Road to Sustainability: Lesson from a Ghost-Village in the Himalayas.

World Environment Day

Note: The place that is mentioned here in the story is on the verge of becoming a Ghost-Village, just like any other village in the hills of Uttrakhand.

Repercussion of “VIKAAS”

Roads of Village
Road on the village of Bhatigaon

The road has finally arrived here in Bhatigaon. The road which will now take the sick and the weak to the hospitals. The road which will take the children to the nearby English-medium private schools. The road which will make it easier for people to reach the district headquarters of Pithoragarh, the fast-growing commercial town of Haldwani and to the National Capital Region.

This village of Army-veterans and serving personnel have been a part of the ‘money-order-income’ for about a century. Generations here have served the Colonial British Army and the present Indian Defence forces.

How do you think the prestigious Kumaon Regiment became the most ornamented regiment in the country? But it took more than 65 years post-Independence for the road to reach here.

JCB ki khudai
Bulldozer JCB along with Dynamite has done rampant construction not considering the local ecology

Even before the road was constructed, the village was prosperous enough to have toilets, electricity and water connectivity to every household. People have even transported refrigerators and television-sets on back of the Mules to their home. It was well connected to the word but a cumbersome trek of 6 kilometers to the nearest marketplace made the daily life miserable. Thanks to the Engineers, the ever so powerful dynamites and the bulldozers, everything seems perfect now.

Water source in Himalayas
Muddy water coming out from the tap

For the past two years, since the arrival of the road, the residents of the tiny hamlet of Jajouli in Bhattigaon have not consumed their respective tap water. Visibly muddy water has replaced their crystal clear water.


Streams of villages
Debris and rubble are just then out from the slopes blocking many streams of water

The rubble from the rampant construction from the road is mixed-up with the source of water to the village. The sacred Oak trees have been the source of water for hundreds of years in the villages of Himalayas. In-fact the Glacial streams of the rivers like Ganga and Yamuna get a majority of their share of water from such streams coming out from the Oak roots.

“People did some survey here for the route. We told them about our water stream, on which the entire settlement was dependent but the people who were involved in the construction did not care about it. They had no way to dispose the debris from the construction.” says Kharak Singh (62), a resident in the area.

Water sources of hills
Water supply in Jajouli Hamlet

The taps which were running for more than 35 years, providing the mineral-rich water for drinking, suddenly became useless. The muddy water is only used for the kitchen garden by most of the people now. If their only source of drinking water is polluted, where do these people go to fetch water now?

It is the century-old system of science and ecology that has still kept the understanding about the environment alive in the conscience of people. The traditional depression aquifers or ‘The Naulas’ have become the primary source of drinking water again, the way it used to be before the taps and the pipelines.

A ‘Naula’ is a naturally-occurring water aquifer in a stone-lined tank which catches dripping water from springs and streams. Considered sacred in the area, it looks like a tiny temple and is equally regarded as such.

Radhika Devi clearing muck and rubble from the stream

Radhika Devi is cleaning the area around a Naula. She is also clearing off the rubble from the steam, which is a few meters away from the Naula.

Radhika (62) says:

“The debris from the road got washed away in the steam, blocking the way of other water streams. We have to clean it so that the water keeps flowing.”

The hamlet has around 15 houses and around 6 ‘Naulas’. Before there were any taps around the area, we use to fetch water from these areas. They were maintained on regular basis and kept clean from time to time.

Devdutt Pathak (63) is fetching water from a Naula near his house. His Brass vessel is filled up to the brim and he carries it 3-times a day. “I never got used to the taste of tap water. I am used to the THANDO PAANI (chilled water) of Naula.” he told me.

Priests of India
Dayanand Pathak, the priest standing in front of a temple and a Naula

A kilometer away lies a temple with a Naula in its premise. Situated in a green stretch of Oak and Buransh trees, the place is believed to be older than 200 years. Dayanand Pathak shares his knowledge about the place. ” I have seen this place while growing up, my father had seen the same. This place was here even before my grandfather. This place is a temple and Devi(Goddess) resides here” Said the 65-year-old priest.

Environment crisis
A Naula filled up to the brim even during summers

Many Naulas in the nearby areas are constructed near the roots of Oak and Buransh trees, filled with the chilled water. But not every aquifer recover from the wrath of time. It requires a constant effort of maintenance and cleanliness. Some have dried out. What remains of them are the stone structures around it.

Uttarakhand's village
Ganga Devi once had a private Naula, but she abandoned it after the water was supplied to her tap

For many years Ganga Karki (75) had a personal Naula but after the arrival of the pipes and the taps, it was forgotten and now there are only weeds and ferns in place of the water. ‘My son found the place from where water was coming out and later my husband made a stone structure around it.” she told me.

