On a trail of the Ganga - PART 1I

On a trail of the Ganga - PART 1I


-Saraswati Kavula


After Kompeng, the temperature cooled and the views too were worth a dekko. But still, not what it must have been with the original beauty of this famed land, which locals call,
 “Dev Bhoomi” or “Land of the Gods”.


We could see more signs of the destruction that was happening to these areas: mountains being blasted at many places, to make way for new roads, or to widen existing ones; new bridges, and of course the new Hydro Electric Projects. My taxi man said, “See if there are two vehicles coming across each other, then there is not much space to overtake, so we need to widen the roads”. We could see the heaps of broken rocks lining the roads. I said, “When that road is widened, then more vehicles will come and then you will have to further widen the roads”. My taxi man said, “Well, we need to do that, after all, we have to have good roads to facilitate the traffic.” A new area of the mountain was blasted, just before we climbed the mountain to Kompeng, and a new road was being laid on another side, I wanted to know what that road was for, “That road is being laid by the Hydro-electric project people, to facilitate the movement of their vehicles, they are also constructing new bridges in many places. Traveling will become easier in future”.  I just remarked looking at the blasted rock, “I suppose, this is development”. My co-passenger, a sheep rearer by profession, remarked, “Depends on how you look at it, vikas or vinaash – development or destruction”.


I was a keen enthusiast of trekking. At one time I thought this was the best way to encourage nature friendliness amongst the young and old alike. But now, after a visit to Gangotri, I am not so sure. Gangotri is a very holy place for all Hindus, and there is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Ganga, on the banks of the river, built by Raja Amar Singh Thapa of Nepal in 1800’s. The area is open from April until November (till Diwali) after which it shuts down in winter due to heavy snowfall. Every day, hundreds throng the temple town, which is more like a large village. But the journey is not complete without a visit to the Gomukh Glacier, from where Ganga emerges.


Gomukh is about 20 kilometres away from Gangotri. There are two kinds of people who go to the Gomukh glacier – the pilgrims and the trekkers and a third kind, the local sadhus. And there are only two ways to go up to Gomukh – either on foot or on a mule. I chose the latter, since I was not sure I could complete 40 kilometres in one or even two days. I was to realise later that going on foot was any day advisable than 40 kilometres on a mule. I did intend to walk up to Gomukh and was making preparations, when I met a trio of trekkers at the temple, as the aarti was going on, the day before. They were from Pune city and told me that they were going beyond Tapovan until Nandanvan. Tapovan is about 5 kilmoters beyond Gomukh and although initially I had plans to go up to Tapovan, I dropped the idea, since people told me one has to walk across the Gomukh Glacier and carry one’s food and tents etc along with some experienced guides, to go there. My friends from Pune told me that they were hiring porters and had their tents etc and were planning a longish trip.


So, while the men from Pune set off on foot the next day, I hired a mule and went on my journey. The first stop was a kilometre away at the entrance to the Gangotri National Park. And right next to the board, was a huge bin with lots of trash – various food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic carry bags etc. There were a few dhabas enroute, in the style of a Sarai, which could accommodate people for a night. The first one was after the 5 kms, near a big stream. On the way I could see water bottles, food wrappers, chocolate wrappers, gutkha wrappers thrown here and there: people too busy to bother to pick up the trash that they bring with them on their way to the Glacier.  In the Dhabas one finds everything possible – soft drinks, Instant food, bread, cigarettes, chocolates…like any other store in the plains. For the travellers, there are beddings available in case they wish to break the journey at night. But one thing I fail to understand, while there is so much fresh, clear, sweet water available en route, why do tourists ask for Soft Drinks? Surely, if they did not ask for such things, one would not find them in the Hills and especially, in such eco-sensitive areas?


The next break was at Chirbasa, another five kilmeters away. I met my friends from Pune at that place. I was saying, “Do you see, the topography undergoing a change? I feel that even trekking in these areas must be banned. Today, there is this dirt road, and dhabas. Tomorrow, with popular demand, there could be a road laid, and hotels will come up all the way. And soon, cars and may be even helicopters will go up to the Glacier like it happened in other places”. To which, one of the men, Sanjay, I think he works as a consultant for Agricultural firms, replied, “Well, if that happens, then it is good, the local people will find employment, since this is a poor belt”. I replied, “Then this whole area will get populated and polluted”. To which, one of them who is an electronics engineer, replied, “In that case, we can find other routes for trekking” He did not get my point, so I stressed again, “Then even that place will slowly get polluted, don’t you think, this whole idea of adventure tourism is also causing environmental degradation?” Sanjay, the Agricultural Consultant replied, “See, what you don’t like may seem like degradation to you, these changes happen in nature, it is a cycle, even we as human beings keep changing isn’t it?’ A bit later our talk turned towards what is happening in Agriculture, especially the GM crops. Sanjay, the Agricultural consultant remarked, “See these Americans, how horrible they are, they have introduced these terminator seeds, which will enslave the farmers to the companies, and not only that it will destroy our bio-diversity”. I wanted to say, ‘Well, all this is part of the cycles in nature isn’t it? What you don’t like may seem like destruction to you’, but of course, I refrained from doing so.


