The Ganga that is ferocious like the tiger is the Baghmati, also known as Vyaghrawati and Great Baghmati. She is a sub tributary of the Ganga, which confluences with the Kosi. It used to directly join the Ganga at Gogri during the eighteenth century. During that period Budhi Gandak was its tributary, which at first merged into the Baghmati at Piprakhas and again branching from Narharpakri to rejoin it at Rosera in Bihar. In Nepal, the Baghmati is believed to be as holy as the Ganga in India.
The Baghmati is a dynamic river, since it changes its course constantly within its meander belt. On account of an avulsion that happened at a place three kilometres upstream of Hayaghat, in the late nineteenth century, the Baghmati developed a south-eastern course to join the Kareha river. This stream later became the main channel of the Baghmati and thus turned into a major tributary of Kosi river. Another avulsion process started from 1905 near Hayaghat. As a consequence, the river again started shifting to north-east and by 1915 the river adopted a new course known as the Siari. Because of such a dynamic nature there are several abandoned channels existing in the basin. Many of these channels are known as the Baghmati itself while others assume an altogether different name. The abandoned courses are either the full course of the river or only isolated segments or remnants of them.
The Baghmati originates on the northern hills of Kathmandu valley at Bagdwar. The word Bagdwar or Baghdwar is a combination of two words—bagh meaning ‘tiger’ and dwar meaning ‘gate’. The river traverses around several important parts of Kathmandu including the temple of Lord Pashupatinath, which is believed to be the holiest Hindu temple in Nepal. The other headwater of the Baghmati is known as Little Baghmati, which rises devoid of glacial sources in the southern Himalayas. It is more dependent on rainfall, and is at its peak during the monsoon season. It turns shallow during other seasons. It flows southward from the Indo-Nepal border and confluences with the Great Baghmati near Tengraha village after passing through Parsauni, Belsand and Walipur.
The Baghmati separates Kathmandu and Lalitpur. It is considered holy both by Hindus and Buddhists. A number of Hindu temples are located on the banks of this river. Nepal was till recently the only Hindu nation on the earth, and the Baghmati is still an important religious symbol to the Hindus of Nepal. The Hindus cremate the dead on the banks of this holy river, and the Kirants are buried in the hills by its side. According to Nepalese-Hindu tradition, the dead body must be dipped three times into the Baghmati before cremation. The principal mourner who torches the funeral pyre essentially has a bath in the holy river immediately after cremation along with other relatives who join the funeral procession or they sprinkle holy water on their bodies at the end. The Baghmati River thus is believed to purify the people spiritually and physically.
The basin of the Baghmati spreads between the much larger Gandaki Basin to the west and the Kosi Basin to the east. These adjacent basins extend north of the main Himalayan range, and across it in tremendous gorges. The river crosses Chobar Gorge in order to enter into the terai belt and to flow out of Katmandu Valley. The Chobar Gorge, also known as the Lesser Himalayas, cuts through the Mahabharata Range, which spreads along the 2,000 to 3,000 metres altitude of the Himalayas. The major geological feature of this region is that it forms the southern limit of middle hills across Nepal, and is an important cultural boundary between Nepali and Indian culture and language.
The dynamics of rivers in this region cause several problems. The rivers seldom change courses. The avulsions are more frequent after the confluence of the Baghmati and Lalbakeya River at Khoripakar village. The avulsions further aggravate the flooding problem in the various rivers of the region due to an increased discharge through Baghmati. Certain attempts were made to establish proper linking through canals in order to divert the flow but such canals silted in a few years. The river Vishnumati, one of the tributaries of the Baghmati, confluences with it at Teku Dovan. The river Kola is another tributary of Baghmati, which joins the Siari after flowing about forty kilometres in the north-south direction. The Kola receives some discharge from the Rajwa River.
The Baghmati is a highly polluted river due to the uncontrolled emission of sewage into the river. However, several attempts are being made to monitor the Baghmati river system to maintain its cleanliness, but these efforts are confined to certain specific areas only.
Kaushal Kishore is the author of The Holy Ganga
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