Satellite imagery and other archaeological studies indicate that once upon a time it was a mighty river. So much so that Yamuna and Satluj were its tributaries on East and West sides respectively. It flowed in full force into Arabian Sea. Due to plenty of water and fertile land around, it was a perfect place for the humans to settle in the ancient times. It is now becoming clear from the evidence gathered from excavations that there was a big population living along its banks during Indus Valley Civilization. It was a part of Ghaggar Hakra River system.

Rig Veda the Aryan holy Text, mentions about the holy Saraswati river so many times, was a part of Sapt (Seven) Sindhu (River) which eludes to Ghaggar and its six tributaries including Saraswati. Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati are the trinity of rivers held in great reverence by Hindus.

Then the Times changed on geological scale. Tectonic activity changed the river associations. Yamuna realigned with Ganges and wayward Satluj with Indus stripping Ghaggar of much of its volume of water leading to the disintegration of the towns on its banks.

Conditions nowadays are becoming even more grim.

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Goshawk

Those who live in Punjab must have seen the picture of tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. He is depicted riding a horse with full regalia and a falcon sitting on his hand. The guru has in fact a title given to him as “Baajan Wala”. Baaz is the name of the falcon he is holding. The falcon is called Goshawk and Baaz is the female of species. Its counterpart male is called “Jurra” in the Punjabi. Also the female of the Baaz is much larger in size and esteemed for its preying prowess.

The falcon was a prized possession for the royalty and the affluent in the days of kings and princes in Indian subcontinent. One must have seen the pictures of Moghul kings holding this bird. It was trained for killing. The bird is prized because it has a very sharp eyesight and while swooping down on the prey whether in the air or on the ground can adjust its trajectory according to the changing location of the target. It is not impeded by the obstacles coming in between. It can hunt large prey such as hare, Macqueen’s bustard, crows, owls, herons, ducks, geese, and even cranes and large game birds such as partridges, junglefowl, pheasants. It commanded very high price in those days.

Goshawk is a large hawk, almost reaching buzzard size. When seen close to it has a fierce expression with bright red eyes and a distinctive white eyebrow. Its broad wings enable it to hunt at high speed, weaving in and out of trees, and its long legs and talons can catch its prey in flight.

It was thought that in the plains of North India it migrates from the Himalayas but this does not seem to be true because of the dwindling numbers. It has been declared the state bird and efforts to breed them in the captivity by the Punjab Government have not met with the desired success.

Uttrakhand Floods: Shall we learn any Lessons

English: Temple at Badrinath, Uttarkhand, Indi...

It has become a tragedy of epic proportions. The loss in terms of precious human lives, property and environment is bigger than suffered in many wars. The floods which occurred in June 13 coincided with an event called “Char Dham Yatra” in which many hundred thousands have gone to the religious places in the Himalayas falling in Uttrakhand like Badrinath, Kedarnath. Thousands died and many thousands were trapped as the floods smashed many roads to smithereens blocking the way to return.

English: Kedarnath Temple, Uttarakhand

So many hotels and guest houses fell like house of cards. As can be seen clearly in the video footage shown on TV channels these were built on the edges of the river banks without taking any precautions about safety into consideration. They fell into deep trenches and furiously flowing water and were washed away.

The cloud bursts are a common phenomena in the region causing great distress and loss of property and lives. One of the reasons may be that roads have been built in an unplanned manner. The number of vehicles carrying heavy loads of pilgrims or tourists have increased very heavily putting the pressure on these roads and weakening them. They were thus unable to withstand the onslaught of the flood fury.

Why people go in so many numbers to these places? This region is the home of many Gods and dotted with several temples. Most famous of all  these belong to the Shiva the God who is the source of dynamic forces of birth and deaths. By bringing end or death to physical form or pain or unhappiness, He transforms and purifies the things and since in Hinduism, soul is immortal, death is the way forward to life.

Also many of our saints like Kabir emphasized that there is no need to search for God outside in temples, Mosques or Jungles because the God is within us. But human beings are frail and gullible and choose the method which is visible or apparent like visiting a temple. Not only that, auspicious dates are announced by the priests and people in thousands begin congregating towards the said places.

This tragedy has caused great setback to the progress of the area. It has incurred losses of billions of rupees to the Government. So many army men, helicopters and road builders have been pressed into day and night service to rescue the people. Many families have lost all the members. It will take numbers of years to bring back the normalcy.

