We drove from the town of Chamba down to where the old town of Tehri lies now under the lake behind the Tehri Dam. The road came close to the Bhilangana river just before it meets the Bhagirathi. The dam is on the Bhagirathi river. The calm water of the lake contrasted with my memories of the tumultuous days of 2005 when the last protesters were being removed by force from the town as the water began to rise. I have a faint memory of TV news showing the very last protesters on top of the clock tower at the center of the town. Nitin, who was driving our car, said that the tip of the clock tower can be seen in the middle of the lake when the water level dips.
We were at the upper reservoir, behind the rubble filled dam. The road went around the lake, past a yard with concrete and iron ferrules either left over from the construction, or held in reserve against future needs. They were immense, a little higher than a man’s height. The lower lake lies about 25 meters below the level we were at. The dam eventually plans to generate 2.4 Gigawatts of power, and the water is supposed to be released for agriculture. The protests against its building had multiple reasons, the drowning of a historic town, founded by the kings of the Tehri Garhwal kingdom being the most emotional. But also along with these were powerful arguments against creating a dam in one of the more geologically unstable parts of the Himalayas, and the impact on the ecology of the lower Himalayas.
Nitin pointed out the foundations of houses which have collapsed in the rising waters. I realized that we were standing on ground which was made of pulverized concrete overlain with years of silt carried down by the waters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much grass growing over concrete. Nitin was from this region, and he would have been a child when the protests against the dams were in full swing. He seemed torn between memories of his elders strongly against the dam, and his own adult life, after the dam. His conversation was full of gaps, little spots of history lit up. The dam is accepted today as a fact, but with a little resentment. We left the banks of the lake and began the climb up to the town of New Tehri.