In every walk with nature one receives far more than what one seeks.
– John Muir.
At the crack of dawn, we were all set for a drive to Kol Valley, Himachal Pradesh. To my pleasant surprise, the weather in Delhi turned breezy with dark clouds swirling above, ready to burst into heavy shower. I said to myself, rain is a good sign to begin the day with! A pity that Delhi was about to cool down just as I was leaving!
Passing through the land of five rivers, Punjab, we came across the sight of the turquoise waters of Sutlej flowing in a canal through a verdant landscape, while dense clouds were up above for a show of generosity to the burning earth. Witnessing the magic of nature, I could not stop myself from taking pictures of the scene for remembrance. Leaving behind Punjab, as we entered the district of Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh, a downpour welcomed us.
The landscape, laden with lustrous grass and pine trees, was leading us on its curvy roads, brought on one hill after another and we decided to have lunch. This state of mountainous terrains is not only about natural beauty, it is also a place where you get some of the simplest yet very tasty food, cooked with everything fresh. After a delightful gastronomic break, I effortlessly slumped into a peaceful slumber in the backseat of our vehicle.
Waking up to see the sun heading to the west, I saw the first sight of Kol Dam, built by NTPC on River Sutlej in Kol Valley. Our stay was planned to be in the guest house at the hilltop in Jamthal, where the NTPC complex is located, so there still was some time left to be done with our long journey. Reaching the guesthouse we were escorted by a friendly and polite staff member to our rooms, where we took it easy for rest of the day. After dinner, KP called me to give few pointers for our upcoming schedule and that is how the day culminated. It was decided to start off early the next morning, so KP and I were ready to go but unfortunately our host, an officer with NTPC Kol Dam, who was going to show us around, got delayed by other matters, which led us to alter plans for the day.
Meanwhile I went for a stroll where I got a chance to experience little joys of life, like the ‘Camberwell Beauty’- (a beautiful butterfly having dark purple wings with cream yellow borders), flitting through vivid flora surrounding the guesthouse. The sight of fluttering and hopping birds brought my sleepy head to a state of complete awareness, a prerequisite for my day ahead. I realised that temperatures were soaring everywhere, be it Delhi or Himachal Pradesh, but a getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban life into nature’s lap is like a blessing.
When our friend arrived, we went to the Kol dam viewpoint for an overview of the dam and the backwaters, where he shared some details regarding the dam, which was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 5th June, 2000, as the first hydel project of NTPC. He then took us to one of the NTPC offices, which was 15 minutes away from Kol valley. While on our way, we came across waters of Beas being released from a detached spillway, and I was amazed to see the drastic difference between the waters of Sutlej and Beas merging into each other – one enchanting with its magnificent turquoise appeal and the other grey and muddy. The confluence and subsequent blending of the two waters was a fascinating sight to see.
Reaching the office, we were introduced to Lal Singh, who was to guide us throughout our stay. Our host suggested that we should go to Rewalsar, a small yet culturally rich town, about 60 km from there. However, KP was reluctant due to the hazy weather resulting in poor light, which could have played spoiler for photography. Instead, it was decided to visit the dam to have a look at all its functional stages but my heart was bent on seeing the dam backwaters from up close. Moving past the security checkpost, we drove onto the dam itself.
I had learnt from KP that curiosity of an intrigued mind has no limits and I was encouraged to ask as many questions as I wanted to.
I asked about the entire functioning of the hydel project. I learnt about the Desilting Chamber which is used for cleansing the water by accumulating silt and rocks at its base and flotsam on grills of the surface, before releasing it to the generating stations. I was told there were four power generating units having 200 MW capacities each. On the upstream side of the dam, I saw scattered houses by the shore and on the hillsides. I wondered how many houses and farms were now lying submerged in the backwaters – people must have been living all the way down to where the river was. What had happened to the people living there? It made me ponder over the fact that the cost involved in a huge project like this one, isn’t only monetary, it implies moral and social responsibility on the part of the organization to take care of humanitarian needs of the affected people, who willingly/unwillingly gave away their lands for furthering the cause of development for the greater good of society. It was nice to see a huge three-storied school building made by NTPC in a remote place like Jamthal.
Apparently, due to haze and lack of light the plan of taking pictures went kaput. Although this dampened our spirits, we decided to be back after lunch, with the determination to go for a boat ride and if possible, fishing (subject to availability of permission and fishing tackle). The mighty sun was spreading its intense rays, when we went for our second round of Kol Dam visit. I was excited, but masked my jubilation with a blank look–it had only been twice in the past that I had an opportunity to go for a boat ride. So I hastily stepped out of the car and without wasting any time jumped right into the boat.