There are entry points which can regulate the entry of people into the region. It is a very sensitive issue to stop people from going en-mass for the fear of curbs on religious liberty, it is therefore for the people to think and learn the lessons. Since last some years, the weather is becoming very unpredictable and it is better to not to risk the adventure and be at home and worship the God at home.

Dehradun in Mythology

In the earliest legend, Dehradun was a part of Kedarkhand, the abode of Great God Shiva whose popularity in this region is reflected in the hills being called after Him as Shiwalik.  The place also figures in two mythological epics Mahabharata & Ramayana. It is said that Rama and his brother Lakshmana came here to do the penance after the death of Ravana at their hands. Five Pandava brothers also sojourned here while on their way to inner recesses of Himalayas.

Another legend is connected with a little river called Suswa. After Indra made fun of 60000 pygmy brahmins for trying vainly to cross the vast lake formed by the footprint of cow filled with water. They prayed here by doing penance and mortification to create an alternate Indra who will be superior to the existing Indra. Their sweat resulted into this river and alarmed Indra. He appeased their wrath through good offices of Brahma.

Then there is a legend of Snake, Bamun, who became the Lord of Dun on the summit of Nagdish hill. This legend seems to point to the Naga supermacy on one time. The famous stone at Kalsi near Haripur on the right banbearing the Edict of emperor Asoka may mark the boundary on Northern side.

 

Some facts about Dehradun

Bazaar buzz

Dehradun is the capital of Uttrakhand. Earlier, it was an important town in Uttar Pradesh state. Being in the hills it has milder weather than rest of Uttar Pradesh. So British moved to hill stations during summers like Dehradun, Mussorie and Shimla: all situated in the hills of North India and were cooler. It must have been a favorite city of the British as is evident from the fact that headquarters of a number of departments like Forest and Survey of India,  are located here. It is surrounded on the North by Himalayas and in the South by the Shiwaliks thus forming a valley. The valley itself is divided into two parts by a ridge.

It boasted of famous Litchi plantations. During the summer season, one could see the vendors selling this fruit. The weather was not hot even in the summers when I first came here in 1978. Now the things have changed due to deforestation and building activity on a large scale.

Hardwar Dehradun railway line was opened in 1900 thus completing 112 years. It was the continuation of Oudh & Rohilkhand Railway from Laskar to Hardwar. Total distance is 48 miles. During British time Dehradun had many tea plantations and produced 1.6 million pounds of tea in 1903. Timber was extracted and taken to Yamuna River with the help of wet wooden planks. The timber was then was formed into rafts and floated down to Delhi.

Shiva-The Most Adorable God

Shiva evolved from the fierce Vedic god Rudra with whom elements of non-Aryan fertility were merged.

English: Bangalore Shive

English: Bangalore Shive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shiva or Siva is a great ascetic. The great Yogi sits in meditation on the tiger skin on the high slopes of Mount Kailasha in Himalayas. Through his deep meditation the world is maintained. He wears his long matted hair (Jata) in a topknot with crescent moon is fixed and sacred river Ganga flows. His neck is black, scarred by the poison which was the last product of churning of the cosmic ocean and which he drank to save the other Gods. Snakes encircle his neck and arms. His body is covered with ashes. Besides him is the trident and his wife Parvati and his mount Nanadi bull.

Although he always seems to be wrapped in meditation, he can, in his divine power divide his personality. He is the lord of dance (Nataraja). In this aspect he is very popular in Tamil country. He dances in his heavenly palace at Mount Kailasa and Chidambaram temple. He is said to have developed no less than 108 different forms of dances, some cal and gentle, others fierce, orgiastic and terrible. Tandava is the form of latter. In this dance he he dances and beats a wild rhythm which destroys the world at the end of cosmic cycle.

Another form which he is seen is called Daksinamurti a universal teacher and is depicted is an informal pose, with one foot on the ground and other folded on the throne on which he sits and one hand raised in a gesture of explanation.

Above all these, he is worshiped in the form of linga, usually a cylindrical pillar with rounded top. This form seems to be popular even in Harappa civilization thus constituting an element from non-Aryan culture.

In South India, story of the marriage of Siva and Minaksi, daughter of a Pandiyan king of Madurai is an event celebrated in one of the most famous and splendid of the temples.

