Lohit River Poetry

Master bard, T. S. Eliot, once confessed that his poetic sensibilities he owed to life on the banks of great rivers.  His cadence, images and rhythms were borrowed, it seems, from the Mississippi and his adopted Thames. A meander up the dramatic mountain course of northeast India’s Lohit River begs for powerful poetry, too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lohit_River

           Poetry of a thousand faces.  Through much of its course, as though in purdah, the river hides in the clefts of the hills, glimpsed only now and then when the angles are right, when there’s a break in the profusion of bamboo, banana and rhododendron.  But comes the moment, at Parashuram Kund, place of pilgrim cleansing, when it bursts out of its rocky fastness into full view, and there in sunlight beyond the gorge, unties its tresses that curl, braid and run west in unabashed freedom.

Thickly forested foothills guide the Lohit on its westward course offering a future avenue of commerce between India and SW China should mutual suspicions be laid to rest and relations take on more neighborliness. Notice the terraces permitting limited rice cultivation.

 

In the rains, the Lohit can drive with frothy, pink power as it thrashes its way down toward the Assam valley, lavishing with blessing all who venture near.  But in the winter, when festival crowds of devotees throng its banks, it winds a thoughtful, clean and obedient course below snowy peaks, tracing a turquoise thread that takes no notice whatever of any boundary, political, or cultural.

 

By turn tranquil and deep, then churning with impatience, alive with the thunder of mountain anthems, the Lohit creams its way across rapids and pirouettes round crags as it races toward the majestic Brahmaputra and beyond, toward the Bay of Bengal.  Gathers along these banks, as in few other places, the cultural streams of Tibet, China, Burma and India. Shrines of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, of Hinduism and of various Christian groups crown canopies of lush vegetation, encircled by paddy rice and quiet villages.  The farrago of ethnicities, of language, custom and history, besots scholar, esthete, and traveler alike.

Religious shrines, tidy villages and groves of trees crowd the river banks as the Lohit emerges from its mountain sources.

But here is the straight-up truth about such river poetry.  The chanting of the Lohit together with wild mountain rivers elsewhere hangs in the balance.*  Downstream cities the likes of Guwahati and Kolkata, and a burgeoning Indian middle class starved for energy, dream of hydro power even as engineers pore over blue prints, geological charts and hydrology tables.  How much longer the Lohit whispers its poetry to bards yet unborn is a question this generation must answer.

 

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N.B. The Lohit, the Subansiri and other northern tributaries of the Brahmaputra lie in Arunachal Pradesh.  Travel in this region requires a special permit due to sensitive China-India border issues. Because of the remoteness of this watershed its rivers have been fully traced only in recent times.  

* The rivers of Assam have spawned their own bard-poet of renown, the late Bhupen Hazarika, prolific musician/composer who also famously sang his own version of the Paul Robeson signature song, ‘Old Man River’.  Hazarika recast it as a paean to the rivers and people of Assam. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhupen_Hazarika


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