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Summiting Knowledge: An Expedition Through the Himalayas - A Field School Adventure

The odyssey kicked off with a band of trailblazing Ph.D. scholars from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, joining forces with master's students hailing from the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Geography, University of Potsdam. Accompanied by our revered professors, we embarked on a thrilling 7-day field school expedition from October 11th to 17th, 2023. This daring escapade was a pivotal chapter in the Indian-German project focusing on natural hazards in the majestic Himalayas. The venture received generous backing from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and was meticulously orchestrated in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IITR).

Embarked on our Journey: Roorkee to Srinagar - Day 1 Chronicles

Day 1 kicked off with a communal breakfast at IIT Roorkee, launching into a scenic journey from Haridwar to Srinagar. En route, we explore the holy city, encounter Siwalik Hills' beauty, and witness the Ganges, adorned with temples and Shiva statues. The terrain shifts, and Rishikesh marks our geology talk on India's collision with Eurasia. Lunch was a treat, but our road to Srinagar was challenged by landslides. Horns echo as we navigate, more for attention than warning. The merging point of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers captivates us, marking the Ganges' inception. Srinagar welcomes us to ancient rock formations by the Alaknanda, a prelude to an insightful lecture on river discharge rates. Post-dusk, a hearty dinner preps us for a 6:30 a.m. departure tomorrow.

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Embarked on our Journey: Srinagar to Badrinath - Day 2 Chronicles

With an early dawn venture, we reached the crossroads of nature's convergence at Rudraprayag, where the Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers intertwine. Our ultimate destination, the sacred grounds of Badrinath, became a classroom for the exploration of runoff intricacies. In Badrinath, Dr. Till Francke showcased runoff measurement using uraninine dye, unveiling a flow of 270 liters per second. Prof. Saurabh Vijay's evening lecture at IIT Roorkee delves into Himalayan glacier retreat, echoing global concerns.

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Embarked on our Journey: Hike up to Vasudhara Waterfall and Glacial Views (3,800 m) - Day 3 Chronicles

Embarking from Mana village, near Badrinath, our journey traces the Alaknanda River to Vasudhara waterfall at 3,800 meters. Amidst colossal glaciers, we cover 6.5 km, gaining 580 meters. En route, we decipher geomorphic wonders like debris flow cones, showcasing nature's forces. The 120-meter Vasudhara waterfall marks our pinnacle at 3,700 meters, offering breathtaking views. Returning, we delve into Himalayan vegetation insights. In Badrinath, the temple beckons pilgrims, while the Alaknanda reveals its destructive might. Lectures on glaciers and climate change cap the day, concluding with a satisfying buffet and a retreat to temperature-controlled beds.

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Embarked on our Journey: Badrinath to Joshimath - Day 4 Chronicles

Morning mission was to retrieve river sensors and to measure discharge with salt and dye. Further, we explored hanging valley, marvel at Badrinath hydroelectric power station's construction. We had lunch in Badrinath and moved onward to Joshimath via Vishnuprayag. In Joshimath, we were enlightened by lectures on hydropower, energy security and Himalayan climate. Finally, dinner, dancing, and singing wrap up our insightful day.

Embarked on our Journey: Dhauliganga valley - Day 5 Chronicles

After a cozy night, we journeyed to Lata through vibrant landscapes scarred by human impact. Nature bears the marks of each rainy season, a perpetual cycle of repair. In Lata, we explored a geomorphological wonder—an ancient landslide-dammed lake. A detour to a once-thriving hydroelectric station, ravaged by the Chamoli flood, revealed nature's power. Hot springs fueled by mountain tectonics provided a unique pitstop. The day culminated with insightful lectures on Himalayan hazards and past Uttarakhand floods, that made our comfortable haven brim with adventure.

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Embarked on our Journey: Tapovan hydroelectric power plant - Day 6 Chronicles

On day 6, a surprise awaits as we aim to cross the Dhauliganga River via the Tapovan hydroelectric dam. Approval secured after morning efforts, we explore an idyllic village and lush forest along the river, revealing debris from the Chamoli flood. Midday brings the green light to tour the damaged power plant, showcasing the destructive force of the flood. With a cutting-edge warning system now in place at National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in Joshimath. The level and flow speed are measured at five points upstream and sent here in real time via satellite. We visited the control room where real-time data ensures a 12 to 40-minute warning for potential disasters.

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Embarked on our Journey: Joshimath to Roorkee - Day 7 Chronicles

Embarked on a 300km journey from Joshimath to Roorkee, an 8-hour drive turns into an 11-hour adventure, navigating over 200 landslides. Although, India boasts the world's second-largest road network, vital for economic growth, especially in the mountains. Despite extensive modernization efforts, concerns arise about the Himalayan roads, facing maintenance challenges and safety risks, particularly during the monsoon. Studies analyze environmental factors to pinpoint hazardous sections, enabling targeted warnings and efficient allocation of resources for maintenance and slope security.