Tai Ahoms: The Easterly Kshatriyas

Indian subcontinent can be accessed on land and by sea from three sides. In the past, invaders entered it through West from the side of Afghanistan. It is protected from North by Himalayas which act as a formidable wall. The mountains which cover the India from North West to North East have been responsible for keeping the invaders entering from the North directly and also for creating the weather particularly the Monsoon which gives India respite from sweltering heat and helps in meeting the irrigation requirements and bestow bounteous crops to the region. Its snow capped mountains feed the perennial rivers which sustain the life of teeming masses inhabiting the entire northern India.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Sukapha.jpg?w=625

The people entering from the West mingled with original people inhabiting the region. Soon their population escalated and they were obliged to spread in search of newer avenues where the conditions existed for habitation. In this process they spread over whole of Ganges valley up to Bengal.

The other entry point was the North East where people from South East Asia and China entered India. In comparison to the Western corridor mentioned earlier, terrain here is more difficult. Also people who came and settled in the North East confined themselves to the Assam and its 6 sister states in the North East. One reason for this might have been the difficult proposition to expand towards West where already stronger kingdoms existed. Secondly the narrow strip called chicken neck area separating the North East states from rest of India must have acted as a bottleneck which might have dissuaded them.

Assam and the 6 other states namely Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland & Manipur in the North Eastern part of India possess enchanting natural beauty. Due to the lack of industrial progress, the environment is still free of pollution. The natural products are forests of bamboo & teak, crops of rice and vegetables grown on the fertile land on the edges of river Brahmaputra without any application of contaminating fertilizers. Of course most famous product of Assam known all over the world is the tea. You travel by car on any road and along both sides are never ending teas plantations. You can see the women laborers with special kind of baskets hanging from their shoulders plucking the leaves and putting in the baskets.

Nederlands: Een vrouw aan het werk op een thee...

Parasuram Kunt, Arunachal Pradesh

There is plenty of fish in the rivers. The area is rich in petroleum. In fact, the oldest oil well in India was drilled in Assam at Digboi. The original people are mainly tribals whose customs and rituals are entirely different from rest of India.

The most important migrants to come and and settle in this area came from Yunnan province. First to enter the North East region was Sukhapa, who came with army, his women and nobles. Although initially they did not practiced Hindusim but later Kings leaned towards this religion and ultimately converted to Hinduism. Local inhabitants called them Tai-Ahoms.

Arunachal Pradesh is famous for its mountainou...

Arunachal Pradesh is famous for its mountainous landscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As they became more tolerant towards Hinduism, the elements of Hindu mythology entered into their history. Thus it was stated that Brahma created the human beings from a gourd. These people were gentle and pious. But by the time of Treta Yuga, the moral values declined and Indra became worried and sent his grandsons: Khunlung & Khunlai to rule the earth and bring back the old order. These were the progenitors of Tai-Ahoms. They descended to earth facilitated by a golden ladder on the Mung-ri-Mung-ram mountains. Thus the Tai Ahoms, as they won over the local people labeled themselves as Eastern Kshatriyas.

A Trip to Dhanaulti Hill Station

A few days ago, continual rains for two days lashed Dehradun and Mussoorie hills. The temperature plummeted to freezing point and there was a snowfall in the Dhanaulti. Dhanaulti is a hill station about 30 km from the popular hill station of Mussoorie in Uttrakhand State of India. It is situated at an altitude of 2286m, and is known for its quiet environs amidst the alpine forests of Deodar, Rhododendron and Oak.

We planned to visit the place after 3 days of the snowfall. We did not expect to see any snow as we thought it would have already melted and vanished. Anyway we have read that from that place you can enjoy a beautiful view of Himalayas. We were also in two minds whether to drive in our own vehicle or hire a cab as the road is running in the hills in a sinuous manner and driving is very mind taxing.

We started in the early morning at about 8’clock. To reach Dhanaulti you have to go towards Mussoorie and take a bypass road about 10 kilometers before Mussoorie. It was brilliant sunshine. Soon the ascent began and there were curves everywhere. Along with the ascent, the temperature also began to drop. It was nearing 6 degrees Cecilius. Chill was biting the toes and numbing them. Heating had to be resorted to for keeping us warm.

We reached the bypass. From there we took a right turn and were on a road which led us to the bypass road to hill station. The route was very narrow and two vehicles coming from opposite directions could pass each other by inches only.

