Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rishikesh 2010 A.D.

My first trip to the hills immortalised in the writings of Ruskin Bond and my geography lessons in school, was one of shock and awe.

It was towards the end of March 2010 and I was eager to see the hills that were said to be thick with forests, wild animals and the hillsides dotted with remote, picturesque villages. Instead, I encountered landslides and brown hills devoid of forests. There were trees, yes, as brown as the hills, so much so that they seemed to be in camouflage.
It was a short 3 day trip, mainly spent river-rafting down the Ganges. All along the 50 km stretch of river the scene was the same. Brown and myriad shades of the same. The only green you could see was closer to the river at it's edge.

Dehradun, the town made famous because of its salubrous climate, proximity to the national capital and its numerous schools was busy & crowded. In certain areas that I drove through, it still retained a semblance of old world charm one hears of hillside towns but they were few and far between. The main street boasted of a Nirula's, pizza places, MNC brands like Bossini, UCB and more. I guess, free-market India had sunk its root wide & deep into this Himalayan town. Not to mention the boarding schools provided ample customers for these outlets.

The Rajaji National Park just outside of Dehradun had...good guess... brown trees. The few rivers or streams I drove past along the highway were dry and the beds were parched, thirstily awaiting the monsoon rains. It appeared to me (though I didn't check on it further) that these rivers might have either been dammed or the river waters diverted into canals, else it was hardly likely that snow-fed rivers would be completely bereft of any water.

While I loved the river-rafting, the dips in the icy-cold Ganges, the gleaming white beaches along the river bank, I realised that the Ganges was perhaps the only draw to this piece of (erstwhile) paradise. Over-harvested forest and hills seem to have given up the struggle and why not? Now more work-gangs are employed just to wall the hillsides so sudden landslides don't endanger roads and motorists along the heavily travelled route from Haridwar to Rishikesh, Devprayag and beyond.

It made me wonder if, Ruskin Bond's poem would hold true for Dehradun & its hills in the years ahead or is it already too late? (I would like to believe it isn't and the people of Uttarakhand will once again restore to its pristine glory, the valleys, hills and forests of the state.... if not for the fear of the Gods in these "holy" environs but at least for the fear of Global Warming!)

Living with Mountains
Once you have lived with mountains
under the benedictory pines
And deodars, near stars
And a brighter moon,
With wood smoke and mist
Sweet smell of grass and dew smoke
You will return,
You will come back,
To touch the trees and grass,
And cimb once more the windswept pass
~Ruskin Bond

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