Naulas have been considered as sacred in Uttarakhand’s tradition and culture.

This knowledge speaks for itself that the ancestors of these Himalayan people recognized the importance of water and water-harvesting systems and included them in their rituals and sacred events.

World Emvironment Day
A Naula is generally placed along with the roots of Oak Trees

The Naulas in Kumaon made during the Katyuri and Chand Eras are still in use today. For instance, the 1,000-year-old Naula in Suryakot (Almora), the 700-year-old Naula near Haat Kalika temple in Gangolihat (Pithoragarh) and Ek Hathiya Naula in Champawat district are popular heritage sites and archaeologically very pivotal for understanding the symbiotic relationship of the people with nature.

How Modi’s model of development is destructive?

Modi’s Kedarnath Yatra

One place where our Prime Minister finds spiritual enlightenment other than Varanasi is Kedarnath. His image of meditating in the luxurious cave got viral where he was equally appreciated and mocked on the social media platforms.

During his campaign in the area, he repeatedly said, “Pahad ka Pani aur pahad ki jawani dono hi pahad ke kaam nahi aati (The youth and the water of these hills does not get used by the hills).”  He got the nerve of the problem here.

Despite a very good literacy rate, the state has witnessed a huge migration of its residents due to lack of employment opportunity.

Now after Kedarnath Tragedy of 2013, our Prime Minister decided to give a tribute to the victims of the man-made disaster with a Highway project.

Seven Project Roads, Source: The Quint

The project proposes widening of single lane roads into double lane by upto 10 meters. The stated aim of the project is to improve the accessibility to Char Dham (shrines) of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.

The project also proposes the creation of 889 km long national highways to connect whole of Uttarakhand state. It has been divided into 7 packages comprising of 9 destinations including Tanakpur to Pithoragarh stretch.

With the total cost of ₹11,700 crores, the foundation stone of the project was laid by PM  Modi on 27 December 2016. It includes the construction of two tunnels, 15 big flyovers, 101 small bridges, 3596 culverts and 12 bypass roads. About Rs. 3000 crore has been sanctioned for the project and tenders have been awarded for the same.

Now, what’s the problem here?

Put the example of the aforementioned Bhatigaon Village in a larger context.

For widening of the roads precarious mountain slopes are being cut in a haphazard manner with the use of heavy machines like Bulldozers(JCBs).

Roads of Indian Village
Road constructed over the steam from where the whole village consumes water

As reported by SANDRP, the process has removed the vegetation cover on slopes downhill and exposed the soil and rocks underneath, to erosion along the slopes. There have been many reports showing how hasty widening of roads has destabilized the slopes and ensued multiple landslides.

The debris, rubble and muck generated in massive amount from slope cutting are being dumped directly into the rivers. This has disturbed aquatic life and water quality of the stream. The project is adversely affecting its own Ganga rejuvenation objective and not even assessing how the project would affect its Ganga rejuvenation objective.

How to act like a Hindu?

BJP and Narendra Modi have tried very hard to exhibit their Hindu image to the world. But how can they let the supposed holy rivers die with rampant construction, dams and pollution? How will they be able to justify their concern for Ganga when saints are dying demanding the end of exploitation of the river?

Ganga crusader GD Agarwal dies after 111-day fast

Learn from the people here, people who worship the very rivers and forests which are being sold to the corporates for monetary profits. People who are aware of Ecology and Geology around. The true spiritual enlightenment can be achieved only with sustainable development. Projects which will last for generations to come and have a symbiotic relationship with nature.

Oak trees of hills
Women crossing a stream which emanated from the Oak trees

Water, which is the most vital natural resource for life on earth and the scarcest commodity in the 21st Century, is being polluted by various anthropogenic activities. The ancestors of Himalayan communities followed some basic principles to keep water pure and pollution-free. These include considering water source as “sacred”; constructing a temple at the source of water; not obstructing the flow of it.

Amidst the climate change debate, there is hope that we can conserve the resources. Many villagers still prefer to drink water from the local Naulas and use the water of pipelines only for their other daily needs such as washing clothes and dishes and bathing. Some of the traditional practices followed by these people are so scientific that if they are adopted by the rest of us, the problem of water crisis can be solved.

The development policies cannot be made in the air-conditioned Secretariats and Offices. The policymakers need to learn from the local experiences to make the development models which have a sustainable approach and wisdom of the people of terrain. Thousands of Bhatigaons are still alive on the hills because they had inherited the sustainable approach.

Sanjay Singh Karki
Sanjay Singh Karki

Reporter and video producer at Qweed. Occasional runner, aspiring to be Ultra Marathon athlete. Always up for conversation provided there is a free CHAI.

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