Old Tehri was a small town situated on the confluence of Bhagirathi and Bhilangna Rivers in Uttarakhand. It was famous for its Chipko Movement, that was started by Shri Sunder Lal Bahuguna to save the decreasing forests in the state. By the time, Chipko Movement died and this town was chosen for a dam site of an ambitious power project. Despite of numerous unsuccessful protests by its residents, this town got submerged in the water to create a large catchment area and this way the town of Old Tehri became The Tehri Lake, Asia’s largest man made lake. The town of Tehri was evacuated to make space for the Tehri dam, and the population has been shifted to the town of New Tehri.
When I was staying in Dehradun, I had a strong desire to visit the Tehri Lake. But I was not able to visit. So, when I get a chance to visit Tehri Lake from Rishikesh (Read : A Morning Stroll Along The Ganges in Rishikesh, I quickly made my mind to go there. I went to the Rishikesh Bus Stand, no bus was available for the next an hour, So, I took a bus to Chamba (fare Rs.38), that is 60 kms away from Rishikesh and 15 kms prior to The Tehri Lake. My journey started at 11.15 AM from Rishikesh. It was an uphill ride. On a good paved serpentine roads, that bus made full effort to climb on the hills. From the top of the hills you can see Rishikesh and the stream of the Ganges flowing through the city. Bus passed through the dense forests, deep valleys and beautiful terraced fields. You can feel the beauty of nature en-route. This beauty is surrounded all around you and these hilly rides fill you with adventurous thrills. I took some random pictures from the moving bus.
One the way to Chamba, the bus passed through Narendra Nagar. It’s a beautiful town and 16 kms away from Rishikesh. The main market is just look like a white corridor. It can remind you the rural version of Connaught Place.
I reached Chamba at 1.00 PM. Four roads converge at the center of town Chamba. One from Rishikesh, second goes to Mussoories via Dhanaulti, third goes to Uttarkashi and further Gangotri and fourth goes to Tehri Dam. So Chamba is a merging point between these routes. An uphill road also goes to New Tehri, which is 11 kms away. Chamba is a decent town and you can find some good hotels and restaurants here.
There is no bus service from Chamba to Tehri Dam these days except one at 11.00 AM in the morning. So, I was stuck in Chamba upto one and half hour. Usually jeep service ( Sumo, Marshal) is available, but in my case, the driver wanted to load around 20 passengers in a single Sumo, so he kept us waiting. The fare for this 20 km stretch is Rs.20. We were around 14 passengers inside the vehicle, but the driver was not ready to move. Finally, annoyed passengers left that jeep and then one jeep came suddenly and loaded around 4-5 passengers. The driver was in hurry as this loading might cause him problem with the union of local jeeps there. It was something like in the case of call center cabs loading passengers in Delhi.
We started moving towards Old Tehri. Actually, there is no place like Old Tehri. Whole the city has been submerged under water. So you have to go upto Koti Colony, which is situated along the Tehri Lake. The road was very bad. But you can see a lot of natural beauties around you. If you haven’t seen the terraced fields on the hills till now, you can enjoy those along the road from Chamba to Tehri Dam. It was look-like a decorated hill from the top to bottom. Just imagine how much hard work they have done to make those hills suitable for farming!
Finally at 3.00 PM, I reached Koti Colony. In the jeep, I met a local guy; whose age was approx14-15 years. He showed me the dam site, the lake and told me about the old town of Tehri. A young boy, who was not mature enough to understand the history, glory, protest, politics and everything over this project, was very enthusiastic to pass all the information, whatever he knows. He showed me the road connected to Old Tehri, the venue of Old Tehri Bus Stand, the helipad and also the dam site. The scraps of bulldozers, the concrete mixers, the trucks – everything down below were scattered all around the site. He was passing the information and I was only thinking that few years ago, there was a big town and now, there is only water all around in this valley. While standing on the bank of Tehri Lake, you can get the idea how a city will look like after global warming or how Venice will look like, when it will be submerged under water.Located at an altitude of 755 meters, and established as the capital of Tehri-Garhwal from 1803, this dream town of Maharaja Sudarshan Shah now only lives in history and photographs.
On the way up there is a viewpoint (along with a bus shed) at a place called Bhagirathipuram from where you can have a majestic view of the entire dam. A board of Tehri Hydro Development Corporation welcomes you there.
This project displaced more than 1 lakh people and is still hurting religious sentiments of many more lakhs. With a projected generation of 2400 MW electricity, this is one of the largest hydroelectric project in the world. The 855 feet tall main dam is the highest dam in India, 2nd highest in Asia and 6th highest in world. The main reservoir is a massive 42 sq km that completely engulfed Tehri town along with 40 villages and partially submerge another 72 villages. The project has another 97 feet tall dam 14 km downstream at Koteshwar that will produce 400 MW power of total capacity. This will submerge an additional 16 villages. Besides generating electricity, it will stabilize irrigation to 6 lakh hectares of existing land and will bring another 2.7 lakh hectares under irrigation. It will also provide 270 million gallons of drinking water daily to Delhi, UP and Uttarakhand.
After spending one hour at the site, I returned back to Chamba by a empty bus, carrying only me as a passenger. By 18.00 PM I reached to Chamba again and got a cab to Rishikesh and from there I took a bus to Dehradun. Reached at my friend’s room around 10.00 PM.In this way I spent wonderful Saturday in the Shivalik Hills again.