After this the road ran on the brink of hills. On one side of it are hills and other side very deep gorges. There were beautiful trees on the hills. Also there was a particular shrub which bore small red flowers. These shrubs grew on the walls of hills.

After traveling few kilometers, suddenly we were treated with a spectacle of breathtaking beauty. Himalayas studded with snow beckoned far off. Then there were zigzag hills showing there crests and troughs all around. There were herders herding the goats. At many places we found a novel way of storing the dried fodder by hanging the bundles from the tree branches.

Occasionally, we came across people working on the road and women who were coming with pitchers to fetch water from the newly installed water taps. It indicated that they have to travel miles for this water and it constituted a major chore for them.

When Dhanaulti was about 15 kilometers away, I spotted the white sheets of snow on the slopes of fields. Soon the roadside  was also covered with snow which has become hard and looked more like ice at many places. At many places the snow was present in good amounts.

Dhanaulti is a very small hamlet of few houses. There is a one Eco park in which you can walk the slopes to reach higher heights and see the scenery more explicitly. There were snow patches which were thawing slowly. Majestic Pine trees stood straight with their conic leaves. They looked bluish against the snow white tops of yonder Himalayas.

Crossing Dhanaulti and going 10 more kilometers is a temple called Sirkunda Devi. The head of Sati, wife of Shiva, fell here. Various other parts of her body fell at different places and are extremely pious places in India. But the Temple is located atop a very lofty hill and you have to go on foot. It takes about an hour to go up and same time to come down.

We returned without climbing to the temple. On the return journey, I was thinking to skip Mussoorie from the trip but my wife would have none of it. So we drove on a very narrow road towards the place. On reaching the Mussoorie the roads ran almost along the doors of houses and it was aweful to drive. I even thought how the vehicles have been able to reach here or once arrived have they ever left this place.

I was thinking about Ruskin Bond the famous expat English author of children books and the books like “Flight of the Pigeons” . He lives in Mussoorie. I saw in a documentary made on his life that he frequents a book store in the evening where he meets and talks with his fans and autographs the books they have purchased.

Here are some photos of the Dhanaulti.

Trees in Mumbai & Dehradun

The geographical locations of both the cities are very different. One that is Mumbai is sitting by the Arabian sea. Its importance is largely due to being a fine harbor. Thus it is a window through which India looks at the world. The city is hemmed in by the sea from all sides and hence has limitation in expanding in itself. So the population spills over to the mainland around it. Its weather is strongly affected by the breeze from the sea. Strong breeze breaks up at the noon time as the lighter hot air over the land is displaced by the cool air from the sea surface.

Dehradun on the other hand is nestled in the lap of Himalayas and is a valley. It is surrounded by lower Himalayas on North and West sides. Although it becomes very hot in the summers now, on the whole the weather is not so harsh as over the plains of Northern India. Being situated in the valley, hardly any breeze blows here.

I have lived very long years of my service in Mumbai and observed the flora over there. Now for the second time I am posted here in Dehradun. Due to the habit, the mind started to compare the flora of both places. First of all, the brain seeks to find the same trees at new place as were present in the older place.

I found some of these trees common at both places. But the look and color of leaves and flowers is different. The trees in Mumbai seem to be in haste of growing flowers. In this process they also wither away too fast. Winds aid this process. On the other hand, in Dehradun they seem to be taking their own time for maturing. They stay fresh for long periods. In fact, they seem to be like Yogis, simply serene and majestic, lost  in meditation being completely detached from the surroundings. Sometimes, it seems that they are standing still and waiting to be photographed. They are like the wallpapers on the computer screen.

Mahseer-Tiger in Water

Mahseer

Mahseer is a carp found in the shimmering freshwater riversof Himalaya especially Jhelum. Kashmiris prized this fish. Since Pakistan constructed Mangla Dam on the river in 1967, it became almost extinct on Indian side of the border.

Scientific name of Mahseer is Tor Tor. It is a huge fish with size going up to 9 feet and weight more than 50 kilograms and has great strength and is very difficult to get hold of. That is why it got the moniker “tiger in the water”. Incidentally, Kashmiri brahmins are heavy non-vegetarians. Meat is the main ingredient of their diet.

For more information on fishes fond in Western Indian rivers, please visit the site “Mahseer