Karcham, in the Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh, is a pretty ordinary looking place and one can be forgiven for dismissing it as just another Indian town. However it is not “just another Indian town” as I found out.
This is where the highway (or rather the dirt track that passes for one) bifurcates into two — one leads to Kalpa and the other leads to the Sangla Valley. It is here that the Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Plant is situated. And it is at Karcham that the Sutlej and the Baspa rivers meet.
The blue Baspa meets the grey Sutlej at Karcham
According to a Kinnauri legend,
the rivers Sutlej and Baspa are brothers, with former being the older one. Sutlej was the more serious and sedate sibling, and Baspa the mischievous one. Like all siblings the two were rivals for everything, including whose name should be retained where their waters joined at Karcham. It was decided that whoever reached Karcham first would get the honour of lending his name to the river from that point onwards.
And so the two rivers set forth towards Karcham. Baspa, the faster of the two. He rushed forth through valleys and gorges, but was easily distracted and stopped to play with other streams and take mini diversions. On the other hand, Sutlej flowed slowly and steadily towards Karcham. And we know which type of person wins, right?
Sutlej reached Karcham first and that is how the river from Karcham onwards is known by that name even though it contains the waters of Baspa as well.
Wherever I travelled in the Kinnaur region these rivers were never too far from me. If the Sutlej was within my sight from the Kalpa side, the Baspa kept me company in the Sangla Valley. Two brothers, so different in looks and character, both heavily dammed, and yet in their own ways lifelines for the regions they flow through.
The confluence is stark and one can easily pick out the blue of the Baspa and the grey of the Sutlej. It was a sight the kept me mesmerised for a long time.
PS: Isn’t the Kinnauri folktale delightful?