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A Slow Boat Down the 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 Paonta Sahib, then cross the Hathni Kund Barrage which diverts the waters of the Yamuna for irrigation, and also serves as a wetland for 31 species of waterbirds.

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

22km, 2% of the length, 75% pollution

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.

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.

Read this report by UNICEF that deals with water stress and scarcity in India … Water in India: Situations and Prospects

Can we clean the Yamuna?

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.

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 route

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.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. savy

    Hello Mr. Lahiri
    my name is sarvinder (savy). i keenly share adventurous interests as you. can we connect for adventure diaries for a lifetime. do let me know at savy.venomous@gmail.com or 971509721627.. see you someday

  2. Hemant kumar Singh

    Great . Another noble effort . This shall also draw attention when you hit Delhi .
    Some where around Baghpat , near my mothers village , Ahmad Shah Abdali crossed over to take on Marhatas in 1761 or so which changed the course of Indian History .
    At Mathura , we try to whisk you away once you hit the Golf Course of 1 Corps which is bang on the right bank of Yamuna .
    Near by is the path along which small Krishna was taken in the Tokri to cross over at Gokul .A calm and pristine place where I spent about a year in 2012-13 .
    Here also Ahmadshah Abdali tried to change course but the Yami ‘s wrath prevented him
    , albeit , enough damage was done by him in annihilating all youth in the area . It’s a fascinating history . You may need three days at Mathura to get into the underbelly of Yamuna .
    Further down Beehads will bring in a different hue .
    I will definitely be around some where to meet you enroute .
    Thrice I did Slow boat ( reccee Boat – 2 men ) down the river in Ravi – 1985 before the Dam was made and in 1998 and 1999 . All thee experiences were great although travel was restricted to about 4-5 hours with longest stretch being about 20 km .
    At the Sangam do give the privilege to Ganga Bn to host you . Sandhu has gone but an ex Naval officer ( a unique record) is commanding .
    Our best wishes .
    When is the date .
    ( Maj Gen HK Singh )

    1. Chandan Lahiri
      Chandan Lahiri

      I continue to be amazed with your knowledge of history. The Ganges before and now the Yamuna. Yes, the river has a lot of history and is deeply ingrained in Indian culture with the story of Krishna. It will be great to paddle this river, despite the fact that it is one of the most polluted in the world, dead in Delhi many say.

      I will certainly touch base with the Ganga Bn. Their hospitality has been awesome. I thought an 11 GR officer had taken over from Col Sandhu!?

  3. Animesh Pal

    Go for it bro…….

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