Waters of the Himalayas

Toby Smith's photographs explore issues of water availability, usage and distribution in urban spaces of small Himalayan towns.

British photographer Toby Smith is showcasing an exhibition ‘Pani-Pahar: Waters of Himalayas’, as a part of the Indian Habitat Centre’s photography festival on sustainable development, titled Habitat Photosphere, curated by Dr Alka Pande, at IHC and Jor Bagh Metro Station (till May 6 and June 29 respectively).

The photographs in this exhibition are based on research in India and Nepal on how environmental and social changes are impacting the ways in which small towns throughout the region source and distribute water. This project was based on the academic research led by Professor Bhaskar Vira and Dr Eszter Kovacs at the Department of Geography at Cambridge University.

“Our project has investigated the ways in which people living in and around six small towns in the Western Himalaya access water through a diversity of sources, from springs to piped supply, and the sustainability challenges faced by these sources,” said Prof. Vira. “Environmental changes are impacting both the timing and intensity of rainfall, coupled with changes in the extent of green cover in the hills, which are changing the ecology and hydrology of the region.”


British photographer Toby Smith visited India previously in 2009 for a project on electricity generation across four different states. “I found India to be a heady blend of traditional culture, lifestyles and food but with an enormous ambition and energy for growth, change and modernisation. Those two factors can often exist side by side, can clash or sometimes produce a heady mix. That makes it a fascinating place to visit.”

In 2017 UK celebrated the ‘Indian Year of Culture’. “Across 2017, different cultural and art organisations across UK united in a programme of events to demonstrate the strength of contemporary Indian culture and also highlight our past together and changing relationship over time. We are living in a period of national and global political uncertainty and therefore it is important to understand, acknowledge and celebrate the positive legacy of historical events,” said Smith.

The British photographer had many memorable experiences while working on the project in India. “Both Nainital and Mussoorie, chosen as study sites, have many similarities but are also very different in geography and location. On my second assignment, I journeyed between the two towns by motorbike to experience and gain a broader understanding of life in the lower Himalayas. It gave me the opportunity to visit large infrastructure projects at Tehri Dam and downstream, towns of spiritual importance, confluences of rivers and also get glimpses of untouched forested areas of India and the small villages along the road.”

He hopes the exhibition is successful and attended by large number of people. “The exhibition is designed to function on a number of different levels. It is a deliberate balance and combination of a photography exhibition and an information resource on water in the lower Himalayas. We hope that visitors engage with both and perhaps better understand the relationship of water and population in India.”

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