By Lucas Shelton
Ten years ago, a flood ripped through the valley I have longingly stared at everyday for the past week. To think that such an event happened here feels unbelievable. Being in Agora, looking out at the beauty and seeing the health of this community, it’s hard to imagine something so devastating happened in this special place.
Pancheshwar is going through the same issues, though. Another dam, another flood. Many will likely die, but the government doesn’t seem to care here. They haven’t learned about the Saryu river that I bathed in for a week, or the kind people that welcomed me into their homes.
Yesterday on our hike, I got to think about a lot of topics. Many of my questions were answered and I got to think about what I will bring back to my family. I currently have a plan for souvenirs, but there’s more than gifts that I’ll be able to bring back. They will hear many stories of my time here, and a lot of these stories will connect back to Pancheshwar.
So, to think my brother, who will also be given a chance to come on this trip, may never see the beautiful beach and river I saw, and that he may never get the chance to go to the temple I went to, is a very sad thought. For the same reason the rivers and floods happened in the Assi Ganga Valley ten years ago, the rivers and villages of Pancheshwar could also disappear. I feel that the point of this trip is to learn about India in a way you normally would never be able to. I do think I have been able to do that so far. I also think that a lot of people never get the chance to learn about India and it’s dam addiction, or to think about the role we play in it, solely because they never come here like we have.
But the dam is needed in some aspects. The roads we have seen this whole time and all the trash we see in the streets of Rishikesh, it’s all because India can’t afford infrastructure. The India government thinks that dams powering factories to build clothes so that they can put match China in production will bring money to India so they can fix the issues. But is it really worth the lives of those in Pancheshwar?
I have managed to step through the tides stopping us, and come to a country in peril, a country completely opposite of everything I know. They use squat toilets here and I haven’t seen a speed limit sign this whole trip; but this country also hates China, a country I see my future in. I feel like we lock ourselves out of a lot of experiences and need to get past the locks and chains so we can have life changing experiences.
Kendall and I are the only sophomores on this trip. Every other sophomore locked themselves out of this experience. In previous blog posts I talked about the kindness I was shown here in India, and having an open mind so you can fully understand where you are. Even now, in Agora where houses have windows a lot more like the ones I know, I need to keep an open mind as I adventure.
There was also the poem of my first blog post, which talks about cherishing your memories of a place
as opposed to feeling resentful for not spending more time there. I’ve lived by this ideology here – as we’ve moved from place to place I enjoy every bit of it.
Which is what I will have to do if this dam is built, because I can no longer admire the Saryu and the Khali, the places where I thought of this poem. A long time ago, a dam was built in Georgia and it also flooded a lot of homes and cut off many families from their land. And yet, it caused many jobs for people and the Georgia Power Company is all over Atlanta now. So was it all worth it?
I felt back at the Saryu in Pancheshwar that I hadn’t reached the metaphorical river in my poem yet. I felt the Khali was too far away for me to reach the trash I wanted to take out of it.
Now, I feel like I have stepped a little more into that river – I have taken a small step towards reaching the future I strive for. Being in Agora and Dodital really feels like I have officially experienced the Himalayas of India. I have only stepped a toe in the river though, only the smallest amount, but I think this India trip has been very important to me.
A 2014 blog post we read yesterday pleaded with us to keep a more open mind when we live our lives in America after seeing the devastation of the floods in the Assi Ganga. I think we have failed the author, seeing as another dam is being built at Pancheshwar. I think ten years later, we still need to think outside of our bubble, now after seeing the places we affect.
A way we have seen the affects we have on this country is children learning English, so they can communicate in another way. As someone who tried to learn Hindi to talk to people, it is surprising how many people have learned English. Along with that, a lot of the time when we buy clothes, they might have been made in a factory that uses power from the dam. But in that same aspect, you need to buy clothes in life…so what can you do?
And on the same topic of language, the hate on China here is extreme. We talked to someone my age back near Rishikesh, and he said he wants to join the Indian army so he can fight China because he hates them so much. I asked him why and he gave some stereotypical answers like covid; but he also said he lives near an army base so he that had been on his mind as a child. But, India can benefit from China – I think India should look at China to learn. They both have billions of people and a pollution problem, so I think India might be able to see some part of the future in China. I hope they won’t make the same mistakes China has made, though.
And in terms of mistakes, India has made many in my eyes, too. Ten years after a tragedy of a flood, and they want to do it again? I can only hope that while India might struggle to see it’s mistakes, we do. We should hope to preserve Pancheshwar in any way we can back home. How can we even do that though? Well we should think before we buy basically anything, because any of it could fuel something bad here in India. We should keep in mind the amount we buy, too, and not ever buy too much stuff. We should think of the temple and the Saryu – the people living the there, the family who just got married, the feeling of swimming in the water. We should keep an open mind, and think further beyond our borders and ourselves. Maybe (and to quote Dalton Anderson, the author of the 2014 blog post) at least this plea won’t meet deaf ears.