The mystic Ganga has baffled the religious gurus and scientists once again. Its traditional mouth, Gaumukh on Gangotri glacier has dried up and a new source has emerged around 20 meters away with a formation of a glacial lake threatening to burst.
“The water flow has shifted 20 meters left of Gaumukh but there is no reason to worry,” said IP Singh, Deputy Director of Gangotri National Sanctuary in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. Navin Juval, a glaciologist at Ahmedabad based National Research Laboratory, however, said the glacial lakes are temporary and there is always a danger of their bursting depending on the volume of the water in it.
Gaumukh is the point from water from Gangotri glacier flows into Bhagirathi river, a major tributary of river Ganga and has a huge religious value for millions of Hindus because of being considered the purest source of holy Ganga water. Gaumukh has been mentioned in various Hindu religious books such as Vedas and bathing there for Hindus means absolving their sins.
This year, after prolonged summer and with onset of heavy monsoon showers, pilgrims and Uttarakhand forest department officials were surprised this week to find that the water was not flowing from original Gaumukh and was oozing out from another source. It had resulted in formation of a glacial lake.
The terminus of Gangotri glacier resemble a cow’s mouth and hence its name Gaumukh.
Gaumukh is origin of river Bhagirathi, which forms Ganga at Devprayag, after merging with river Alakananda.
Gaumukh is about 18 kms from the town of Gangotri.
Gangotri is considered Bhagirathi’s main water source even though many other glaciers in the basin provide water to the river.
“There is nothing unusual as glaciers oscillate resulting in shift of its snout (from where melted water flows out),” explained a senior scientist at National Institute of Hydrology at Roorkee. Uttarkashi based Harshvanti Bhist, a mountaineer and Gangotri glacier researcher, said Gaumukh had been receding as result of Gangotri glacier’s snout moving backwards and shifting its place.
Local ecologists say it has happened mainly because of abnormally high local temperature resulting from deforestation and increased human presence. “Impact of humans is clearly visible at Gaumukh,” said Rajender Singh, member of National Ganga River Basin Authority. For Bhisht, who trekked the entire glacier in 2010, the increase in local temperature has resulted in Gangotri glacier now having number of glacial lakes showing its impact on Gaumukh.
But, what has baffled many scientists is that the huge shift and lake formation has taken place despite the data showing decline in the rate of oscillation and melting of the Gangotri glacier. "Only after visiting the glacier we can find out what has actually happened,” the scientist, who was not willing to be named, said.
Anil Baluni, former vice chairperson of Uttarakhand Forest Advisory Council described the activity as an indication of changing Himalayan ecology and said it puts a question mark over the future of river Ganga.
This has happened at the time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has constituted an expert group headed by planning commission member B K Chaturvedi to recommend short term measures to ensure minimum water flow of major tributaries of river Ganga --- Alakananda and Bhagirathi. Several religious gurus have been opposing construction of hydro electricity dams on these rivers saying it will destroy the religious heritage of the river.