stop ecological devastation in Himalayas


18:20 (27 minutes ago)

to me

The writer of this mail, an American has been staying at the Maharshi Ashram above Uttarkashi for over 10 years immersed in long, deep silences, Vedic studies and is an expert on many of the Vedic sciences. Ditto for Martin Simson, a Scotsman whose family are well-known to me. His heroic escape from the Kedarnath tragedy was published last year by The Statesman (reproduced below). With the change in government at the Centre – and hopefully later in the state – we have to stop the further ecological devastation and desecration of the Valleys of the Gods.




Good news.



—– Original Message —–

From: Douglas Rexford

To: General Vinod Saighal ; Vinod Saigal Dole Bungalow ; Martin Simson

Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 11:18 AM

Subject: Fwd: India to Digitize Thousands of Sanskrit Manuscripts
> India to digitize scripts
> Ashok Pradhan,TNN | May 9, 2014, 12.00 AM IST
> BHUBANESWAR:  Thousands of significant Sanskrit and Hindi manuscripts including ancient Indian erotic literature written on palm leaves kept in University of the Punjab in Lahore and University of Dhaka will soon be digitized by India. 
> Director of National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM) Prafulla Mishra said NMM will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Iran Culture House (ICH), New Delhi, for the digitization work. ICH has already been digitizing Persian and Arabian manuscripts in Lahore and Dhaka. 
> “After the MoU with NMM, it will also start scanning Sanskrit and Hindi texts on our behalf. We have already completed preliminary discussions with the cultural body,” Mishra said. 
> Mishra said there were around 9,500 Sanskrit and Hindi scripts in Punjab University, the largest and oldest seat of higher learning in Pakistan established in 1882. The collection includes around 2,000 palm leaf writings. Besides Hindi and Sanskrit, the stock includes texts in Prakrit, Telugu, Sharada, Tamil, and Nandinagari languages. 
> According to information given on the Punjab varsity library website, the scripts called “Woolner collection of Sanskrit manuscripts” are those mostly collected by A C Woolner who was a professor of Sanskrit. He had preserved these in the Punjab University Oriental College.
> In 1913, the Oriental College Library was merged with the Punjab University library and the Sanskrit manuscript collection became part of the varsity library. 
> The subjects of these scripts include Kamashastra, Indian philosophy, justice, yoga and meditation, Buddhist philosophy, Sanskrit grammar and composition, Vedic literature and medicine, decorative art, sculpture and astronomy. 
> The over 90-year-old Dhaka University too has over 10,000 such texts. Some of these scripts are over 1,000-year-old while many others are of pre-independence era, Mishra said. 
> The NMM director said the repository of knowledge in the two varsities will be of great help to researchers.
> “Once scanned these texts can be made available online so that research scholars can access them,” he said.
> The CD forms of the texts would be preserved at the National Archives of India. From various parts of the country and abroad, NMM has so far digitized 35 lakh manuscripts of over 1.50 crore pages.


Foreigners Trapped in the Himalayas


100,000 pilgrims were trapped in violent Himalayan deluges last month. Many thousands lost their lives, while millions of villagers were also held captive by the floods. Everyone has extraordinary stories to tell. This is just one from an American caught in the carnage.


I was staying in Gangotri near the source of the River Ganga Ji (Ganges) when the heavens let loose on June 14th. The earth shook beneath our ashram as boulders and trees thundered down the river, thrown into the air by the raging waters. For two days the rain hammered down incessantly. 


We were lucky that there were no serious landslides in Gangotri Valley, like there were at Kedarnath, where thousands of pilgrims were buried and swept away in floods. We had sufficient supplies, and we became accustomed to the furious sound of the river nearby.


After a few days the weather cleared, and the pilgrims in Gangotri emerged in relatively good spirits. Ganga Ji had stayed within relatively safe bounds in Gangotri. But further downstream She had ripped apart roads and mountainsides, stranding thousands of pilgrims, and leaving only sharp cliffs and rockslides descending into the river gorge. Our main hope for rescue was by helicopters.


