With an aim to start a movement for the conservation of the Gomti river, a woman in her early 30s is on a journey to walk along the 690 kilometre stretch of the water body.

Shipra Pathak, who calls herself a water and nature conservationist, started her journey earlier this month from the Gomat Taal at Madhotanda in Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh, from where the river originates.

“I have reached Shahjahanpur after covering around 60 kilometres. We had to halt the journey for a few days due to the Holi festivities, but the journey has resumed again from today,” Pathak told PTI on Sunday.

Slinging two bags on her shoulder — one carrying a thin carpet and a quilt and another containing two sets of clothes, her mobile phone and charger — and holding a cloth-covered wooden stick, Pathak is walking along the banks of the river.

She wears a brick red dress, a pair of shoes and carries a dupatta.

With her hair tied loosely behind, she sports a tilak on her forehead and walks with smaller steps, carefully placing her feet on the unpaved, rugged river bank.

“Villagers who think about the betterment of rivers and nature join me in the walk. They often guide me along the river bank,” Pathak said.

Besides bringing together people who are concerned about the state of the river, she wants to encourage them to take action.

“People who live along the river are concerned about the health of the river. But they often do not know what to do.

“I wish to encourage them to take some action, whether it is cleaning the river banks or clearing the river bed.

“A sense of belonging that develops while walking along the river bank will surely bring them closer to the river and motivate them to do more for it,” Pathak says.

A tributary of the Ganga, the Gomti is one of the most essential perennial rivers of Uttar Pradesh.

Stretching over 690 kilometres, the river meets the Ganga at Saidpur in Ghazipur district.

On its way, it supplies water to several important towns and cities, including the state capital Lucknow.

Despite its importance, the Gomti has been affected largely by the indifference towards it.

Experts fear that unchecked encroachment and extensive farming are turning Gomti into a seasonal (intermittent) river.

“The river bed can hardly be noticed at certain stretches because most of it has been encroached and turned into farmland,” says Venkatesh Dutta, Professor, Department of Environmental Science at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University.

Dutta carried out an extensive study on the Gomti in 2011 and says the condition of the river has gone from bad to worse in the last decade.

Pathak, a native of Budaun district, echoed similar sentiments.

“As humans, we must realise that we cannot survive without the environment, rivers, water…. All our scriptures and religious texts highlight that.

“We must take measures to protect and conserve these natural resources,” she said.

Born to a local politician and a homemaker, Pathak completed her master’s degree from Rohilkhand University, before she “heard the call of my heart and decided to do something for rivers”.

“I have already completed the 52-km circumambulation of the Mansarovar lake and a 3,600-km walk along the Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh.

“I have started a movement to protect rivers and wish to do the same for the Gomti,” she said.

As part of her campaign, Pathak has also pledged to plant 10 million saplings on river banks.

“Trees are the best friend of rivers.

“In the last couple of years, with the help of volunteers and locals, we have planted more than 10 lakh (1 million) saplings on river banks and aim to take this number to one crore (10 million),” she said.

Pathak has not set herself a deadline to complete her journey.

“I walk along the banks during the day and spend the night at a temple or an ashram.

“The locals are kind enough to offer me food and a place to rest.

“I keep pace with the people who walk with me and do not want to hurry this journey but to live and immerse myself in it,” she says.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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