Environment

Chaba: Rafting into a bit of History

Today, on the 15th of July 2016, The Mountain Walker commemorates the 103rd anniversary of one of the most important events in the history of Shimla by taking you, our fellow travelers, on a short raft ride down memory lane.

There are many amazing drives around Shimla district, many. One of them is to the village of #Chaba, approximately two-and-a-half hours drive from #Shimla (45-odd kilometres). I have been to #Chaba thrice and each time the purpose was river rafting – #Chaba was a centre of the river rafting activities which culminated in the famous #Tattapani geothermal hot-springs.

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View of the Sutlej from Chaba village; Photo: sanjay mukherjee

By itself, Chaba is a sleepy little village on a mountain slope, with around 25 households and a population of 80 according to the 2011 Census. But Chaba also has historic significance in the development of Shimla and Himachal Pradesh.

Prior to 1913, #Shimla (then the summer capital of India under the British) was lit up by the sun during the day, and by moonlight, candle-light, lanterns and the like by night. On the 15th of July, 1913, #Shimla was lighted by electricity for the first time.  And today, the 15th of July 2016, marks the 103rd anniversary of that milestone in the history of the Himachal region. The Powerhouse which generated the electricity and supplied #Shimla, is located in #Chaba – and it is still active and generating power.

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River Rafting is a popular adventure-tourism activity around Chaba; Photo: sanjay mukherjee

The first couple of times I visited #Chaba, it was a beautiful drive getting there, and while the natural beauty of the place stayed in my mind, the focus was getting to the river for rafting. But in December 2015,  I had the opportunity to learn more since we were rafting on the #Sutlej, close to the #Nauti khud, near #Chaba village. The hour-long voyage on the occasionally temperamental river was a great experience for several reasons, and chief among them was that we crossed the #Chaba Powerhouse on the way.

Our rafting guide, Ramesh, recounted the importance of the project, and explained with great pride that the machinery and water pipes from a century ago, are still very much in operation. Listening to him, the thought occurred that I was travelling back in time, imagining how Captain B C Battye assisted by Khan Bahadur Abdul Ahad (Executive Engineer) and their team must have executed the project. A reading of E J Buck’s Simla Past and Present makes it clear that the #Chaba project was (and probably still is) a great engineering achievement.

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The Sutlej flowing towards the Nauti khud near Chaba; Photo: sanjay mukherjee

To bring power to Shimla, the #Nauti khud beyond #Mashobra was dammed up and a significant fall into the #Sutlej was created. A reservoir was constructed on a spur above the #Sutlej and the #Nauti river was guided along the hillside through tunnels to run into this reservoir. And from this reservoir the water was dropped several hundred feet through five great iron pipes to the five turbines in the electrical plant situated below, just a few feet above the waters of the #Sutlej. It is this plant that we crossed and I watched, mesmerised as we silently drifted down the #Sutlej while rafting. It is elegant and beautiful and it is from here that 1.7 Megawatts of electricity goes to #Shimla. According to the detailed description in Simla Past and Present, the plant was imported from England, transported from Simla over the mountains, and erected here in #Chaba to light up #Shimla in a project that took three years to complete.

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Until recently, Tattapani was a popular destination for rafting and geo-thermal hotsprings tourism; Photo: sanjay mukherjee

Today, the rafting and geothermal tourism activities around #Tattapani are history, since these were two of the socio-economic causalities in the region due to the construction of a dam on the #Sutlej in Bilaspur for the new #Koldam hydroelectric project. #Chaba is still on the rafting map since the activities have shifted to the relatively rougher waters of the #Sutlej higher up towards #Rampur (these activities are also likely to cease or reduce in a few years’ time). But, #Chaba is worth a visit just to see the historic powerhouse and soak in a whole bit of the amazing engineering history that helped develop the #Shimla region.

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