Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Ganga is dying at both ends....

Photo credits for Gaumukh Photo(see enlarged;people standing out there) :ins
Source of Earthobservatory Satelite image: NASA
Watch CNN-IBN video

“Yudhishthira asked:

Which countries, which provinces, which retreats, which mountains, and which rivers, O grandsire, are the foremost in point of sanctity?

The Rishi crowned with success said: Those countries, those provinces, those retreats, and those mountains, should be regarded as the foremost in point of sanctity through which or by the side of which that foremost of all rivers, viz., Bhagirathi (Ganga or Ganges) flows.”

From The Mahabharata
Anusasna parva, Section XXVI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

The famous Gangotri Glacier in Uttaranchal Himalayas at its terminus, the snout, called ‘Gaumukh’ because of its peculiar cow’s mouth like opening and where the river Bhagirathi, the main tributary of the river ‘Ganga’ (Ganges) oozes out after its many kilometers long journey beneath the mighty Gangotri Glacier presents an unmistakable dramatic and mystic visage for any one with some sense of wonder, adventure or discovery …!

We trekked about 20 KM up to Gaumukh in the summer of year 2004.

In the backdrop of mythical Mount Shivling which towers over it magnificently the vulnerability of the moment, the aura of the place and the energy of the pilgrims commingle to create a scene , a feeling, a sense of enormity that bewitches you with that sacred something which is very life itself….!

Here is a place which seems imbued with ‘absoluteness’ of its own, and a time which seems still.

Not any longer!

The Global Warming is fast becoming a Global Warning in Himalayas! Over the years, much water has flown through the Ganga, and more will flow through for a while….before the water starts receding and then eventually dying...(?)

The Gaumukh of today, the glacial snout is in retreat with Gangotri, at 29 KM long and 2 to 6 Km wide, the largest glacier in the Central Himalayas having melted about 2 KM in the last century or so! This retreat has become alarming for some years now with a rate of about 30 meters per year.

The linear extrapolating models for future may not mean much in the scenario, for a glacier exists in a yearly snowfall received and melt equilibrium and some unidirectional constant changes may trip the balance and then everything gets unstable as cascading effects set in.
In the case of Gangotri glacier, rapid growth of lakes has been observed and as the water can store more heat compared to ice it will kick off a feedback that would create further melting.

Its natural sidewalls seem to be loosening due to heavy erosion and thus the support to the glacier from sides may be weakening leading to its possible disintegration!

Satellite pictures apart, there are telltale signs of the retreat of the glacier with markings and engravings showing the position of the snout of the glacier as it existed in 1870, 1935, 1971 and so on. The pilgrims to Gaumukh and Tapovan pass through these markings on their onward journey often unknowing!

But know they should! For the effects are not confined to this place only and these are flowing with the receding waters down the river to all of the Indo- Gangetic plain and beyond arguably the most dense human conglomeration in the world...!

“In the Ganga, the loss of glacier melt water would reduce July- September flow by two-thirds causing water shortage for 500 million people and 37 percent of India’s irrigated land." (Jain 2001)

Its not that only Gangotri glacier is shrinking….
The glaciers are receding in many parts of the world but a report by the
Working Group on Himalayan Glaciology (WGHG) of the International Commission for snow and Ice (ICST) states, “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 is very high…”

WWF Report, an overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat and subsequent impacts in Nepal, India and China (2005) concluded that “…67 percent of Himalayan glaciers are retreating rapidly.”

And the consequences are enormous to say the least!

Apart from its resulting in disturbed global earth balance with its myriad loops, chains and feedbacks affecting Earth’s
hydrosphere and biosphere life as such would be shaken very adversely. The regional food security, biodiversity and local livelihood will all be affected with untold further affects.

The glaciers are not just huge concentrations of ice and snow in remote mountainous regions that present a pretty scene for the adventurers; they are a veritable life-line within a network of a vast and complex bio-geological eco system. These are a perfect and sometimes the only sources of fresh water supply in the plains providing the highest run-off during warm days and also buffer other eco systems against climate variability….

This deglaciation coupled with alarming levels of pollutants that the Ganga is fed in its downstream journey is causing the Ganga of today to die at both ends simultaneously……
Pilgrimages were supposed to be undertaken after fulfilling one's responsibilities....and these were as much a journey inside as it were outside to unbare one's deepest recesses , fears and hopes .

I wonder whether we undertake any such pilgrimage today!


jaypee said...

that was quite a journey. do you remember we talked of how we understood the real meaning of so many idioms in that 20 kms trek.
the other day i was telling someone about the landslides that we saw on our way back. i told them you can't really understand it until you see it. there is an idiom for that - "seeing is believing". i saw the idiom in action as we saw mount Varunavrat giving away. the glacier in retreat is another reality that is to be seen to be believed.

Rajesh said...

Jaypee: Well remembered! That was an eventful journey into many unknowns. From a chance running into a group of wild elephants on road, the slow end-less trekking with its long energy-conserving silences, a sudden reinvigoration at the literally breath-taking grandeur of the Gaumukh to that narrow escape on journey back home at Mt. Varnavart’s sudden giving way to a mud slide in darkness of that ferociously raining night whence our vehicle was caught in 5 feet of mud and slide in no time…all was packed into that!
Only in the morning we could know how much lucky we had been, having seen the boulders size of buildings that had come hurtling down its slopes last year flattening many shops!

In case of Gangotri glacier, certainly having seen with our own eyes, the markings of the position of Gaumukh from year 1870 onwards, it helped the feeling of the loss of Gangotri to sink in…!

That in some sense is also a failure of our ‘ordinary’ manner of seeing the things…with just lots of words and concepts devoid of any feeling that don’t grow in us.
With the web of interconnections of life having become very intertwined, the remotest happenings are affecting us in many ways and one just can’t have the luxury of being ‘there’ each time!

So, how does one ‘see’?

I think one must have some sensitivity left to have a deep feeling of the things around…

As the wise one said, "What the heart does not feel, the eye can never see..."

arun negi said...

hey rajesh,
ver well written blog....the so called global warming has been taking a big toll on our himalayas. i remember seeing that satellite pic( gangotri glacier) on one of NASA sites- guess its a grim reminder of what lies ahead in future. i'm from one of the himalayan village.. the effects of global warming are starkly visible .. be it less or no snowfall, less water in perennial streams, land slides etc..