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Echoes in the foothills
British photographer TOBY SMITH exhibits photographs of lower Himalayas in a show titled Pani-Pahar
A photojournalist who works internationally on projects concerning landscape, environment, industrial and science stories, Toby Smith is displaying a photography exhibition Pani–Pahar: Waters of the Himalayas as part of India Habitat Centre’s year-long photography festival on sustainable development, Habitat Photosphere curated by Dr Alka Pande. The exhibition by the British photographer is based on a research-based project in India and Nepal regarding land-use and development in the lower Himalayas. It shows how environmental and social changes are impacting the ways in which small towns throughout the region source and distribute water. Says Smith, “The research tries to understand the connections between changes in land-use and management that impact the water-bearing capacity of landscape in these mountainous regions and the availability of water. The interdependence of people and ecological processes across these incredible landscapes create a complex and fascinating story in which sustainable development must be realised.”
Smith has visited India eight times on photography assignments over the last 10 years. “It is truly one of my favourite places to visit, enjoy, explore and work. This project is based on academic research led by Professor Bhaskar Vira and Dr Eszter Kovacs at the Department of Geography at Cambridge University. They had been leading a research project with CEDAR, an Indian NGO based in Dehradun, to look at water issues in the Lower Himalayas.”
His first visit to the Lower Himalayas for this show was in May 2017. “I arrived in Delhi during the peak of summer, so it was a cool relief to climb in altitude towards the fresh mountain air. These lush, steep landscapes, hiding towns such as Nainital, Mussoorie and Rajgarh, felt completely different to other parts of India I had worked in. Although these towns initially felt quieter, more beautiful and almost peaceful, they experience the same pressure from Indian national growth and urbanisation. I was particularly struck by the contrast of the beauty of the forest landscapes and the over-crowded streets during peak tourist season.” Four different themes emerged from the study; change and transformation around water sources; the growing visibility and rapid pace of urbanisation; the ebbs, flows and characteristics of seasonality that affect both social and ecological systems; and, the ways in which physical, social and political infrastructures are being built, transformed and consolidated at this time of rapid change. The biggest challenge in this project, according to Smith, was the scale of the project and having limited time to visualise a wide ranging and often political story across a large geographic area. “I also needed to consider the seasonality of the landscape as the water stories are so very different across the calendar year.
(The exhibition is being held at two locations, at the India Habitat Centre till 6 May and at the Jor Bagh metro station till 29 June)
In 1880, the built-up northern ridge around lake Naini collapsed after heavy rain, killing more than 150 people. The area beneath the landfall has been turned into ‘The Flats’ and is now used as a cricket and sports pitch. It is also home to the Town Hall and a mosque. As urban pressures have continued, the vulnerable hillside has gradually been built up for residential and tourist housing. The risk of landslides in the Himalayas remains high, especially during the monsoon months, with many of the town’s poorest residents building homes on the most eroded and unstable slopes.
The township of Bidur, north-east of Kathmandu. Bidur elongates along the banks of the Trishuli river, from where most residents obtain their drinking water. The entire mountain catchment area sustains lives and livelihoods in the region, as springs, streams, canals and the river all serve as sources of water to people living in villages and towns across this spectacular landscape.
Pani Pahar-Kempty Falls
The Kempty Falls are 13 km from Mussoorie into the hilly interior of Uttarakhand. Kempty Falls were discovered as a tourist destination by a British Army officer John Mekinan in 1835. In the last five years the picturesque falls have seen an explosion in domestic tourists, development and unregulated construction — fuelled by sustained promotion of the destination by Uttarakhand State Tourism Department to domestic tourists on bus tours.
As an immediate concern, the surrounding villages are growing at an unsustainable rate with inward migration of families keen to capitalise on the Falls’ popularity. Domestic construction has stretched water supplies and sanitation past breaking point. In the peak summer months, four hour traffic jams clog the narrow road from Kempty to Mussoorie.
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