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The Ganga


"The Ganga, especially, is the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are intertwined her memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India's age long culture and civilization, ever changing , ever flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga."

- Jawaharlal Nehru, First Prime Minister of India

Gomukh - The Origin

The river, about 2,510 km (1,560 mi) long, rises in a snowfield called THE GANGOTRI GLACIER, situated among three Himalayan mountains all more than 6,706 m (22,000 ft) high. It issues as the Bhagirathi River from an ice cave, 3,139 m (10,300 ft) above sea level, and falls 67 m per km (350 ft per mi). About 16 km (10 mi) from the source is Gangotri, the first temple on its banks and a traditional resort of pilgrims. At the village of Devaprayag, 214 km (133 mi) from the source, the Bhagirathi joins the Alaknanda to form the Ganges.

The Ganges, after descending 2,827 m (9,276 ft), or an average of about 11 m per km (60 ft per mi), flows west to the border of the great plain of Hindustan at Haridwar, 253 km (157 mi) from its source and 312 m (1,024 ft) above sea level. From Haridwar it continues south and then south-east to Allahabad after a winding course of 785 km (488 mi), made un navigable by shoals and rapids.

At Allahabad, the Ganges is joined by the Yamuna River from the south-west, and from that point the river flows east past Mirzapur, Varanasi, Ghazipur, Patna, Monghyr, and Bhagalpur, receiving on the south the Son River and on the north the Gumti, Ghaghara, Gandak, and Kosi rivers. In the Rajmahal Hills, at the head of the Ganges delta, 906 km (563 mi) from Allahabad, the river turns south and begins a descent of 455 km (283 mi) to the Bay of Bengal. Near Pakaur, the Bhagirathi (assuming the former name of the river) and, 114 km (71 mi) lower down, the Jalangi River branch off from the main stream, and after individual courses of 193 km (120 mi) each, unite again to form the Hooghly River, the westernmost and principal channel of navigation, on which the city of Calcutta stands. The main branch of the Ganges, from which numerous minor tributaries flow, continues in Bangladesh, as the Padma River, to the town of Shivalaya (Sibalay), where it unites with the Jamuna, the main branch of the Brahmaputra, and finally runs through the Meghna estuary into the Bay of Bengal.

Between the Meghna estuary and the western channel of the Hooghly River are the several mouths of the deltaic channels. The northern portion of the delta is fertile and well cultivated. The southern section consists mostly of swampland, known as the Sundarbans, because of the sundari tree that flourishes there. The marshes are inhabited by several species of crocodile. From year to year the Ganges exchanges old channels for new ones, particularly in the alluvial basin of its lower reaches. Like the Brahmaputra, the Ganges has been adversely affected by the deforestation of valleys in its upper course, causing flooding and an increase in sedimentation around the river’s delta in Bangladesh. This sometimes combines with coastal flooding caused by cyclones to produce inundation of the delta area on a massive scale.

The Ganges is regarded by Hindus as the most sacred river in the world. Many important religious ceremonies are held in cities on its banks, including Varanasi, Haridwar, and Allahabad.

The Ganges River Dolphin

The Ganges river dolphin (platanista gangetia) is found in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, in the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, Karnaphuli and Hoogli river systems. The river water is so muddy that vision is useless and so these dolphins are blind and their eyes have no lenses. They use a sophisticated echolocation system to navigate and find food. They eat shrimp and fish from the mud in river bottoms.

They are solitary creatures and are only found in fresh water. The Ganges river dolphin is an endangered species as a result of a number of factors. These factors include the damming of rivers for hydroelectric and irrigation purposes, and the increase in boat traffic, fishing and pollution. They are also hunted by humans for meat and oil. There are only approximately 4000 - 6000 individuals left. Formerly quite abundant, the overall population of Ganges river dolphins is reduced to probably fewer than 100 dolphins in Nepal, with the group of about 20 in the Karnali River above Chisapani being the largest single concentration. In the late 1980's it was estimated that 4000 - 5000 susus inhabited the four major sections of the species' range: 3000 - 3500 in the Gangetic deltaic zone, consisting of the Ganges below Farakka Barrage, the Brahmaputra below Tistamukhghat, and as far up the Meghna as Bairab Bazar; 500 - 750 in the Ganges River zone; 500 in the Brahmaputra River zone; and 750 in the Meghna River zone above Bairab Bazar. These figures do not appear to be based on a survey or any other kind of quantitative data, so they should be regarded as nothing more than informed guesses. About 45 dolphins were estimated in the Chambal River, a south-western tributary of the Ganges, in the early 1980s (Jones, 1982; Reeves and Brownell, 1989, Reyes, 1991 and refs. therein). In a more recent paper, Mohan et al. (1997) estimated the population of Ganges River dolphin in the river Brahmaputra from South Salmara to Sadiya to be 400. With an annual mortality of about 60, the population size has been reduced by 30% over the past 10 years.

