We were just beside the Gangotri Glacier from where one can see Mt Shivlinga in the backdrop. 21 years back in May 1997, this pic was taken, where I’m standing first from the right side in blue jersey.
We were the group from National Adventure Foundation, Nagpur chapter, who went for a trekking expedition from Gangotri pilgrim town to Gaumukh Glacier, the origin of river Ganga. It is about 25 kms trail on the left side of the mountain along river Ganga, providing beautiful landscape from all sides. We completed this memorable journey in about 5 days. Each day we would start trekking early in the morning till noon, when we would camp down at a specific spot for night halt. On the final day we climbed and crossed the Gaumukh Glacier at the right side and reached a small valley called Tapovan, which is the base camp of Mt Shivlinga. After camping here for two days we returned back to Gangotri town.
Before reaching Gaumukh we noticed that on both sides of the mountains in which river ganga is flowing, there were huge marks stretching back for several kms, giving ample proof that Gangotri Gaumukh glacier like most other glaciers in the Himalayas is retreating back. Today after 21 yrs if I happen to visit Gaumukh , I’m sure the glacier must have receded back to a couple of hundred meters back.
The Himalayan Glaciers which stretch east from the northern Afghanistan, Pakistan and India through Nepal & Bhutan and into the neighbouring Tibetan plateau and China, are the source of fresh water for nearly four billion people in Asia. The melting of snow in the Arctic and Antarctic due to global warming is reported frequently but the melting of Himalayan glacier has gone largely unreported.The Himalayas are in fact “The Third Pole“. They feed the giant rivers of Asia that support half of the world’s population.
Three major rivers – Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra, arise in the Himalayas and flow directly into India and then into Pakistan or Bangladesh. The rivers like Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, Irrawaddy and Salween arise in the Tibetan Plateau and flow directly into China before continuing into Myanmar, laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. These rivers provide water for drinking, washing, fishing, irrigation and industry. They have also been the source of many local and international disputes, about their quality and flow from one community into another, within and across the borders.
The natural habitat and the way of life of the people in the Himalayas are seriously affected by the forces of modernization and climate change. In the popular tourist spots of Ladakh, Nepal and Bhutan there is increased transport mobility and distribution of goods due to the new roads. But there is little awareness of the plastic that litter around. There are no means of disposing of this waste which is flowing into the regional rivers, the primary source of drinking water. In addition the rapid melting of glaciers, caused by warm weather is responsible for drying up of springs and river streams also used for drinking water.
Therefore local governments along with NGOs have to work together for water and river conservation practices by involving community participation. Implementation of plans of integrated solid waste management have to be established beyond city limits of all towns located in the Himalayan region.
More than 700 million people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh get their water from rivers that come from the Himalayan glaciers. These glaciers like others in the world are at risk of melting because of increasing temperature and erratic weather patterns. Glaciers depend on heavy precipitation to replenish ice on an annual basis. As monsoons in the India are disrupted, ice vanishes.
As the Glaciers melt rivers flood, people, crops and livestock drown and hydroelectric plants are disrupted. And the weaker monsoons mean less rainfall for the country as a whole resulting in drought.
There are about 1,98,000 glaciers in the world and India contains 9000 of them. But these glaciers are mostly unexplored. Other countries have invested far more in scientific expeditions than India. The lack of research prevents the country from fully understanding the state of it’s glaciers and the risk their loss pose.
Kedarnath calamity is a proof of long ignored threat by melting Himalayan glaciers. Ladakh at an altitude of 9800 feet also has been facing extreme weather conditions including rare and catastrophic flash floods, made worse by rapid deforestation that has removed nature’s flood defense mechanism. In August 2010, flash floods in Ladakh damaged 71 towns & villages and claimed 225 lives. And flood in 2014, killed more than 550 people in Kashmir region around Jhelum river. These incidents have been termed as “Himalayan Tsunamis“.
There was an expectation that Indian glacier would hold up better than others because they rely on monsoons as opposed to snowfall. but this hope appears to have been misguided. ice is receding at an alarming rate at some crucial glaciers. India has been ranked the most vulnerable country to climate change. Millions of people in the country are vulnerable to dangerous levels of flooding, drought and extreme local storms.
Climate change will accelerate as global emissions continue to rise. There is some hope that worldwide economies are gradually reducing their dependency on fossil fuels and generate energy through solar, wind and hydro-power.
Himalayan ecosystem can also be saved and sustained by developing carbon sinks through afforestation. Melting of Himalayan glaciers and increased siltation in river downstream are the impact of global warming.
Protecting the Himalayan glaciers, rivers and the countless communities that depend on them is a colossal challenge. But community efforts can be strengthened to monitor the quality of these waterways and their abundance, that sustain nearly half of the world’s population in Asia.