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Uttarakhand Landslides: A Deep Dive into Natural Processes

(By Prof. Mahendra Pratap Singh Bisht, HOD Geology, HNBG Central University) 

In the ever-evolving canvas of our planet, nature orchestrates a delicate symphony of both positive and negative processes. One such masterpiece unfolded with the birth of the majestic Himalayan mountain range. This colossal geological wonder, which spans several countries including India, Nepal, and Bhutan, is not only a testament to Earth’s intricate geological history but also a living record of its volatile past.

The Frozen Chronicles of the Himalayas

Long before the advent of civilization, a remarkable phenomenon took place in the Indian subcontinent, which would eventually lead to the formation of the Himalayas. The region lay cloaked in a thick, icy blanket, resembling a frozen realm straight out of a fantasy novel. Geological evidence suggests that, over millennia, this ice would melt and retreat multiple times, sometimes up to a staggering 75%, in response to fluctuating temperatures.

The most recent ice age, a frigid epoch that persisted until approximately 18-20 thousand years ago, has left its indelible mark on the Himalayan landscape. Clues to this glacial history can be unearthed by dating the debris scattered near Jhala in the Gangotri valley within Uttarakhand, near Rambada in Mandakini, near Hanuman Chatti in the Alaknanda valley, and around Khati village in Malari, Pindari in Dhauli Ganga.

Unveiling the Origins of Mountain Debris

However, before these remnants of ice age glaciers took their present form, they were transformed over time through a mesmerizing process – avalanches or snow avalanches. These dramatic events, triggered by excessive rainfall or the gradual melting of snow, forced debris to descend from their lofty perches under the inexorable pull of gravity.

In the realm of geosciences, we affectionately refer to these formations as “Solifluction lobes.” When glacial debris cascades down from the upper reaches of the mountains, it molds itself into finger-shaped depressions in the terrain. Our ancestors, with their remarkable ingenuity, later transformed these natural marvels into the curved fields that we behold today.

The Fertile Bounty of Solifluction Lobes

What sets these terrains apart is not just their striking topography but also their astonishing fertility. Several factors contribute to this soil’s exceptional richness, with natural minerals playing a pivotal role.

However, it’s not all sunshine and roses when it comes to these landslides. These dynamic geological events have a rather unsettling tendency to deprive us of a precious natural resource – the constantly replenishing treasure trove of minerals.

Nature’s Grand Tapestry Unveiled

Take, for instance, the Yamuna valley, where tributaries converge at the enchanting Nainbagh. During my recent expedition to this captivating valley, I was astounded by the intricate tapestry that nature had woven over millennia. It was an opportunity too compelling to pass up, and I am delighted to share my observations with you.

Upon closer examination, I deduced that this area had borne witness to three significant natural processes over time: first, the gentle embrace of snowfall; then, the rhythmic percussion of rain; and finally, the tumultuous downpour that triggered landslides. These three acts, separated by intervals that humans ingeniously converted into cultivable and habitable spaces, have given birth to the awe-inspiring landscape we now admire.

The Genesis of New Kedarpuri

Allow me to introduce you to “New Kedarpuri,” a modern reinterpretation of the sacred Kedarnath ji. As a student of geology, I cannot help but ponder upon the audacity of humankind in encroaching upon nature’s canvas. Nature, as we see, is a prolific artist, effortlessly crafting intricate and beautiful forms. It is perhaps beyond our power to match or surpass such artistry.

Regrettably, despite being taught by nature itself, we often fail to appreciate its grandeur fully.

Exploring New Kedarpuri’s Geological Significance

New Kedarpuri finds its home at the confluence of two glaciers, Chorbari and Companion glaciers, at an elevation of approximately 3200 meters. In geological terms, this location is referred to as a glacier outwash plain or glacier sediment field. Here, the glacier periodically releases its load of small and fine particles, resulting in the formation of a vast expanse of open land. Large rock blocks, remnants of the retreating glacier, dot this landscape, giving it an ethereal quality.

The expansive terrain eventually transforms into a swamp-like environment, reminiscent of a scene from a fairy tale. Adi Guru Shankaracharya ji, in all his wisdom, christened this land as Shri Kedarnath ji, a name that would later become synonymous with our faith.

The Significance of the Name “Kedar”

It’s worth noting that, in Sanskrit, “Kedar” also signifies a swamp. Who among us could resist the allure of this pristine natural beauty in a serene, high-altitude environment? This is precisely why our ancestors selected Uttarakhand and other Himalayan regions for their spiritual practices, seeking human welfare, spiritual harmony, and the betterment of the world. It is no wonder that we fondly call this land “Dev Bhoomi” – the abode of the divine.

The Beneficial Consequences of Natural Processes

The Himalayas, with their diverse landforms, breathtaking scenery, and serene environment, are a testament to the positive outcomes of the natural processes that unfold in this majestic range. These processes, shaped by the dynamic interplay of geological forces, have bestowed upon us a wealth of beauty and resources.