Gohna Tal

#1 Nov 10th, 2007, 14:33
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On a recent trek across the Kuari Pass, I passed through the area marked as Gohna Tal in several maps, and was surprised to find that the lake doesn't exist anymore. I was told something about it by the guide and others, and read about it after returning from the trek. The details may be old hat for people who know the region, but I am posting them here because it may be of some interest and, perhaps, use to others. I crave your indulgence for the long posting, for I found the story of the lake fascinating.

Gohna village is located on the true right bank of the Birahi Ganga, not far from Chamoli town. The nearest road head is Nijmula village, 2 kms down the true left of the river. A further 9 kms by road from there is Birahi town, where the river merges with the Alaknanda. Chamoli town is a 7 km drive from Birahi.

A massive landslip in September, 1893 created a natural dam across the Birahi Ganga near Gohna village, 900 ft high, 11000 ft wide at the base, and 2000 ft high at the apex. The trapped waters of the river collected upstream of the dam, forming a lake that came to be known as Gohna Tal, although several locals seem to refer to it as Durmi Tal, after the village of Durmi 3 kms upstream the Birahi Ganga.

The first intimation that the world received of this catastrophe was a message from the patwari (local administrative official) to the Deputy Commissioner of the district, in which he merely reported that a mountain had fallen. This unlikely news was ignored by the DC. Fortunately, the district surveyor and the executive engineer were touring in the area, and gave a detailed report to the administration. This resulted in a visit by a brilliant army engineer, Lt. Col. Pulford, who gave the opinion that there was no danger until the accumulated waters topped the dam, at which time there would be an enormous flood down the Alaknanda valley. Pulford's view was contested by other experts, some saying that the dam will burst due to pressure well before the waters flow over the top, and some others saying that nothing will happen at all because the waters would top the dam and flow peacefully downstream. Fortunately, again, the Government listened to Pulford.

An Assistant Engineer from the army, Lt. Crookshank, was sent to Gohna, with the task of watching the lake, and sounding the alarm when it was about to top the dam. A telegraph cable was installed for this purpose. Observation posts to monitor the levels of the Alaknanda and the Ganga were established in various places, from Chamoli town all the way downstream to Haridwar. Pillars were erected in many places in the Alaknanda and Ganga valleys to mark the danger limits of the expected deluge, and the inhabitants were directed to evacuate as soon as the water crossed these levels. The pilgrim routes were diverted, and suspension bridges across the Alaknanda were dismantled.

Based on Lt. Crookshank's data, the army engineers very accurately predicted the date when the overflow would occur. On 22 August, 1894, nearly one year after the formation of the lake, Lt. Crookshank declared that the flood would start in the next two days. Quite creditable, since the river topped the dam in the wee hours of the 25th August, the barrier collapsed with a bang at about midnight, and the flood ended early in the morning on the 26th August. It was found that over 10000 million cubic feet of water had escaped, and that the level of the lake had descended by 390 ft. Srinagar was completely swept away, and there was extensive loss of property everywhere. However, there was almost no loss of human lives, the only exception being the rather foolhardy family of a mendicant who returned to their home near the downstream face of the dam after being evacuated from there. I find it an amazingly successful case of disaster management.

After the dam burst of 1894, the remnants of the barrier still held back some water which continued to be known as Gohna Tal. However, the army engineers created a safe passage for the Birahi Ganga through the leftovers of the dam, so that there was no danger of a further flood. This reduced Gohna Tal was still quite substantial, with a length of nearly two miles and a maximum width of half a mile. It covered 400 acres, and was more than thrice the size of Naini Tal. The bungalow at Gohna that was built during the work on the 1894 flood apparently existed till much later, and provided from its verandah beautiful views of Trishul. Harish Kapadia, in one of his books, writes of his visit in 1966 to the Forest Rest House at Gohna beside the clear green waters of the lake.

