By Andrew Updyke
As I fell asleep last night in my tent to the screams of Cooper and Cameron (that little one inch wide spider must have been pretty proud of itself), I already knew that this place was going to be beautiful. We had arrived that night, after an 11 hour car ride that can’t be described as grueling, even though I really want to. Even without the staggering views the conversation, laughter, and music made for one of the most entertaining drives of my life. So when we disembarked in Pancheshwar under a yellow crescent moon that was illuminating just the edges of the Saryu river, I had hopes that were as high as those prospective mountains I expected to see. My hopes had every right to be that high. I was in awe. I stepped out of my tent this morning into paradise. This is easily the most beautiful place I’ve ever had the privilege of being to in my life, besides of course 7-11 on a day full of Sage chicken. You could look to your right and see both Nepal, so tantalizingly close, and a beautiful sunrise bathing the valley in it’s golden wash of light. Even the haze, something that is usually attributed to ugliness, shrouded the mountains in a layer of mystery, only adding to the beauty.
As we set upon our day I was excited to get to explore our surrounding area. If just our little section of the river was this majestic, I knew it could only go up from here. So, while I watched Alter giddily skip away with his fishing gear and the rest of us started our hike upstream, I was determined to capture the beauty of the land. Not just capture it with my camera either, but to really stamp it into my mind and start to understand where I was. The second we got around the first bend in the river on our hike, I was in disbelief. It just kept on going. It was just all so picturesque. We walked along the river for about a mile, but trust me in the heat it felt like three. We stopped at a bank in river, where a mandir that had been erected around 400 years ago. Suman, our faithful Indian leader/guide, told us about how it was dedicated to Shiva.
Shiva is the most widely worshipped god in the Hindu religion. The people of the surrounding community come to the mandir to give their sacrifices, not just animal, and respects to Shiva. This was a stark contrast to our western approach towards religion. It wasn’t some high rising beautiful Catholic Church in Rome, but to me it felt more real. You could see that people actually use it, there wasn’t an effort to make it seem unused, something I feel the extensive cleaning of our religious areas does. As we were sitting at the mandir a group of local boys that was frolicking in the Saryu slowly grew more and more. After we had finished talking about the religious sanctity, we made our way down to the shore. Slowly the addiction to competition seeped in and challenges of swimming races were tossed at the boys. Cooper got smoked. It was amazing how quickly a connection was formed. They brought us across the river to a rock that jutted out over the water. Jumping off that rock was a better rush than any rollercoaster at Kings Dominion can give you.
In under two years this will all be gone. The mandir, the river, the boys’ backyard playground, even one of the most holy Hindu temples that sits at the confluence of the Saryu and Kali rivers. The Indian government has decided to build a dam just beyond the confluence. This dam will put everything I’ve talked about hundreds of feet underwater. Thousands of people will be displaced, whole communities uprooted and forced to change their entire ways of life. All for some hydroelectric power that will most likely be sent far away from the people that need it most, aka the people that entire lives that are being flipped upside down by the dam. It’s not just people that are being affected either. The mahseer, in english – King of the River, a fish native to the Saryu will have it’s only route to it’s breeding grounds cut off. Not to mention the hundred of thousands of trees that will be submerged.
While we’ve been here we’ve spoken a lot about change. Especially the way a country, especially India, makes decisions to move their country forward. So when I see India prioritizing their infrastructure over the people that are the roots of their culture I get very sad. People might think “Oh they do nothing all day, getting pushed into more into a more modern society will be good for them”, but when people look like their doing nothing that is when culture is being cultivated. The relaxing in between harvests, leads to stories being created, religions being formed, and new types of food coming fruition. These are the things that keep India, India. Not the corrupt mess of a dam that’s full power will never be used.
P.S. Warriors in 5