The drive down from Gangtok is dominated by Teesta river, which seems omnipresent through much of the journey. The National Highway 10 (previously, NH-31A) snakes along the mountain curves and runs almost parallel to the Teesta river. There are good stretches passing through refreshingly green forest areas and meandering Teesta river keeping company all along.
While coming down from Gangtok to Siliguri, I took photographs of the Teesta river in its turquoise splendour as we moved down … almost together.
The Teesta River is a 309 km long river flowing through the Indian states of West Bengal and Sikkim through Bangladesh before emptying to the Bay of Bengal. The Teesta River originates from the Pahunri (or Teesta Kangse) glacier above 7,068 metres (23,189 ft), and flows southward through gorges and rapids in the Sikkim Himalaya. Teesta is the lifeline of Sikkim as the river Ganga is for the North Indian plains. Teesta and Rangeet, the two major rivers in Sikkim, emanate from Himalayan glaciers.
The river and valley must have been made for each other. I have rarely seen things in my life so nicely supplementing, complimenting and blending with each other … the mountains, the Teesta River and its valley. The greenish colour of the water looks lovely and attracts me when i saw it for the first time around 6 years ago. I had never seen water so clear and of such a hue. Since then, I have always looked forward to the first glimpse of the Teesta and the subsequent views of the river on every trip along that road.
LEGENDS OF TEESTA
The literal meaning of the word Teesta is Trishna (desire) which never ends. In the Pali language, Teesta is called as Tanda. The legend of the Teesta River is mentioned in Kalika Purana.
Teesta River is also called as the younger daughter of Himalaya. It is said that once Lord Shiva became pleased from the hard penance of the demons and gave them blessings. That particular demon was the devotee of Lord Shiva but he did not like Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. Parvati took this as an insult to her. As a result, a war started between the demon and Parvati. The demon was injured in the war and he was feeling thirsty. He requested Lord Shiva to save his life by quenching his thirst. Lord Shiva became pleased and from his inspiration, a stream of nectar like milky water started flowing from the Parvati’s breast. This stream was called as Teesta River and this river is fulfilling the desires of the people even today.
According to Lepcha legends, many years ago, before the land of Sikkim was filled with people, the river spirits — Rangeet and Rongnyu (Teesta) — were revered as Goddess Itbu-moo‘s creations. The Lepchas believe that the world was created by Itbu-moo, the Mother Creator. The river spirits were known across Mayel Lyang, for their grace, beauty and for love for one another. According to Lepcha folklore, Mayel Lyang refers to the fairy land that lies in the lap of Mt. Kanchenjunga.
In the mythical land of Mayel Lyang, Rongnyu was a vibrant lady and Rangeet was her lover. Both of them were born in the laps of the misty and beautiful Himalayas and they fell in love with each other. After some time they offered their salutation to Kongchen Kongchlo and then set out to travel to different directions. According to Lepcha legends, Mt. Kanchenjunga was Kongchen Kongchlo, the Big Stone. In their stories, Kongchen is the eldest brother, the first creation of their Mother Creator, Itbu-Moo. However, they made a secret promise, to meet each other at a place called Pozok. The promise had one condition, their journey would be a race. With that, the rivers set off, with a mountain bird and a mountain snake as their guides. Along the course of the journey, the snake, with its sole focus on slithering down, was a surprising winner over the much faster bird and led Rongnyu to the designated point much earlier than Rangeet. When Rangeet eventually arrived at Pozok he was bewildered to find that Rongnyu had already arrived and asked her: “This-see-tha — when did you arrive?”
And thus did Rongnyu become Teesta.
Even today, Lepcha brides and bridegrooms are taken to the rivers and people wish the newlyweds a happy and prosperous life like that of the two river spirits.
WHY IS TEESTA GREEN?
The possible reasons may be the presence of blue-green algae and rock flour or glacial flour (consists of fine-grained, silt-sized particles of rock, generated by mechanical grinding of bedrock by glacial erosion or by artificial grinding to a similar size) in the river. The rock flour is very light and stays suspended in the river for a long time. The sunlight that reflects off this rock flour is what gives the river the spectacular turquoise blue or green colour. Blue-green algae in rivers and streams often lends a greenish colour to the water. Rangeet valley is rich in Limestone and Dolomite, and these minerals are known to give water a green-blue tinge. Rangeet river is the largest tributary of the Teesta river. Some mountain lakes and streams that contain finely ground rock, such as glacial flour, are turquoise.