A Slow Boat Down the Yamuna

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A Slow Boat Down the Yamuna

The Holy Yamuna – less a river, more a sewage drain.

The River Yamuna is almost as sacred as the Ganges, and worshipped as a Goddess. In Hindu mythology she is the daughter of Surya, the Sun God and the sister of Yama, the God of Death. According to legend, bathing in its sacred waters frees one from the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. It is also the Ganges’ most well known and second longest tributary. The river originates at 20,955 ft at the Yamunotri Glacier and travels a length of 1,376 km before merging with the Ganges at Allahabad.

The slow boat that I will be paddling will not start from the Yamunotri Glacier, but from just downstream of the Hathni Kund Barrage which diverts the waters of the Yamuna for irrigation, and also serves as a wetland for 31 species of waterbirds.

However, further downstream, particularly between Wazirabad and Okhla Barrages, the Yamuna is not only severely polluted and contaminated, many people classify it as a dead river.

22 km of the Yamuna, or 2% of the stretch is responsible for more than 75% of the pollution. 1,900 million litres of sewage flows into the river EVERY DAY in Delhi alone.

This is also the water that is supplied to the residents of Delhi for drinking purposes! This is the water that irrigates the fields that grows the vegetables we consume.

The 22 km segment between Wazirabad and Okhla barrages receives water from seventeen sewage drains of Delhi, comprising about 3,296 MLD of sewage and is considered as the most polluted segment of Yamuna River. Beyond the Okhla barrage the water in the river comprises domestic and industrial wastewater generated from east Delhi, Noida and Sahibabad and joins the river through the Shahdara drain.

I am yet to take a call on whether to paddle this section to prevent unwanted illness due to contact with the highly polluted water. On the other hand, paddling this stretch will hopefully further raise awareness about the state of the river in this geography, hopefully reaching out to the people living on her banks to take some measures to revive the river from the “dead” state that she has been confined to. In an around Delhi through which she flows, she is called a sewage drain and not a river. This is the sad state that the River Goddess has been transformed to.

In the dry season, the river remains largely dry till it reaches Delhi, where she is fed with largely wastewater and sewage.

By the way, another name of the Yamuna is Yami. That is because she is considered the sister of Yama, the God of Death. With the impending death of the Yamuna, I hope that Yama does not get so angry, that he ends up venting his wrath on the residents who live on his sister’s banks, and who have systematically killed her. We cannot allow that to happen to one of India’s holiest and oldest rivers.

The main tributaries of the Yamuna are Tons, Hindon, Ken, Chambal, Sindh and Susur Khaderi, rivers that historically fed the Yamuna and today have almost turned into drains. Some of the larger cities that lie on her banks are Dehradun, Paonta Sahib, Tajewala, Baghpat, Delhi, Noida, Mathura, Agra, Firozabad, Etawah, Kalpi, Hamirpur, and Allahabad. After Hathni Kund Barrage where the expedition commences, there will be six more barrages that the slow boat will have to portage around … Tajewala Barrage, Wazirabad Barrage, ITO Barrage, Okhla Barrage, New Okhla Barrage, Palla Barrage and Gokul Barrage.

Below is an interactive map showing the tentative route that the slow boat will follow.

Many believe that the Yamuna is beyond redemption and that the levels of pollution have reached a stage where it is impossible to clean. Maybe it is true, but A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE YAMUNA will add its voice to the need and the necessity to make one more effort at reversing what to many is an insurmountable reality.

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