However, according to the IWC (2000) population assessment has generally been based on counts of dolphins on relatively small segments of rivers, with no estimates of precision

The Delta

The silt deposits of the delta cover an area of 23 000 sq miles (60 000 sq km). The river courses in the delta are broad and active, carrying a vast amount of water. The rains from June to October cause most of the Bangladeshi delta region to flood, leaving the villages that are built on artificially raised land isolated.

On the seaward side of the delta are swamplands and tidal forests called Sunderbans which are protected conservation areas in both Indian and Bangladeshi law. The peat found in the delta is used for fertilizer and fuel. The water supply to the river depends on the rains brought by the monsoon winds from July to October and the melting snow from the Himalayas during the period from April to June. The delta also experiences strong cyclonic storms before and after the monsoon season which can be devastating. In November 1970, for example, 200 000 - 500 000 people were killed in such storms. The delta used to be densely forested and inhabited by many wild animals. Today, however, it has become intensely cultivated to meet the needs of the growing population and many of the wild animals have disappeared. The Royal Bengal Tiger still lives in the Sunderbans and kills about 30 villagers every year. There remains high fish populations in the rivers which provides an important part of the inhabitants' diet. Bird life in the Ganges basin is also prolific.

The Map

The river known as the Ganges is officially and popularly known by its Hindu name, Ganga. The river has its source in the Himalayas, at Gaumakh in the southern Himalayas on the Indian side of the Tibetan border. It is 1 560 miles (2 510 km) long and flows through China, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Ganges river basin is one of the most fertile and densely populated in the world and covers an area of 400 000 sq miles (1 000 000 sq km). The river flows through 29 cities with population over 100,000, 23 cities with population between 50,000 and 100,000, and about 48 towns.

Dams on the Ganga

There are two major dams on the Ganga. One at Haridwar diverts much of the Himalayan snowmelt into the Upper Ganges Canal, built by the British in 1854 to irrigate the surrounding land. This caused severe deterioration to the water flow in the Ganga, and is a major cause for the decay of Ganga as an inland waterway.

The other dam is a serious hydroelectric affair at Farakka, close to the point where the main flow of the river enters Bangladesh, and the tributary Hooghly (also known as Bhagirathi) continues in West Bengal past Calcutta. This barrage, which feeds the Hooghly branch of the river by a 26 mile long feeder canal, and its water flow management has been a long-lingering source of dispute with Bangladesh, which fortunately is likely to be resolved based on discussions held with the new Hasina government in Bangladesh in 1996 when I.K. Gujral was the Foreign Minister in India, Failure to resolve this has caused harm to both sides of the border for nearly two decades now. Bangladesh feels that the lack of flow in the summer months causes sedimentation and makes Bangladesh more prone to flood damages. At the same time, proposals for linking the Brahmaputra to the Ganges to improve the water flow in the Ganges is hanging fire. Also, the water management problem may actually involve a number of other riparian countries such as Nepal (where there has been tremendous deforestation, leading to greater silt content).

It is likely that Ganga carried more water around the time of the Roman Empire, when Patna was the major port city of Pataliputra. Even in the eighteenth century the ships of the East India Company would come to call at the port city of Tehri, on the Bhagirathi, one of the main source river of Ganga.

Another dam is proposed to be built on the upper reaches of a tributary of the Ganga, Mahakali, This Indo-Nepal project, the Pancheswar dam, proposes to be the highest dam in the world and will be built with US collaboration.

The upper and lower Ganga canal, which is actually the backbone of a network of canals, runs from Haridwar to Allahabad, but maintenance has not been very good and my personal experience is that it probably trickles out into a small river a little beyond Kanpur.

Ward's Lake, located in the heart of Shillong, offers you a most pleasant beauty spot. The lake with gradually undulating grounds, hemmed in by lush greens, has a charming winding walk-a-way in the midst of rolling flowerbeds and fairyland lighting. The 100-year-old lake has a strikingly beautiful arched bridge. Boats of all sizes and shapes are available while the cafeteria provides you with refreshments. Other notable breathtaking beauty spots are Lady Hydari Park, St. Paul's Cathedral, Crinoline swimming pool, Botanical Gardens, Shillong Peak with a 180-degree view of the city.