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Going downhill

india Updated: Aug 21, 2007 23:50 IST

Barsu is a gem of a village standing at nearly 2,300 metres, 10 kilometres above Bhatwari on the highly trafficked Uttarkashi-Gangotri route. The village lies in a wide forested bowl and is just high enough to look over the walls of the Bhagirathi gorge at the Jaonli range. The protection on three sides gives it a benign climate. This would have encouraged the Rawats from the Yamunotri area to come and settle here four or five centuries ago.

For us, Barsu was the gateway to Dayara Bugyal, that vast and wonderful series of meadows nestling below the majestic eastern face of Bandarpunch. The prospect towards the east is a breathtaking view of Jaonli, Draupadi ka Danda, and Gangotri peaks. On a clear morning, you can recognise to the north the chiselled face of the Bhagirathi peaks with just a hint of Shivling keeping guard over the Gangotri glacier. But man has determined to change the face of Barsu.

Much money, perhaps as much as Rs 5 crore, has been spent in the village of 600 residents over the past two to three years. To show for it is a sewage system that remains to be commissioned and tall electric poles awaiting electricity. Neither may ever function for there has been no decision on maintenance before the construction took place. An utterly monstrous concrete block house, meant some day to serve as a community centre, has been built adjacent to an ancient Nag temple, forever destroying its charm. Where there was not long ago a natural pool in a grassy bowl near the centre of the village, there is now a large, deep concrete rectangle, now with stagnant water. And to show that no expense is to be spared, a high concrete fence has been built round it totally obstructing the view. The winding path to Dayara is being ‘paved’ with jagged rocks unfit for man or animal to traverse. We were told of plans to cement the path which, of course, would make it lethal after rains.

What struck us was that in this haste to spend money and notch up credits for development, provided by the Centre, the villagers have not been consulted on their needs and priorities. Barsu is still a village without a PCO and without any medical facilities.

More development is on the way. An upmarket ski resort is to come up with a cable car from either Barsu or a neighbouring village. One wonders if the priests sanctifying this neo-development have paused to wonder what benefits their frenetic plans would bring to the people who actually inhabit the area and what it would do to nature. Unlikely.