Tracing the source of Katha, one of Yamuna's several tributaries

It merges with the Yamuna River near Ramra village in the newly created district of Prabudh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Called katha nadi, it first came to our notice during the monsoon of 2008 when flood waters in the Yamuna were back flowing into it.

Local people in Ramra have fond memories of Katha being a perennial river not very long ago. But whether it was a true tributary of the Yamuna in its own right or was a relict channel of the Yamuna itself remained disputed till recently.

Trying to trace its journey on Google map, we repeatedly lost it due to dense cloud cover obscuring a significant area of its probable track. Later as we surveyed the Eastern Yamuna Canal (EYC) for the Katha's course, people en route could not help us locate the site where the EYC could have crossed it. One probable reason, we reckoned then, could be that if it indeed is a tributary, then its origins could be a site short of the route taken by the EYC in western U.P.

Our hopes were rekindled in early April when determined querying of seniors in Ramra, notably Sohan Pal, informed us of a possible origin from a johad (village pond) in Harpal village — close to a place called Islampur in Saharanpur district. This was a firm lead since many such tributaries indeed are known to have their origin in perennial ponds and kunds.

Armed with the knowledge about Harpal village, we first reached Islampur which sits on an irrigation ‘minor' of EYC. Could this ‘minor' be the original Katha? Soon this assumption was laid to rest as it was found to be too straight in its behaviour to be the bed of a natural river.

We then reached Harpal, but where was the johad giving life to the Katha? Had it been a wild goose chase? Undeterred, we called up Mr. Singh in Ramra whose information led us to an influential local farmer, Madan Pal, in village Landha. Unfortunately the gentleman was in grief on account of the recent loss of his son, yet he readily agreed to help us locate the Katha.

Interestingly, although he knew where Katha's river bed and track was and led us to it, he was not sure of the site of its origin.

Ultimately it was the chance questioning of a passerby on bicycle that provided us confident leads to the Katha's source in a johad in Nayagaon aka Nayabans village, which was not far from where we were then.

Guided by Mr. Pal, we soon reached Nayagaon. A distinct elevated catchment-like formation draining into an almost dried low land with watershed from three directions was unmistakable. But could just a low land be the promised johad ? Curiosity led us up the path of a seemingly eroded channel of a stream, moist due to thick vegetation standing on its either side. Finally, the sight on the top was indeed what we had been seeking for many months now.

A typical village pond with old to very old trees of peepal and ber straining themselves over the water body, which obviously had seen better days but still retained its charm enough to attract large number of egrets, few black-winged stilts and a large number of kingfishers on a mid-April noon.

The farmer with his fields next to the johad informed us about it never going dry, although evidence was tell tale about it slowly but surely being encroached upon on the sides by vested interests, a situation which is sadly true of most old water bodies across the rural landscape, both in U.P. and Haryana.

Later, a search on Google map for the village and the johad confirmed our hunch that the Katha's origin lay just 2 km short of the path taken by the EYC and hence there existed no point of crossover between the two.

We left Nayagaon with mixed emotions and with plans to return during the monsoon months to assess the true extent of discharge from the johad into the Katha, and to determine the best way forward to involve the local people all along the length of river in its restoration and rejuvenation.

(The author is the convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)

More In: Delhi