Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Himalayas

In the summer of 1929, after spending several days in Kausani, in the Himalayas, when he wrote an introduction to the Gujarati original of his Gita translation and commentary, Gandhi shared with his readers – in Gujarati – ‘the thoughts that overpowered me again and again’ as he looked at ‘the row of snow- capped Himalayan heights glittering in the sunlight’ but for which ‘there would be no Ganga, Jamuna, Brahmputra, and Indus; if the Himalayas were not there… there would be no rainfall… and India would become a desert like the Sahara.’

The quiet days in the Himalayas constituted an exceptional break for one who lived and moved with multitudes and could almost never merely commune with nature. Added the reflecting Gandhi (translated from Gujarati):

If children were to see that sight, they would say to themselves that that was made of their favourite milk sweet, that they would like to run up to it, and sitting on top of it, go on eating that sweet. Anyone who is as crazy about the spinning wheel as I am would say that someone has … made a mountain of cotton like an inexhaustible stock of silk.

If a devout Parsi happened to come across this sight, he would bow dwn to the Sun- God and say: look at these mountains which resemble our priests, clad in milk- white puggrees just taken out of boxes and in gowns which are equally clean and freshly laundered and ironed, who look handsome as they stand motionless and still with folded hands, engrossed in having the darshan of the sun.’

A devout Hindu, looking at this glittering peaks which collect upon themselves water from distant dense clouds would say: “This is God Siva himself, the Ocean of Compassion … who by holding the waters of the waters of the Ganga within His own white matted hair  saves India from a deluge.”

Oh, reader! The true Himalayas exist within our hearts! True pilgrimage … consists in taking shelter in that cave and having darshan (sight) of Siva there.

The Himalayas hold so much frozen water that they have been called The Third Pole, but the region’s warming climate is causing glaciers to recede at a rate faster than anywhere else in the world, and in some regions of Tibet by three feet (.9 meters) per year, according to a report in May 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The quickening melting and evaporation is raising serious concerns in scientific and diplomatic communities, in and outside China, about Tibet’s historic capacity to store more freshwater than any other place on earth, except the North and South Poles. Tibet’s water resources, they say, have become an increasingly crucial strategic political and cultural element that the Chinese are intent on managing and controlling.

Floods, droughts, wildfires, windstorms, water contamination and illnesses plague the 1.3 billion people who live in the watersheds directly supplied by glacial melt from the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region. The waterways of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan are endangered, and scientists are gaining a better understanding of just how fast climate change is taking its toll on the region.

As the Himalayan glaciers disappear, ten major Asian river systems–the Amu Darya, Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtse, Yellow, and Tarim–are threatened. Twenty percent of the world’s population faces a future of catastrophe, according to a report released by University College, Chinadialogue, and King’s College of London in May 2010. Extreme glacial melt, seismic activity and extreme weather events are already affecting the region’s rivers, lakes, wetlands and coasts. The devastation is a warning sign of what’s to come.

By South Utsire

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