For many of us, summer pushes an automatic trigger in the brain that directs the fingers to book tickets and the feet to begin moving north. Into the wild, as they say. Into the high mountains, with all due excitement.
You would’ve perhaps noticed the perils of selfies and other water-centric shenanigans making startlingly regular newspaper headlines in the recent years though. Last October a 20-year-old Kerala tourist drowned in Parvati river. Six tourists fell in different rivers of Kullu Valley last June, and then there was the heartbreaking tragedy of 24 engineering students from Hyderabad being swept away in Beas river in 2014. It sparked a debate. It (finally) sparked a grievance against monstrous dams.
Himalayan rivers flow fast and deep, making it near impossible to trace bodies. There are several reasons for this. The reasons created by Nature are predictable in some ways. We know that snowmelt increases the volume of water in the river, the highest point of which is usually marked along the banks on parts of the road if you care to notice. Monsoon further raises the water levels.
But the bigger, more notorious, less discussed reasons have nothing to do with Nature and everything to do with man. They are born out of our need for electricity, without which we can’t power our AC and fridge and tablets. Generating it in hydel power plants makes the flow of water in the river fluctuate dramatically, as much as every hour. Even if you keep aside the ecological concerns for a moment, you can imagine why a perfectly placid sliver of turquoise can turn into a frothing torrent within minutes. It isn’t the river’s fault, it’s simple physics.
No we don’t mean to freak you out before your much-awaited holiday in the cooler air of the mountains. But basic carelessness can do more than basic damage; all you need to do is tone down your spirit for adventure a notch and accord the respect that Nature deserves so you can enjoy a trip and make happy memories.
The first thing to keep in mind is that there are dams everywhere. Over a 100 of them in Uttarakhand alone. About 600 of them existing, planned and under construction on the Ganga. In such a situation you can rest assured that water can come flooding from any side, and if a siren is sounded by the dam operator, chances are you wouldn’t hear it unless you are within half a kilometre’s range. So the thing to do is seek a local’s advice on designated spots where it is safe to venture towards the river bank. Better still is to hire a guide. And let the smartphone (and music players!) rest safely in the car.
Brighu Acharya, founder of Himalayan Brothers Adventure – a very reputed trek and tour operator in Kullu Valley – often comes across tourists intent on taking breaks to frolic in water. It’s an innocent enough request, but he says, “Things aren’t always the way they seem, the depth of a river can hardly be gauged looking from above. It’s always better to approach a rivulet or smaller streams instead, if at all. Waterfalls are generally safer, though not with a beer in hand. Especially during the months from June to September when water levels are unpredictably high.”
When such requests come, he doesn’t discourage his clients but instead guides them to the safer spots that they are familiar with having grown up in this terrain. He also organises treks to lakes like Brighu Lake, where you can camp at a safe distance and still enjoy the presence of a shimmering water body. “We can take people waterfall hopping if they like, but we don’t recommend diving into deep pools. There is a reason why you don’t see locals taking a swim in a river on a Sunday afternoon!”
It also pays to remember that you stand even fewer chances if you lack basic swimming skills, least of all in raging waters. So this summer, take in the beauty of the country’s ancient glacial streams with care and grace. Lastly, do your homework before you start fording. Get carried away by the sheer beauty, not the currents!
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