The final event in the history of Gohna Tal was the mammoth flood of 20 July, 1970, in the Alaknanda, caused by an exceptionally severe monsoon. It affected all the rivers that merge with the Alaknanda along its course, and caused extensive damage from Hanuman Chatti, near Badrinath, to Haridwar. Many people lost their lives and property. Among other things, 24 stranded buses were swept away. The ground floor of the ITI building in Srinagar, way downstream, was clogged under six feet of silt. Rocks, tree trunks, and other debris from the flood entered the the Birahi Ganga, and filled up Gohna Tal, fully draining away its waters.

It has been said that the absorption of the debris from the Alaknanda flood by Gohna Tal, even though it led to the demise of the lake, saved the lower areas from more severe damage. The flood is considered a landmark in the environmental history of the region, because it made clear to people the relation between deforestation and floods, and was viewed as a cautionary example by the leaders of the Chipko movement in Reni and elsewhere a few years later. In any case, Gohna Tal ceased to exist on that day in 1970.

The area of the lake is now a pastoral expanse full of grass, and crisscrossed with pretty streams. The beautiful Birahi Ganga flows through it all, dominating the landscape. There is a suspension bridge across the river just opposite Gohna village. The other villages on the plain are Durmi and Pagna, 3 kms and 4 kms upstream from Gohna. There is a major recent landslide between Pagna and Durmi, about 500m wide. The old landslide of 1893 still exists between Durmi and Gohna. The locals, according to an old man I met in Durmi, believe that it was caused by the British blasting the mountains to force a wider path into the area, little realizing that it was British engineers who saved the people of the area from catastrophic damage.

Gohna Tal is shown even now in several maps, e.g., the Survey of India Badari-Kedar trekking map. My guide and other people said trekkers who come there look at the maps and ask for the lake, not realizing that they are actually camping on it.

Raghu.
#2 Nov 10th, 2007, 18:13
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#2
Thanks for the detailed write-up, Raghu. I didn't know that the lake held no water nowadays. Well, it hasn't always been around anyway!
BTW, do u have a copy of the "Gazetteer of Garhwal Himalaya"? Some of those paras about the events of 1894 are clearly from that.
#3 Nov 10th, 2007, 19:07
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dilliwala View Post BTW, do u have a copy of the "Gazetteer of Garhwal Himalaya"? Some of those paras about the events of 1894 are clearly from that.
Thanks, Dilliwala, for the reply. Yes, my source for the early history of the lake is the Gazetteer you mention. I didn't want to cite references in the posting, because I was afraid people wouldn't be interested. The references I could consult are:
  • Ramachandra Guha, `The Unquiet Woods: Ecological change and peasant resistance in the Himalaya,' pp. 155--161.
  • Harish Kapadia, `Across Peaks and Passes in Garhwal Himalaya,' pp. 90--91.
  • Himalayan Action Research Centre, `Impact of Natural Disasters on the Environment and Development,' pp. 2--4, http://www.harcindia.org/Publicaton/...EVELOPMENT.pdf
  • H. G. Walton, `Gazetteer of Garhwal Himalaya,' pp. 6, 54, and 165.

The third volume of E. T. Atkinson's `Himalayan Gazetteer' itself was published in 1886, a few years before the disaster at Gohna, and does not make any mention of the village.

Raghu.
Last edited by nyraghu; Nov 12th, 2007 at 15:53.. Reason: Added a URL.
#4 Dec 20th, 2007, 18:50
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I found today that most of my first posting, dated 10 Nov., in this thread was copied verbatim and posted without attribution in a forum called "younguttaranchal" by a member of that forum called "tribhuwan" on 4 Dec., http://younguttaranchal.com/communit...=2061.msg55799 Needless to say, there was no original data in my posting, but the text and the collation of the information were mine, and I was taken aback to find it plagiarised. Ah, well, the Web is a big bad place, I guess :-/

Raghu.
colorless green ideas sleep furiously
-- Noam Chomsky, 1956
#5 Dec 20th, 2007, 19:29
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Yes it is. Maybe too much to expect others to give you credit, at least, for what they copy.

