Date: 21 January, 2015
Place: Gaon Baliyawas, Haryana
Bleary-eyed we wait at the bus bay for last-minute stragglers to roll in. In the still darkness of the winter morning, an occasional streetlight spreads a soft golden glow in the cool mist gathering around us as we huddle in groups to keep warm. The village in the distance looks surreal in the diffused radiance as it gently stirs to life. A stray dog barks, birds twitter the gentlest greetings and the neighbourhood rooster reluctantly crows. It’s time. And Neha, from NGO Swechha, is all set to take us for our tryst with the mighty Yamuna. The NGO is dedicated to cleaning the river.
The atmosphere as we get into the bus is electric. Preliminary headcount done, we buckle up for a long journey from sleepy Gurgaon through the hustle and bustle of Delhi to the scenic Palla Village where the pristine Yamuna enters the Capital city. En route the discussion mostly veers around shramdaan and the water samples that we will collect from three different spots along the river to test the level of dissolved oxygen (DO) and other chemicals. While some doze off after a light breakfast, others prefer to take in the scene outside as the bus winds its way gradually towards the outskirts. As the landscape changes colour from a dull monochrome to soothing shades of green, we know we are near the life-giving waters of the holy Yamuna.
Stop 1: Palla Village
As soon as the bus stops under a banyan tree, we are off and running towards the lapping waters. The scene around us is typical countryside: Clear skies, verdant fields, thatched huts, cud-chewing cattle and villagers going about their morning chores. It’s a refreshing change from the noise and grime of city life as the cool and crisp air is scented with the invigorating aroma of moist earth. Bliss!
Neha takes this opportunity to trace the origins of the river for us. It flows from the Yamunotri glacier, winds its way through Uttarakhand, Haryana, Delhi, UP to finally merge into the mighty Ganga on its way to the Bay of Bengal. At Palla village, she tells us, the river is full of verve and vitality which is essential to meet our ‘drinking’ water needs.
All of us sit on the river bank, soaking in the surroundings and what we see is a rare display of nature’s beauty. White-throated kingfishers perched on riverside reeds, a merry flock of silver-bills and baya weavers fly past while an assortment of ducks wade at the far end dipping into the clear waters every once in a while for sustenance. It’s so wonderful that we don’t want to go anywhere else. Soon it’s time to collect our first water sample and move on.
Stop 2: Najafgarh Nala
Here, our soaring spirits are dampened for good. The beautiful river turns into a black drain emitting such noxious fumes that it is difficult to talk without choking. This is truly something straight out of hell. A man-made hell that has turned a rollicking river into a septic sewer spewing sulphuric suds! The pathetic outcome of 22 large drains carrying the city’s waste into the Yamuna. It is all so gloomy and repulsive here that we decide to continue our journey within minutes after collecting our second sample.
Stop 3: Qudsiya Ghat
The final destination and by now, we are all raring to participate in the Swechha-inspired shramdaan that is intended to clear the ghat of accumulated plastic, garbage and assorted filth that has left the Yamuna gasping for breath. The picture is truly mortifying. Mounds of styrofoam, household muck, cloth, expired medicines, idols of every shape and size, religious paraphernalia – you name it and it is there on the ghat leeching the river of its very essence. So, gloves on, and with a little help from the MCD workers, we get to work with brooms in hand. Time flies and soon it is time to bid Ma Yamuna adieu after taking the third sample, but not till we all solemnly pledge to preserve and protect the river in any way we can!
The mood on the way back is obviously grim. We had just negotiated a particularly rough patch on the learning curve and imbibed a lesson for life – there are a number of ways to save water, and they all start with you!