Friday, January 29, 2010

River Teesta

 River Teesta from Sevoke Coronation Bridge

The River Teesta, said to be the lifeline of the Indian state of Sikkim, flows for almost the entire length of the state, carving out verdant Himalayan temperate and tropical river valleys. The emerald coloured river then forms the border between Sikkim and West Bengal before joining the Brahmaputra as a tributary in Bangladesh.

The river originates from Cho Lhamu Lake at an elevation of 5,330 m (17,500 feet) above sea level in the mighty Himalayas. This lake lies to the north of the Donkia Pass near Shetschen, where the summit of the pass is about eight kilometres north-east of Darjeeling as the crow flies.

The Teesta River is then fed by rivulets which arise in the Thangu, Yumthang and Donkia-La ranges. The river then flows past the town of Rangpo where it forms the border between Sikkim and West Bengal up to Teesta Bazaar. At Teesta Suspension Bridge, which joins Kalimpong with Darjeeling, the river is met by its main tributary, the Rangeet River. At this point, it changes course southwards flowing entirely into West Bengal. The river hits the plains at Sevoke, where it is spanned by the Coronation Bridge which links the north east states to the rest of India. The river then courses its way to Jalpaiguri and then to Rangpur District of Bangladesh, before finally merging with the mighty Brahmaputra at Fulcherry (in Bangladesh).

Through its course, river has carved out ravines and gorges in Sikkim meandering through the hills with the hill station Kalimpong lying just off the river. Variegated vegetation can be seen along this route. At lower elevations, tropical deciduous trees and shrubs cover the surrounding hills; alpine vegetation is seen at the upper altitudes. The river is flanked by white sand which is used by the construction industry in the region. Large boulders in and around the waters make it ideal for rafting enthusiasts.

Between the towns of Rangpo and Lohapul, the Teesta flows with a very strong current, ideal for white river rafting. Towns like Teesta Bazaar and Melli have facilities for group rafting. Though an innocuous looking river, the underlying current is very strong. In 1915, G.P. Robertson, the then Municipal Engineer of Darjeeling, while surveying the river, drowned after losing control of the boat in the turbulence. The boat then struck a partially hidden boulder and was sucked in by a whirlpool, leaving no trace of the occupants.

During the monsoons this humble river distends its banks; both in size and turbulence. Landslides in this region often dam up parts of the river in this season.