Photographs “Blasting for Roadways ” -Kishan Rao,  Shop on  Gangotri Highway-Saraswati Kavula


( To be continued.)


Burning Issues



-Shivani Thakur

It’s July and we are experiencing the impact of monsoons in different parts our country. Where Mumbai was nearly washed away by heavy rains, the northwestern region saw its weakening effect. The predictable monsoon has become highly unpredictable. The rains either get delayed or loose the tempo after a great start. Their unpredictability has been a cause of embarrassment to our weather forecasters. Although these forecasts could be a cause of human error but the underlying problem is not so simple. These untimely rains are part of many climatic changes occurring not only India but worldwide.

For our country where nearly 70% our population is dependent on agriculture, monsoons can play havoc on the lives of farmers as well as indirectly effect our urban counterparts. Worldwide climatic changes are seen in the EL NINO effect in South America, droughts in Spain, France, and floods in eastern parts of Europe. A first ever collaborative research on earth’s climate reported in January 27, 2005 issue of the journal Nature suggests that the temperatures on earth could rise as much as 11 degrees Celsius by 2050.” Uncertainity in prediction of the climate response to rising levels of greenhouse gases” (D.A.Stainforth, et al. Nature vol.433 p403 January 27, 2005). The arctic meltdown for the fourth straight year to its smallest area in this century is linked to the buildup of greenhouse gases. This would put pressure on already endangered Polar Bears, seals and other wildlife. This would mean that by the end of this century Arctic might become completely ice-free.

In India, the effect of climatic changes is visible on the monsoons. Scientists are warning that the southwest monsoon is weakening and India may face droughts. Weather scientist from Cochin University of Science and technology say that the duration of break (weak) monsoon spells has increased by about 30% since 1950. The number of days in June –September monsoon season with daily average of 8mm a day increased and days with rain more than 12mm a decreased by 45.4% and 78.1% respectively in last 53 years. The impact can be felt in many parts of India. We are experiencing droughts in Rajasthan and floods in Bihar and UP. The greenhouse gas emissions of India will increase from 1,000 million tones to 3,000 million tones. Temperatuers would see a rise by 3-4 degrees Celsius in next 30 –40 years. The higher temperatures would result in higher rainfall about 10-12% but concentration will shift to central peninsula and west coast with less rainfall for north and northeast.

The climatic changes would also have an impact on the seas especially Bay of Bengal where sea level is rising. The Indian Institute of Oceanography says there has been an increase in cyclones in the Bay of Bengal particularly post monsoon along with increased maximum windspeed. In Himalayan regions there is lies snowfall and temperatures reaching record high in places like Shimla. Uttranchal hills, one of the most water – fed areas, is experiencing severe water crisis. Dr.R.K.Pachuri, Director general at The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) says that good snowfall assures continuous water is fed to the small tributaries of major rivers. Most of the tributaries have dried up. Less water means less drinking and power cuts since hydro power plants run only if there is sufficient water in the reservoir. The famous Gangotri glacier, which feeds the Ganga, is receding by 23 mts a year. By 2035 Himalayas are expected to lose most of its glaciers and global warming is the major cause . The short-term dangers of melting glaciers would be floods; the long term would mean rivers would turn into trickles. The flora and fauna unable to adapt to this change would become extinct.

The impact on agriculture would be fewer yields in rice and wheat. Pest population will increase affecting agriculture. Wild Asses in Rann of Kutch would lose their habitat because of rising sea levels. Mangroves will get submerged; coral reefs will get bleached because of rising sea temperatures, as the colorful algae they feed on will no longer be available. Nearly 30% of coral reefs of Gujarat are bleached. These climatic changes could bring either another ice-age which lasted almost 1000 years or submerge land totally under water both resulting in loss of human habitation and forever loss of Planet Earth.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Below is a link to a video clip uploaded on Sir David Attenborough shows how global warming is real and down to us. This small clip was shown on the programme 'Are we changing planet Earth?'

Tips to view the video clip: Click on the stop button and wait till the whole clip of 2 min 44 secs downloads. Then press the PLAY button. The download takes awhile. But the wait is worth it !!


Common Birds of India

Koel.( Eudynamys scolopacea )


Koel.( Eudynamys scolopacea )





This month's bird is the Koel. The koels are very active this time of the year as a lot of trees and shrubs will be in fruit. The crows are also building their nests and the koels are busy looking for one to lay their eggs.


The name Koel is more familiar to Indians than the actual bird. It is always compared to sweet voiced singers.  Koels find mention in a lot old Hindi poetry and Kannada poetry and songs.  It is called Kogilay in Kannada language.