You could always write to that website....here, too, we sometimes find copied posts from other sources, which we delete, or credit if we find the source.

Members have been banned for persistent abuse.
#6 Dec 20th, 2007, 21:52
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An unfortunate experience. I have had some success in contacting sites about such postings..
#7 Dec 20th, 2007, 22:39
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Thanks, Captain and edwardseco, for your replies. I have contacted the administrators of that site, and will post here in case something is done about it.

Raghu.
#8 Dec 20th, 2007, 23:02
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Originally Posted by nyraghu View Post I found today that most of my first posting, dated 10 Nov., in this thread was copied verbatim and posted without attribution in a forum called "younguttaranchal" by a member of that forum called "tribhuwan" on 4 Dec., http://younguttaranchal.com/communit...=2061.msg55799 Needless to say, there was no original data in my posting, but the text and the collation of the information were mine, and I was taken aback to find it plagiarised. Ah, well, the Web is a big bad place, I guess :-/

Raghu.
Raghu, it's entirely possible that he lifted the 'Gazetteer' text (modified) from another website. There are quite a few differences to your "original" version, and I wonder whether he deliberately changed Gohna to Gohana all thru. If he did, he's a very clever plagiarist! But this sort of stuff is specially rampant in HP and UA websites.
What is suspicious though is -
"Harish Kapadia, in one of his books, writes of his visit in 1966 to the Forest Rest House at Gohna beside the clear green waters of the lake."
This seems like yours, and therefore was lifted word and comma. And a deliberate misspelling then.
Cud well be it's a joint collaboration, without the collaborators actually knowing each other! I.e., u and another website.

This sort of stuff is absolutely rampant, espesh by the travel websites. How many times have we read word for word the same text from one site to another in sequence - I mean like thru google? They all copy from each other, and the 'original' website has usually lifted it from some book. Imagine my consternation when I found after reading a few 'verbatim' websites about Mussoorie that there was something familiar - entire passages lifted from 'Days of Wine and Roses'! And u know what was more consternating ( is that a word?) - shortly thereafter I met Shri Bond for the first time and told him about it, and he just shrugged it off and said very mildly, "Well, I suppose they look at it as information." Indeed!
#9 Dec 21st, 2007, 00:32
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Thanks, Dilliwala, for your reply. In any case, I am curious about what the admins of that site say, if they indeed decide to reply to my messages.

Raghu.
#10 Dec 21st, 2007, 01:02
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#10
We're curious too.

Recently we banned a member here: their posts seemed like relevant information, but when something drew our attention, we found that, out of a sample handful, all showed up in google as coming from other sites. No credits, no acknowledgement: just copy & paste.
#11 Dec 21st, 2007, 01:20
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#11
Happens all the time all over the web. There's little to do about it; it's often astonishing however when looking for a given subject how many sites just copy each other, with the original source being nowhere to be found.

If the mods at that particular forum are worth their salt, they should act on your message. Beyond that, there are legal steps to take; but I'd reserve it for your material that you really care about if you want to keep your sanity. Best to consider your forum messages in the public domain as being, well, in the public domain, I guess.

Netiquette would hold you at least state your sources -- but as with any etiquette, beyond people keeping each other in check socially, there's no one to enforce it.
#12 Dec 21st, 2007, 11:00
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Thanks, Nick and machadinha, for your replies. machadinha, the matter is too unimportant to justify anything more than a request to the admins of that site to look into it. I'll get back here in case there is any response from them.

Raghu.
#13 Jan 5th, 2008, 17:58
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Just to report that though I haven't heard from the admins of that forum, the offending posting appears to have been removed from there. At least, the link in my earlier posting to that forum leads to a dead end, and I cannot find the article in the list of postings of that member.

Anyway, that's it, I guess.

Raghu.
#14 Jan 5th, 2008, 18:09
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Sloppy, but at least they acted Good for you.

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