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Watercourse: The roaring River Gaaj

Updated August 24, 2014

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The fate of Johi and Dadu depends on whether the Nai Gaaj Dam being constructed across the Gaaj River will be able to resist increased water flow during the monsoon.
The fate of Johi and Dadu depends on whether the Nai Gaaj Dam being constructed across the Gaaj River will be able to resist increased water flow during the monsoon.

The magical stream … the romantic rhythm of the waves … the beauty of the flowing river by the mountains … standing by its bank in the dusk … one’s mood is uplifted … one feels inclined to create poetry even if he is not a poet. Welcome to the River Gaaj.

True to its name which means ‘roar, thunder or loud noise’, the River Gaaj flows from the Kirthar mountain range to the deserted area of Kaachho and its roar can be heard from miles in the Kaachho area, especially during heavy monsoon rains.

The hill streams and torrents originating from Khuzdar pour into the river Gaaj.

Flowing through the mountainous area of Khuzdar in Balochistan, the river crosses the Sindh-Balochistan border at Thakh from where it flows towards the deserted area of Kachho in the vicinity of Johi, District Dadu, up to Gaaj Irrigation Bungalows, from where it was diverted towards south to the Lake Manchhar in the British period.

It is said that the flood water from Iran comes towards the River Gaaj. But based on my observations of the hill streams in district Khuzdar, I can say that the presumption is not correct. The Nai Naal, on whose banks the Naal civilisation existed, is towards the west of Khuzdar which flows to Nai Poraali towards the south. The Nai Tukk also flows to Poraali in close proximity to Wadh towards the south.

In fact, the downpour of Iran’s torrents is Chaghai, Kharan, Panjgur, Awaran and Kech Makran in Balochistan and the inundation of the southern streams of Khuzdar is towards Lasbela and Othal, Balochistan. So it is impossible that Iran’s torrents would overflow towards the Gaaj.

The Mad system of irrigation in place
The Mad system of irrigation in place

In ancient times, River Gaaj poured into a big branch of Indus River near the Kirthar range, which used to run from the present-day Bakhar (Bhakar), through the present-day Kandhkot, Kashmor, Shahdadkot, Qamber, Larkano and Dadu to Manchhar. As a result, Lake Manchhar appeared on the landscape. When the Indus River changed its course, this branch dried up. Later, the Gaaj River used to run directly to the River Indus and irrigate the nearby villages of Paat Sharif and Khaat in Dadu district. The British dug the western Nara Canal for irrigation purposes and the Gaaj drained there. In 1932, when the Johi barrage was constructed, the flow of the River Gaaj was diverted through Nai Shole (Sole) to Manchhar Lake.

Flowing through the mountainous area of Johi, Dadu its path is not straight but twists and turns making angles. As it turns the river creates Dhoras (collection or storage of water). Along these Dhoras and Kunds (catchment areas) on both the banks people have been living since centuries. Remains of a number of ancient hamlets and fortresses have been discovered besides the Dhoras and Kunds. These archaeological sites and rock carvings can be traced back to 10th century AD. Celebrated archaeologist Nani Gopapal Majumdar was killed in this area during explorations on Nov 11, 1938. The pictographs of Sindh Ibex, birds, monkeys, humped bull and other animals are chiseled on the rocks. Many symbolic expressions are also engraved here in rock carvings.

As the Gaaj flows through two provinces, the lifestyle of the people living along the River is quite varied depending on the culture and traditions of the region. They live in typical huts made of wood and straw but the shape of the huts is also different due to cultural and traditional difference between provinces. Some houses are also made of stones. Their lifestyle is simple but their dresses and way of life is different. The people belonging to both the areas keep livestock or cattle. They make sheets (Tadaaz), bags (Tubneez) from “Peesh” a palm type bush and sell them for their livelihood. They lack heath, education and transportation facilities and use camels and donkeys as means of transport.

The flow of the River Gaaj increases during the monsoon season which has been the cause of dangerous floods in Johi and Dadu. The river water is used for drinking and agricultural purposes in the water-stressed region. It has two irrigation systems: one is Gaaj irrigation system under which the land in the nearby deserted area is cultivated by canals drawn from the River Gaaj.

It irrigates thousands of acres of agricultural land which boosts the economy of the Kaachho area in particular and of Sindh in general. The other system is the Mad (management allowed depletion) irrigation system put in by the local people. Mad irrigation system is an ancient system for irrigating the neighbouring valleys. Local people lift the river water hundreds of feet high with Mad and cultivate the valleys in mountainous area.

The Nai Gaaj Dam is being constructed across the Gaaj River in district Dadu in keeping with the government’s decision to develop and harvest land and water resources of the country for irrigated agriculture development, hydropower, flood control, socio economic uplift of the area. Even though the natural flow of the river is through Taluka Johi to Manchhar Lake, in the Gaaj Dam project only a few areas of Taluka Johi have been included for supplying water.

Even the Manchhar Lake has been ignored for fresh water. Mostly the union councils of KN Shah and Mehar talukas of Dadu district have been included. It is suggested that the area from the mouth of the Gaaj, i.e. the deserted area of Kaachho to the Manchhar Lake be included for providing water from the Nai Gaaj dam.

It is feared that if the dam breaks up, or overflows as a result of heavy rains during the monsoon, Taluka Johi will be at high risk of floods. To prevent any disaster, special care must be taken in the construction of the dam.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 24th, 2014