A tale of two rivers

River Indus 1

The mighty River Indus in Spring of 2022

© Eyebex Films

“We take our rivers for granted!” This solemn sentence from the adventure travel filmmaker Wajahat Malik  resonates with me.  While talking to a select audience in Lahore after sharing the editors cut of his documentary “Expedition Indus 2022” he stated something equally interesting. He said “For us sitting here in Lahore the river Indus is a far flung place not to be seen or heard.”  When he said this all I could remember was the story of 6 feet long turtles in Ravi, the river which passed next to Lahore in full glory 75 years ago. Yes you read that right, six feet long turtles! This is the story of those vanished turtles and lost rivers.

For us sitting here in Lahore the river Indus is a far flung place not to be seen or heard

Wajahat Malik, Eyebex Films

I remember when I was around 8 or 9 years old my grandmother would tell me how every Wednesday people would go to river Ravi and feed the turtles- goat or cow meat- as a tradition or ritual. She narrated this story numerous times “I have seen in river Ravi ‘kachway’ so big they were as large as a man! 6 feet or 7 feet!.” Maybe she went to feed the turtles as a tradition or maybe it was a tourist trip that she took with family I cannot be sure. But the fact that recounted this story on more than one occasion meant the image of huge turtles in river Ravi had stuck with her.

As someone who grew up seeing river Ravi as a waste dumping ground with just a trickle of water in 1980s I always took her story of 6 feet long turtles with a grain of salt. In my mind turtles this big could only be in oceans not in rivers! Later on a slow decay of river Ravi was observed as the water was being used up and dams were built upstream.  And the turtles vanished. I am not sure we can ever get a visual confirmation of this story.

This is the power of documenting the evidence. And this is where people like Wajahat Malik are important because they understand two things: 1) Rivers are important and 2) Documenting the journey on the river is twice as important to preserve it and do course correction because we get visual proof.

At this point you will find an external content that complements the content. You can display it with one click.

During the documentary screening in Lahore-arranged by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom- a mere 20 minutes rough “Director's Cut" from his 45 days river rafting journey on river Indus had the audience hooked. Wajahat Malik and Afia Salam (who joined the expedition from Nowshera onwards) recounted their adventures. How the mighty river is green and powerful in the mountains and how it becomes polluted and filthy as it traverses down towards south passing Jahangira at the confluence with river Kabul. The adventures of team members falling off the raft due to the powerful currents and the scary part of being shot at from the river banks by bandits and looters somewhere between Sehwan and town of Qazi Ahmed in Sindh –  an area which is notorious for criminal elements and law and order problems.

River Indus: A Confluence of Economy and Culture Lahore Aug 2022

"River Indus: A Confluence of Economy and Culture" , editors cut of the documentary "Expedition Indus 2022' , Lahore August 2022

© Friedrich Naumann Foundaiton for Freedom - Pakistan

In a way Wajahat was right. Sitting in Lahore or a big city without a river in sight the citizens of Pakistan perhaps do not have an appreciation of the impact a river can have.

From the turtles of river Ravi which are now only in memories of stories told by grandmothers and the endangered Indus blind dolphin which now only lives near Sukkar. Another example is the importance of mangroves, which is not so apparent for people from Lahore or Peshawar or Faisalabad or Multan. Only someone who is observing the fish cycle in the Indus delta near Karachi can tell the importance of river water in delta and the role mangroves play in developing breeding pools and nursery pools for fish spawn, prawns and crabs. “Indus river does not belong to the humans only. It belongs to the animals and fish and mammals living in it as well!” shared Afia Salam. She further shared about the endangered Indus blind dolphin population exists between Taunsa and Sukkhar and fried Palla fish (a delicacy of Hyderabad) now is nowhere to be found in the river.

At this point you will find an external content that complements the content. You can display it with one click.

Indus near Hyderabad

Indus near Hyderabad

© Eyebex Films

We really take our rivers for granted. I think in some ways we take water for granted. We need to see these stories like the “Expedition Indus 2022” to really appreciate the importance of our river based ecosystems. Even if Pakistan makes more dams (for energy or water storage) we need to remember this: the river is not only for humans. It is also equally important for the flora and fauna and the ecology. We really need to understand and study the importance of river beds, water shed systems and sustainable agriculture practice along with enforcing the laws of anti-dumping waste in the water ways.

If we don’t then perhaps in another 75 years my grandchildren will be looking at a dry river bed and say our grandmother used to tell us stories of rafting on this river.

To read more about the adventures of Wajahat Malik check out the article he wrote in DAWN :

At this point you will find an external content that complements the content. You can display it with one click.

FNF Pakistan will showcase the bespoke cut of the documentary by Eybex Films "Expedition Indus 2022" to a select audience in the coming months in Karachi and Islamabad.