Beas · Free flowing rivers · Himachal Pradesh

In Photos: Gharats of Tirthan: For the tastiest Parathas

In the Tirthan Valley of Himachal Pradesh, as we crisscrossed tiny wheat fields moist with dew and apple orchards laden with white blossoms, a rhythm accompanied the steps: a constant ghrr-ghrr-ghrr. It came from small slate shelters with sloping roofs, which looked like tiny shrines. Sometimes, the shelters were made directly over a stream, but many times they were on the banks, with a channel diverting some water to them.

These were the Gharats: water-mills running on the kinetic energy of flowing water and milling fresh, cool flour.

Throughout Tirthan Valley, Gharats dot the streams at several locations. Raju Bhartiji says that Tirthan had many more Gharats in the past, but the floods of 1995 washed many of them away and most remaining fell into disrepair. Even so, as compared to other parts of Himachal, Tirthan valley is fortunate. Hydropower dams, including mini hydro projects, with their headrace and tailrace tunnels, flow diversions and blasting have destroyed thousands of Gharats in Himachal and Uttarakhand. These water mills are special not only because they are decentralized and appropriate technology structures. They are a part of the heritage of the land: almost all of the materials for building one come from the surroundings and the masons who build them are artists.

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Dams · Free flowing rivers · Photo Feature

In Photos: People of the Free-Flowing Tirthan

River Tirthan, a tributary of the Beas in Himachal Pradesh is one of the rarest rivers in India. Not because it is teeming with trout, not because the tiny valley is home to nearly 100 species of butterflies, not because it has several functioning water mills running with flow of the river, but because it is protected by the Himachal Legislature as a perpetually free-flowing river: A No-Go River for Hydropower and other dam projects. Read about how it came to pass here: Muktadhara Tirthan (https://sandrp.in/2022/06/15/muktadhara-tirthan/)

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Beas · Dams · Environment · Environment Impact Assessment · Environmental Flow · Fish · Fish, Fisheries, Fisherfolk · Free flowing rivers · Gharat · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropower · Rivers

Muktadhara Tirthan

How one fish and many people saved a river

“Hark! What is that? What is that sound? It is laughter, bubbling up from the heart of the darkness. It is the sound of water! There is no doubt. The water of Muktadhara is free!”

As I stepped on the wooden slats across the joyously gurgling Tirthan River, I remembered Rabindranath Tagore’s lines from his first play, Muktadhara (Free-flowing). I was in the Himalayas to listen to the story of Tirthan, a Muktadhara in her own right! Tirthan is the rarest, possibly the only river valley in India to be declared as a “No-Go Valley” for hydropower or dam development, protected in perpetuity.

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Dams

Himachal Pradesh Rivers Profile

 

About Himachal Pradesh  

5 river basins; Total Area: 55,000 square kms.; Total Population: 68.65 lakhs; Total Catchment Area of 5 rivers; Total Catchment Area: 53311 sq.kms

Himachal is a relatively small state and in 2011 its population stood at 68.65 lakhs. It is only 9% urbanised and most of Himachal lives in its villages. Of the total land geographical area only 10% is under agriculture while close to 70% in under the category of ‘Forest land’. And yet agriculture is the main source of livelihood in Himachal with over 93% of the population dependent on it. As in most mountain areas agriculture and forest dependence is interwoven.

Agriculture is made possible due to the irrigation from river channels or natural springs. The health of the forests directly determines the health of the surface and ground water systems which in turn determines the viability of agriculture and horticulture. Horticulture and cash based agriculture was pushed by the government in the late 70s and 80s. Today the state has massive apple cultivation, apart from commercial vegetable cultivation, which is an important source of income for the farmers.

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