BHAREH: For many centuries, it was a curse that saved the river.
It was a series of curses, actually — a centuries-long string of unrelenting bad news in this rugged, hidden corner of northern India's industrial belt. There was an actual curse at first, a longheld belief that the Chambal River was unholy. There was the land itself, and the more earthly curse of its poor-quality soil. And above all there were the bandits, hiding in the badlands and causing countless eruptions of violence and fear.
But instead of destroying the river, these things protected it by keeping the outside world away. The isolation created a sanctuary.
It is a place of crocodiles and jackals, of river dolphins and the occasional wolf. Hundreds of species of birds — storks, geese, babblers, larks, falcons and so many more — nest along the river. Endangered birds lay small speckled eggs in tiny pits they dig in the sandbars. Gharials, rare crocodile-like creatures that look like they swaggered out of the Mesozoic Era, are commonplace here and nowhere else.
Today, tucked in a hidden corner of what is now a deeply polluted region, where the stench of industrial fumes fills the air in dozens of towns and tons of raw sewage is dumped every day into many rivers, the Chambal has remained essentially wild.
But if bad news saved the river, good news now threatens to destroy it. The modern world, it turns out, may be the most dangerous curse of all.