“The entire river is infested with crocodiles both the gharial (fish eating variety) and the magar (a blunt nosed variety): the former are the more common. The crocodiles are responsible for occasional fatalities, but they, do not often attack human beings, as the river supplies ample food often of a very gruesome nature. Turtles abound in both the river and lakes.”
Today, it is impossible to relate to this description of Yamuna. But this was how the Yamuna was as described in the Delhi District Gazetteer published in 1912. Barely 100 years and we have already lost so much. In fact, so much so, that the river today resembles a huge open drain devoid of any aquatic life.
As part of the Yamuna Katha project, we would be discussing the reasons for this change, the factors that affected it, the people responsible for it and last but not the least, what do the stakeholders feel about it?
Yamuna has had an integral relation with Delhi’s residents, those at the Siri Fort or the Hauz Khas village or in the ancient city of Dinpanah on the Yamuna banks or the modern day’s South Extension. It would be interesting to look back at the Yamuna connection for areas far away from the river.
The document submitted by Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) for making the bid for Delhi’s nomination to UNESCO’s list of ‘World Heritage Cities’ talks about the Yamuna’s spread to other parts of Delhi since the stone-age.
It mentions that the city has been inhabited by humans probably as far back as 100,000 years ago. “It is also clear that the Yamuna at the time flowed through these hills (hilly area of south Delhi). The river, in fact, has changed course several times and at least six old beds have been identified. Interestingly, the location of Stone Age sites and their sequence suggests that pre-historic people moved with the river.”
In the run up to the actual event of Yamuna Katha, this blog will attempt to take stock of geographical features across Delhi, such as the ridge, the Najafgarh jheel, the various rivers-turned-into-drains in the city and the overall natural drainage system of the city spread between the ridge and the river. And it will also look at the modern ailments vis-à-vis commercial exploitation of the river and its banks.
While doing so, we would talk about the various places along the river bank and simultaneously bring in the perceptions of our core group members.