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A Journey Through the Heart of the Himalayas: A 7-Day Field School Adventure

Embarking on a 7-day field school trip to the Himalayas was an adventure filled with awe-inspiring landscapes, invaluable geological insights, and a deeper understanding of the region's unique challenges. Our journey began at the IIT Roorkee campus, where we shared a hearty breakfast before setting out for the holy city of Haridwar, a significant pilgrimage site at the foothills of the Siwalik Hills.

Day 1

Haridwar and the Siwalik Hills: As we drove through Haridwar, the vibrant temples, statues of Shiva, and glimpses of the sacred Ganges provided a mesmerizing introduction to the journey. Our geology lecture highlighted the 50-million-year collision between India and Eurasia, emphasizing the seismic significance of the region.

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Figure 1: The Ganges near Rishikesh with a view upstream, famous for rafting

En route to Srinagar, the hilly terrain and the harmonious symphony of car horns captured the essence of Indian roads. The merging of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers marked a pivotal moment, as the Ganges was born before our eyes. In Srinagar, we marveled at the ancient rock formations on the shores of Alaknanda, a testament to over 500 million years of Earth's history.

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Figure 2: Confluence of the Bhagirathi (light blue) and Alaknanda (brownish) rivers.

Day 2

Rudraprayag to Badrinath: Rudraprayag welcomed us with the convergence of the Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers, showcasing nature's raw power. In Badrinath, Dr. Till Francke's demonstration of runoff measurement using uraninine dye was a hands-on lesson in hydrogeology. We delved into the evolving glaciers of the Himalayas through a captivating lecture by Prof. Saurabh Vijay.

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Figure 3: Calibration for flow measurement using a fluorescence tracer.

Day 3

Vasudhara Waterfall Expedition: A rigorous trek to Vasudhara waterfall at over 3700 meters provided breathtaking views of the Himalayan landscape. Along the way, we witnessed geological marvels, including debris flow cones and moraine landscapes, all underlining the dynamic forces shaping this region. Back in Badrinath, the ancient temple and the formidable Alaknanda River painted a vivid picture of spiritual and natural forces.

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Figure 4: All attendees of the filed school at Vasundhara waterfalls, Badrinath

Day 4

Hydroelectric Power and Vishnuprayag: We retrieved our sensors, continuing our exploration of discharge measurements. A hike to a hanging valley revealed the strategic placement of hydroelectric power stations, capitalizing on glacial erosion. Vishnuprayag bore witness to the lingering impact of the 2021 Chamoli flash flood, a stark reminder of the region's vulnerability.

Day 5

Day 5 marked with the terrain mapping exercise, and unraveling the geological history of a relict landslide-dammed lake. The day showcased nature's resilience, as terraced fields and colorful houses clung to steep slopes, despite the scars of past monsoons. Student lectures shed light on the Himalayan terrain's susceptibility to natural hazards.

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Figure 5: A gravel area above an old landslide, the location of our field exercise.

Day 6

Tapovan Dam and Chamoli Flood Remembrance A guided tour of the Tapovan hydroelectric power station offered a stark reminder of the destructive force of the Chamoli flash flood. The meticulous safety measures and early warning system highlighted the dedication to safeguarding critical infrastructure. Our journey back to the accommodation was filled with reflections on the power of nature and human resilience.

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Figure 6: Debris and mud in the forks of the trees 20 meters above the river.

Day 7

The Long Road Back: The return journey to Roorkee was a testament to India's impressive road network, but also a stark reminder of the maintenance challenges posed by the Himalayan terrain. Over 200 landslides dotted the route, underscoring the need for strategic planning and environmental considerations in road expansion efforts.

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Figure 7: The early warning system control room in Joshimath.

Conclusion

Our 7-day field school expedition through the Himalayas was a profound journey of geological discovery, cultural immersion, and environmental awareness. From the ancient rocks of Alaknanda to the resilient spirit of the region's inhabitants, every moment left an indelible mark. As we bid farewell to the majestic Himalayas, we carried with us not only scientific insights but also a deeper appreciation for the intricate dance between nature and human endeavor in this awe-inspiring landscape.