Perception is an essential factor instrumental in shaping an opinion. If the place, position and proximity remain dynamic, it results in forming an enriched outlook and widening of one’s horizon. So while on the backwaters of the dam, I came to see that it was not as clean and pristine as it appeared to me from the height of the viewpoint– the garbage proportion in the backwaters was magnified due to my proximity to it. Of course, the flotsam surrounding the intake cage turned out to be only leaves and branches. A number of plants and trees standing tall on the surface, having their roots below the water, were staring at us in silence, as if trying to whisper a secret which had been sunk into the waters–today we are few, once we were many! I could only wish that development was not a pricey affair.
When I enquired of Lal Singh about the area covered by the reservoir, he told me that the backwaters extend till Tattapani, almost 45 km from there….wow! That evening I went sauntering around the NTPC complex to kill boredom after an eventful day, and take a break from being a couch potato. It was a well organized colony having apartments, grocery shops, pharmacy et cetera for the employees. The unexpected part was to see families of the employees living there with them, which in my opinion is an isolated habitat – I am sure a far different experience from living in cities.
Next morning, the scenery was veiled with a bluish tint and cool breeze was warming our souls when we set out for a visit to Rewalsar. Lal Singh came along on our excursion. He showed us the construction work in progress for the four-lane road to Manali, which became a cause of incessant bumping until we arrived in Sundarnagar. The man was in love with his land and shared his knowledge about Sundarnagar with great pride, which according to him has some of the finest fertile soil in the state, producing high quality vegetables, fruits, wheat and corn. I was surprised to see the presence of mango orchards spread throughout, which I hitherto thought was a place where only apple trees grow.
At Ner Chowk in Sundarnagar, the road bifurcates, one going to Manali and other to Rewalsar. We were to take the latter and I thought about the times I had been through Sundarnagar while going towards Manali, but never before had I noticed it in such fine detail. Obviously I had not seen anything because I had always passed this area in the middle of the night. The innocent looks of the people, the greenery, and the simple lifestyle this place exhibited, felt strongly reminiscent of my hometown in Uttarakhand. Illuminated by the glorious sun, Rewalsar (at an elevation of 1,360 m above sea level) exuded an aura of a quaint holy destination with hills keeping an eye on it from all sides.
Standing at the doorstep of Rewalsar Lake or Tso Pema Lotus Lake, my attention was directed onto the 123 foot colossal statue of ‘Padmasambhava’, a temple of Shiva and strings of colorful prayer flags wafting in the carefree wind, creating a spiritual ambience for the visitors. For a while we immersed ourselves in the divine environment, breathing pollution-free air and gazing at a school of carp, familiar with the presence of the tourists eager to feed them. After revelling in some playful moments with these aquatic creatures, diving in and out of waters for every bite of food offered, we took the road up to the north to see holy Lake of Kunt Bhayo.
The trails became narrower and steeper as we were progressing towards our next destination, which was around 3 km from Rewalsar. Perched on our seats, we had a nice time looking at the mountains totally clad with pine trees. Suddenly KP had an urge to capture the panoramic view of Rewalsar from the skyline and asked the driver to stop the vehicle. I moved out after him and had a moment of thrill seeing the lake far below but the sudden realisation of the altitude gave me a slight hit of vertigo, which forced me to return.
Finally, we arrived at the place which is quietly nestled at a high altitude. The Kunt Bhayo Lake is (about 1750 m above the sea level), embedded like a gemstone in the rocky patch of land. Time, which is given the utmost importance in an urban lifestyle – had little meaning to it here. It felt as if the mythological significance of this place has captured it in a time warp. Legend, according to Hindu mythology, has it that while passing through this area, Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, felt thirsty and to quench her thirst, one of the Pandavas shot an arrow into the ground and this lake miraculously appeared. A strict warning was written on a board at the lake entry, mentioning that penalty for feeding fish is a fine of Rs. 500, thus we steered clear of doing so. Also, locals consider angling inauspicious and hence, fish are safe in this lake too. Evidently, fish were in abundance at Kunt Bhayo Lake, so we enjoyed their gathering at our feet while ambling on the shore – although these ones are not used to people feeding them!
After a while, KP asked us to get back into the car as it was time to say ‘Till we meet next’. The drive back to Jamthal was a notable one due to our halt at a roadside tea stall with a tiny kitchen garden, where we had an extra sweet milky tea – the ‘pahari style chai’– and just enough time to relax for a bit. The pleasant chirping of birds breaking the silence around us was caressing my soul with peace and calming the inner turbulence of a city dweller in a subtle manner. Being close to nature, has the most sublime effect on our being as the mere presence of a mother has on her child. In 2 hours, we were back at the guesthouse to spend the remaining time in retrospection and relaxation.
(This story has been written by Shanvi Rawat which came to us through the submissions).