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Monday, November 05, 2007

Detained, fined and sent packing

With our tail between our legs we have traveled east from the Ton’s and Supin drainages looking to gain the upper hand.
During a days driving we passed by what is effectively now the source of the Ganges, the Tehri Dam. The project is an astonishing site as continual maintenance is needed to the fragile landscape.

Image Zak Shaw - Tehri Dam

The Ganges is the most spiritual river in all of India. The government was incredibly bold in their approach when they aimed and attacked at the biggest prize of all first. Proposing to dam the Ganges received widespread outcry.
The damming of the Ganges has set huge precedents over current and future hydro plans. In Shalab’s words “It has put a complete stop to the anti dam movement in India”
It seems that if a waterway as sacred as the Ganges can be altered on such a massive scale that moral ethics are being pushed aside and the floodgates of dam construction are now completely open. The spiritual significance of all rivers is irrelevant here now, the money in dams is astounding.

27th/28th Ben Jackson enjoys one of the cool moves during our two day 30km descent of the Bhilangna. Image Zak Shaw.

Some Italians were in this area two years ago according to locals so we are unsure if it has been previously paddled. Regardless of this fact it was an awesome overnight run with two easy portages.

Image - Zak Shaw Bhilangna camp
29th We spent two days in the Mandakini catchment and paddled a great big water run with impressive mountain views. Ben Jackson gets some local advice.
31st Pausing at the entrance to the Nanda Devi Wildlife Sanctuary Biosphere we made enquiries for the necessary permits we would need before entering the National Park.
A phone call to a local trekking company informed us we could venture into the biosphere and look at the Dhauli Ganga River without entering into the National Park. Along the way we passed two un-maned checkpoint stations and had no real idea that we were about to get ourselves in a whole world of shit.
We paddled an awesome section starting at 3000m and found the best whitewater of our travels thus far.

Image -Zak Shaw, Sam Hughes in the Upper Dhauli Ganga.

Locals offered us the school building as shelter as leopard in the area are common and have killed five people recently in other areas. We returned to the put in the following morning. Whilst paddling downriver we waved at locals and some smart looking officials in uniform. I thought nothing of it.
At the take out we we met by seven officers armed with rifles and shotguns and instructed that we would be escorted to the forest park headquarters two hours drive away. There faces held stern looks initially but they quickly warmed to us, we drank tea and held their guns! (they use these to shoot at wildlife poachers) One officer traveled in our vehicle while we followed JJ and his new found friends in the pilot vehicle. JJ liked their trucks curtains.

Back in Joshimath we filled out lots of forms, written statements, were interviewed/interrogated individually and we debated our case with the Forest Park director. This began at 4pm and we retired to the Forest Park/Police/Army compound and were detained for the night at 2am.

With maximum fines a potential court hearing and two month imprisonment over our heads we continued on with the interrogation and finally walked away with a fine of 20,000 rupees/ $500 US. This is the average annual income in India.
We had broken no laws or legislation as there is none for kayaking within the biosphere. We are bit confused with what we actually did wrong. Trespassing and environmental impact was mentioned but we were allowed on the road but not in the tress off the road….The ironic thing is that the forestry services has sold permits to hydro companies inside the biosphere to generate power, we passed six alone on the Dhauli Ganga The outskirts of the biosphere is being destroyed, roads blasted into hillsides, dams, barrages are everywhere.
Anyway we were all a bit fired up after a really long day with not alot of sleep and 30 hours with one meal.

With every forest service office in the state aware of our presence we were forced to leave the area or face fines of 10,000 rupees pp.
"Making the payment" Lovely doing business with you sir. Image Sam Hughes.

"India consumes you, its never quiet, never slows down and is always in your face”

The next day we pulled a 12 day old body from the Alaknanda river. Thirteen people had plunged in an overloaded bus. With kayaks and ropes we recovered the man and handed him back to his grieving family. They would then be able to collect insurance money.
We finished the 18km section of big volume whitewater but none of us were that focused on the river. My brain had no more room, our thoughts were elsewhere.

We are now in the far east of Uttaranchal. Yesterday we scouted the Pindar river to no avail in the morning. In the afternoon we drove to the banks of the Dhauliganga (two exist in Uttaranchal) We have high hopes for this river this week before we cross the border into Nepal.

Sam Hughes has captured some fantastic images. These are available to view at http://www.adventuresinpacland.blogspot.com/

Zak Shaw

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