An aural experience of the Betwa Riverscape
We left Raju Meena’s house in Rajmau village, Madhya Pradesh one foggy December morning as we headed upstream towards Chandlakhedi village. Raju’s elderly uncle silently led the way as we walked a dirt road running parallel to the banks of the River Betwa. The moon was still visible near the horizon as we walked through dry scrubby vegetation. On the side of the road we passed a cow skeleton in silence.
Raju had kindly volunteered to feed and put us up for the night. The uncle was silent throughout as he led us off the road via a shortcut through the fields.
This track is an audio tour composed of field recordings made during an excursion along the Betwa River in December 2019 as a part of Veditum’s Moving Upstream Fellowship. The sounds were recorded on mobile phones while walking upstream along the river from Ganj Basoda to its source at Jhirri, about 150km away. It is meant to be a sonic overview of the walk.
The audio tour starts at Bhopal Junction station, from where we travelled by train to Ganj Basoda. From here, we walked along the river bank in a generally southwestern direction towards the source for two weeks. Along the way, we passed through major towns of Vidisha, Sanchi, Bhojpur and Mandideep.
The piece is anchored by the sounds of flowing water and the rhythmic crunch of our shoes against the ground. Snippets of songs blaring from tractors, a cacophony of birds, the twinkles of goat bells, an evening aarti by a choir of children and some legends of the Udayagiri Caves narrated by an enthusiastic guide waft in and out of earshot.
A changing river
People we encountered from the villages near the river spoke to us about different aspects of riparian life that were relevant to them, and their changing relationship with the river over time. Some of these are also heard in the piece.
A recurring theme towards the end of the walk was of water pollution (mainly centered around the industrial town of Mandideep) and the effects this had on agriculture and fishing, and the livelihoods dependent on them. We were told different stories of the origin of this understudied river, whose official source is neither widely renowned nor celebrated.
I have been interested in sound, music and noise for many years, and have been active in production, live performance and recording under various names. This track comes from a practice of recording conversations with people I encounter in the course of daily life, particularly if the topics discussed are typically avoided in popular media.
Ishan Gupta is one of four fellows who went to walk the River Betwa, part of our second Moving Upstream fellowship in collaboration with Out of Eden Walk. To read more about our Moving Upstream project, click here
Ishan is a product designer living in Bangalore. He has been designing for the WASH sector since 2015