A crow sized glistening black iridescent bird with a shrill KikoooooK....kikoooook ...kikook call repeated several times in trees betrays the presence the bird. They are found in rural as well as urban areas on tall treetops feeding on berries and fruits. In fact it is one of the major seed dispersal agent for a lot of species of trees and shrubs. The females are very different in coloration with brown body parts and heavily barred and spotted in white. Their red glistening eyes are unique. The beak is greenish yellow. They are found singly or in pairs during the mating season.


The koel is distributed through the country. Their flight is straight and fast. When one male is calling other males join in from different trees until there is a full chorus of cuckoo calls. The earliest bird heard in the morning is the koel.

Nesting season is similar to the house and jungle crows because the koel always lay their eggs in a crows nest for the stupid crow- with all its fame as being the most intelligent bird, plays foster parent to the young. The female koel is even observed to push out the host's eggs and lay her eggs. Eggs are similar to that of the crow, pale greyish green with speckles, but a little smaller.


The female koel lays large number of eggs in different crows nests to make sure. Different females also lay eggs in the same crows nest and this may be the reason to believe that the koel herself lays a lot of eggs. This fact has to be scientifically either confirmed or disproved.


Koel is a much mentioned bird in songs and considered the heralder of spring and plenty. Let us Admire and Protect this bird both for poetry's sake and more importantly for their role in seed distributing of various trees and shrubs.


Did You Know ?

Blood component helps insect float.

Blood component helps insect float.

-S. Ananthanarayanan


The backswimmer is a remarkable insect that uses blood haemoglobin for buoyancy, reports S.Ananthanarayanan. The journal, Nature carried in its May issue an account of this insect, which has the name, Anisops, that lies in wait for prey in the mid-water depth!


Most of us know that it is the haemoglobin in our blood that carries oxygen from our lungs to the body cells, and brings the carbon dioxide back to the lungs, to breathe out. But insects have no lungs and so the blood needs no haemoglobin. In fact, in the place of circulatory system to carry blood and oxygen around, most insects have ‘internal airways’, to let the body cells get their oxygen all by themselves!




This is the component of blood that handles the give and take of oxygen from and to the cells and the lungs. Its molecular structure is rich in atoms of iron, which have affinity for binding with oxygen atoms when these are around, like in the lungs. But when they reach cells that have been using up energy, which comes from burning carbon, the haemoglobin (HB) finds itself in a place where oxygen is scarce but is rich in carbon dioxide. The affinity then shifts to carbon dioxide.


How it happens is that the carbon dioxide combines with water to form a weak acid. This increase in acidity brings about a change in the HB molecule that aids binding to carbon dioxide and also the release of oxygen. This is different from what happens in the presence of carbon monoxide. Here the carbon monoxide goes for the same spot on HB molecule as the oxygen and then simply stays put.


The difference with carbon dioxide is that when HB returns to an oxygen-rich area, like the lungs, the HB returns to its original form, the carbon dioxide can longer hold on (and gets released) and the oxygen is again able to bind.


Not in insects


But the blood of insects does not have this function and so lacks haemoglobin. In fact, it is the HB, which is rich in iron, which gives our red blood corpuscles and our blood their red colour. In insects the blood does not have this colorant and the blood is clear, greenish or yellowish.


Neither does the blood circulate in a system of veins. It does move because of the insect’s heart, and it carries nutrients that come out of the insect’s digestive system. But it does not move in a cycle, from the lungs with oxygen, to the cells and from the cells with carbon dioxide.


How then do the cells get oxygen for burning carbon and how do they get rid of carbon dioxide? Well, where insects have no circulation of blood, they do have a network of ducts to carry oxygen right to the cells and carbon dioxide away right from the cells! This special respiratory system consists of a system of internal tubes, the trachea, which branch and re-branch, till they end in very fine tracheoles, right at the individual cells. It is rather like the bronchi and the bronchioles in human lungs!



The backswimmer has HB!


The backswimmer is a less-than-a-cm long water insect that is like an insect everywhere, except that it has haemoglobin in its blood. The backswimmer is so called because of it peculiar way of swimming down-side-up and has this great facility of being able to hover at any depth of water, to wait for prey, or to drag surface prey down to devour them.


The backswimmer manages this ease of sink-and-rise with the help of an air bubble that it captures from the water surface, and also with the help of the haemoglogin in its blood! The HB, in fact, with the air bubble, helps the insect navigate the depth of water just like a submarine.   This air bubble is both for buoyancy as well as to serve as an aqualung, to supply oxygen under water. But because the backswimmer has haemoglobin in its blood, this can act as second oxygen reservoir. The insect is then able to release oxygen into the bubble, to keep buoyancy, or to keep the air fresh to breathe, whatever is convenient!

[The writer can be contacted at]

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