The Trek To Civilization


On June 19th the sun emerged brilliantly illuminating crystal clear, sparkling white, snow covered mountains all around us. An Italian friend and I were among the first to hike 25 km to the Harsil Army Base. We had plane tickets to leave Delhi, and could not wait. We clambering over fallen rocks and mountain silt for most of the day. When we arrived in Harsil we learned that foreigners need special permission to board army helicopters – approval from Embassies, the Foreign Ministry, and the Air Force. 


We were assured that foreigners were a priority for evacuation, but we decided against taking a helicopter. Other needy refugees were pouring into the camp with emergency medical problems, babies and elderly. Also helicopter traffic was hampered by bad weather, which compounded the uncertainty and indecision at the army base. So we decided to try hiking out . . . despite the warnings of army scouts.


For ten years I had lived in an ashram in the mountains nearby, so I knew that the mountains were fragile. Every monsoon, bridges and roads routinely wash away. Last year’s road repairs were still unfinished. The week before when we drove to Gangotri a rock had smashed through the windshield of our vehicle. It was loosened by goats grazing on the mountainside above the road. It flew through our windshield like a cannon ball, striking the dashboard and then the driver. No one was hurt, but we were forewarned. 


About 20 km after leaving the Harsil army base, we encountered the most serious obstacles. Floodwaters had scoured away steep mountainsides, leaving only loose rock and dirt. Every footstep threatened to send a shower of rocks on others below. Further downstream, the road dropped off into the river hundreds of feet below. A sheer cliff towered hundreds of feet above. The only option was to climb up and across the cliff face.


My Italian friend was an accomplished mountaineer who had tackled Kedar Dome, one of the highest peaks in the region. We were joined by two former Israeli Army soldiers. They had never encountered anything so dangerous in all of their extensive military training. There were no safety nets, and we had no climbing equipment or trekking shoes, only sandals on our feet. The only support on the cliff were clumps of grass and scrub bushes. Hundreds of meters straight below us Ganga Ji roared. Two Indian pilgrims had slipped and fallen into the river the day before. Meanwhile, hearty local village women clambered around the cliff face with ease.


That night we made it to the Gangnani Hot Springs, a welcome relief for our aching feet. We celebrated the 27th birthday of one of the Israeli’s with Paratha Pancakes topped with candy bars and a candle.


The following day was the toughest. We climbed many kilometers over mountaintops to avoid the devastation near the river. From our mountaintop vantage we looked down into the valley to see rescue helicopters shuttling back and forth hundreds of meters below us. One overweight pilgrim succumbed to a stroke on the path. We offered water, reassurance and first aid, but there was little to be done, except to send police with stretchers and basic supplies when we reached the nearest town.


Environmental Awakening


Volunteers from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering were helping to open the rough trail for stranded pilgrims. After clambering over several mountain ridges above the river’s rage, we reached Uttar Kashi late at night. Relief agencies offered sweet drinks to the weary pilgrims emerging from the mountain trails. 


Unfortunately, in spite of their good intentions, the ‘relief’ agencies all throughout the region were leaving another disaster. Mountains of plastic cups and plates lined the roadsides where the relief distributions were underway . . . the same mountainous garbage that lines the roads and surrounds every shop and roadside in India. If Mother Nature is angry, She has good reason. The rivers and mountains that have been worshipped and honored for thousands of years, are now choked with garbage left by thousands of tourists every day. It is unforgivable vandalization against some of the most beautiful and sacred land on earth. 


No doubt, global warming and hydroelectric dams have contributed to the ecological disruptions of the region. But man’s disrespect for Mother Nature is most obvious in the careless trashing of India’s countrysides. The mounting piles of rubbish that wash into the rivers and lakes each day are a disgrace. One can only hope that whenever the holy shrines of the Himalayas are reopened – in a year or more – pilgrims and the local municipal governments will be more thoughtful and respectful of this gem of their national heritage.


Atmanand Douglas

Uttar Kashi



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