The Mighty Manas River and the Future of “SHE”

This is the article I published in my blog [sangayw.blogspot.com] in 2nd August 2011. When I migrated to wordpress, I couldn’t migrate my earlier writings. The same is reproduced here.

The Manas River is a trans-boundary river in the Himalayan foothills between southern Bhutan and India. It is named after Manasa, the serpent god in Hindu Mythology. It is the largest river system of Bhutan, among its four major river systems; the other three are Amo Chu or Toorsa, Wang Chu or Raidak, Puna Tsang Chhu or Sunkoosh. The total length of the river is 376 kilometres, flows through Bhutan for 272 kilometres and then through Assam for 104 kilometres before it joins the mighty Brahmaputra. Mighty Manas River is formed by merging two rivers, viz. Dangme Chhu and Mangde Chhu in a place called Dung-du-me brag and Un-dhala thang in Panbang.

Confluence of Dangme Chhu and Mangde Chhu
 and also showing Bird eye-view of Panbang.
Source: Google Earth

The river valley has two major reserve forest areas, namely the Royal Manas National Park  in Bhutan and the contiguous Manas Wildlife Sanctuary encompassing Project Tiger Reserve which constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site declared in December 1985.

The Royal Manas National Park boasts of being the home to Golden Langur and some yet to be discovered plants and animal species. Recently a team from Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research in Lamai Goempa, Bumthang identified 13 different Tigers within the area of just 200 square kilometer, signifying the high density of Tigers in one area. The team has also recorded 7 different species of wild cats in the area. There are about 36 different species of cats in the world, signifying that Royal Manas National Park itself has nearly 20% of the wild cat species.

I spent my childhood with Mighty Manas River in Mothanguri (13 kilometers before reaching Panbang and where international boundary pillar is located). Manas River was the life line of people living in Mothanguri. Manas River taught me to swim, raft wooden boat, and the river also functioned as important source of fuelwood during the summer months. As a child, I would always jump in the river and swim. I have seen people from the other side of the border fishing without crossing the border’s hypothetical line, even in the river. Many a times, I had an opportunity to see Water Buffalos, Gaur, Wild Elephants and even Tigers occasionally walking by the banks of the river. I sometimes feel that, my close association with nature might have made me a forester. RSPN (Royal Society for Protection of Nature) newsletter in 1990’s claim to have seen freshwater Dolphin in Manas, which I have always remained skeptic as I never saw one, even after drinking Manas River, washing dishes, clothes and swimming in the river for countless number of times.

Manas River has remained the same since time immemorial and served many people in the Indian plains of Assam. The majestic river would split into two after reaching Indian border. But with time, nature had another plan. In the early 2K’s the Manas River faced massive floods with grave consequences. The river stopped flowing in two directions as it used to after crossing the border, causing massive floods in the plains of Assam. At present one side of the area, where river used to flow is completely dried out (Figure).

Manas River after crossing Bhutan Border.
Note the dried river bank.
Source: Google Earth

Now, with time and the so called development, tributaries of the river is facing too much disturbances with the establishment of hydro-electrical plants, leading to tapping the river and disturbing the natural flow of the river, meaning ecosystem disturbance. With government’s objective of tapping 10,000 MW of electricity by 2020, the ‘Pristine’ Manas River will not remain the same. Such an activity questions the policy of Gross National Happiness that Bhutan adopted. Our government is targeting at achieving something compromising the ecosystem, one pillar of the Gross National Happiness. Since the government has already started to dam Puna-Tsang Chhu, I would personally appreciate if the government dam the river completely in three or four places, instead of damming all the rivers of Bhutan. Now, with Mangde Chhu project coming up, one of the tributaries of the mighty river will not be same in times to come. The river might be crying and the ecosystem in the river might be begging to leave them as they have been living for centuries. Human’s are definitely super power but lacks the brain to think about others, Human’s are self centered.

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