Life and times of a river and its people

Life and times of a river and its people

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is there a river in Delhi?

Yes, that was the first question that popped up in the mind of Alexander Koecher, a team member of Yamuna Katha project, when he first heard of Yamuna here.
Alexander a.k.a. Alex has been travelling to the city for various reasons since 2004. But never had he heard of it before July 2011, his latest visit. There is no attraction for tourists vis-à-vis Yamuna. Even the tourist information brochures about Delhi by both India Tourism and Delhi Tourism speak about a lot of places of interest in Delhi but are completely silent about Yamuna.


Foreigners will never know there is a river in the city, he says. He did ‘discover’ Yamuna. Around three months ago, when he was told about the Yamuna Katha project, Alex started digging in more and more about the river purported to be the city’s lifeline.
His first encounter with the river was at Majnu Ka Tilla (tilla meaning a hillock). The place is famous for the Gurdwara Majnu Ka Tila and the Tibetan settlement.


A Muslim hermit named Majnu (the crazy one) – called so as he was crazy to get a glimpse of the Divine – used to stay here. In the 15th century, Guru Nanak, the Sikh guru, helped him attain self realization and hence, the place was named Majnu Ka Tilla after his death.
Metres away, the Tibetan settlement sees another kind of craziness. It is considered by Tibetans in exile as the commercial centre for the community as, over the years, the place has emerged as a hub of hotels, restaurants, cyber cafes, handicrafts shops, Tibetan curios, CD/DVD shops and last but not the least, books on Tibet and all things Tibetan. 


Accessing the river from a landscaped park facing the riverfront and looking down at the Yamuna, the first thing that hit Alex was: ‘It stinks’. Soon a visit to the northen-most part of Yamuna in Delhi, at Jagatpur village helped … the flood plains, the clean air and the farmland. “There I had a totally different view of Yamuna. The river was beautiful,” Alex says.
But more than this, Yamuna Bazar brought in better connect for the trained political scientist who has also studied history and communication. The greenery and the boat ride to the temple in the middle of the river gave him the feel of the history of the place. “You enter another kind of world, different from rest of Delhi.”


Yamuna Bazar is an old settlement of Delhi comprising residential havelis, smlll shops, government offices and religious places. One look from the river towards the Bazar and as Alex said, it is totally different from the rest of Delhi. 


A thorough optimist, he thinks there is a huge chance for development and cleaning of Yamuna. The need is to give back the river its natural condition. But who will do it?
“The people of Delhi, who wish to change,” pat comes the reply.


The river can look very romantic... (photo: Alexander Koecher)

...but fishing in the middle of soapy water does not look inviting (photo: Alexander Koecher)

An encounter with Hathis, as suprising as beautiful (photo: Alexander Koecher)

Yamuna Bazar, beautiful scenery but is swimming advisable here? (photo: alexander Koecher)

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