About 50 trucks of sand are excavated daily from Sundarijal area alone. Mining for sand in the river was banned in 1991 after the collapse of the Thapathali bridge in Kathmandu, but sand continues to be gouged out of the riverbed upstream. One study found 3,103m3 of sand is being mined from the Bagmati alone, accounting for 60 per cent of the valley’s annual demand for construction. Sand mining deepens the river’s channel, increases its water flow, scours the river bed and threatens the foundations of bridges and some of Nepal’s most revered ghats
The vast sums of money spent, the various engineering interventions, the many city master plans and the instituting of various river commissions have had little or no impact on improving the Bagmati and its tributaries in Kathmandu valley. The valley remains parched; its rivers polluted beyond belief. But community-level efforts, such as initiatives to refurbish hitis, the stone water spouts once the lifeline for drinking water for the valley residents, may offer some hope. The hitis in Patan, a historic district in Kathmandu, offers a lifeline to area residents
The Bagmati is not snow-fed; it is a seasonal river. Yet each day, 30 million litres of water is drawn from the river’s headwaters to supply drinking water to the Kathmandu valley. In the dry seasons—pre-monsoon summer and peak winter—the river is a patchwork of small pools of water Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
Over the decades, many groups have championed the Bagmati’s cause. Chief among them is Hutaram Baidya. Others have tried to jostle the administration by resorting to sentiment. In 1997, a group of 50 people from different professions and walks of life signed a declaration on the river’s ghats, that their cremated remains not be immersed in the Bagmati Photographs by: Aditya Batra
Some decentralised treatment systems have been installed for treating waste in the rural stretches of the river, a little before it enters Kathmandu city. One such system is in Gokarna, named after the famous Shiva temple seen in the background. Many such DEWATS systems seen throughout the river's upper stretches lie in a state of disuse, or are poorly maintained Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
A few years back, this was agricultural land; today it is the outskirts of Kathmandu city. The population of Kathmandu valley is growing at 4.5 per cent per annum, but the city’s outskirts are growing at close to 12 per cent every year, as new settlers are drawn there by the cheaper price of land Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
As it enters the Kathmandu valley, the Bagmati offers a lifeline to paddy farmers. In this upper stretch, it is a ‘clean’ river, despite carting a high silt load. The river’s waters are tapped to quench Kathmandu’s thirst, and small private water bottling plants, like the one here, are coming up along its course Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
Megh Ale, a professional river guide, coordinates the Bagmati River Festival, organized each August by ‘Friends of the Bagmati’, that was launched on the occasion of the visit of Prince Philip to Kathmandu in 2000.
The Bagmati is capricious, and frequently changes course as it winds its way through the Kathmandu valley. Increased urbanization has led to many legal tangles because people who lose their lands to the Bagmati encroach government-owned lands along the river, while the more opportunistic ones grab the newly created lands on the dried river bed Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
The Bagmati traverses through the Pashupatinath temple complex, its waters already tainted with the refuse of the city’s residents. Many believe the Bagmati embodies the Kathmandu valley civilization, its ethos. In fact, the nodal agency set up to oversee the river’s revival was named the High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilization. The word civilization added by Krishna K C, a prominent Maoist politician who at one time was the committee's chairperson Photographs by: Aditya Batra
A pipeline sponsored by India to mark the historic visit of Indira Gandhi in the 1970s transports drinking water to Kathmandu Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
In August, the grand finale attracted a motley crowd to the festival. There were Miss Nepal contestants, Boy Scouts of Nepal; representatives from the Art of Living foundation of India, Lamas from local monasteries; Eco Clubs, area guthis or self help groups; and river guides, among others. The evening ended with a rock show with the popular fusion band Kutumba and Nepal’s first rockstar, Robin 'N' Looza as the star performers Photographs by: Aditya Batra
Of the five sewage treatment plants (STPs) in the valley, the ‘state of art’ 16.4 mld Guheshwori STP is the only one that functions, though partially. The other STPS at Dhobighat, Sallaghari, Hanumante and Kadu, have been abandoned, their oxidation ponds now converted to playfields where children play football. In August, the Guheshwori plant was in disuse, because of mechanical breakdowns and frequent power cuts.
Entrance to the Pashupatinath temple Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
The tunnel head of the controversial Melamchi Water Supply project. Launched three decades back, the ADB-sponsored $464 million project will divert 170 mld of water from snow-fed Melamchi river in Helambu to Sundarijal through a 26 km-long tunnel. A consortium of China Railways and China Engineering Corporation is constructing the headworks and diversion tunnel. The project is grossly delayed and the project’s lending conditions has raised the hackles of many water NGOs over the privatization of water supply and sanitation in the Kathmandu valley and the hikes in tariffs.
The banks of the Bagmati and its tributaries are heavily encroached by squatter settlements, many of which enjoy political patronage, adding to the land use chaos and haphazard, unplanned urban growth. A 1997 study commissioned by Lumanti, an NGO working on the housing rights of the urban poor in Nepal, found 40 settlements comprising 12,726 people in 2,735 households in Kathmandu area alone (up from 17 in 1985). These settlements are very prone to periodical floods and exposed to extreme water pollution.
Close to its source in Sundarijal, the Bagmati cascades steeply down boulders and waterfalls in the Shivapuri hills Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
In Kathmandu and the valley’s seven other municipalities, the Bagmati is joined by its major tributaries—Bishnumati, Hanumante, Dhobikhola and Tukucha. Sewage from squatter settlements and much of the valley’s 600 tonnes of unsegregated solid waste is dumped into the rivers’ waters, turning these rivers into little more than sewage canals Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
The cremation ghats in the Pashupatinath temple complex Photographs by: Aditya Batra Read also: Darkling waters
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