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A family visit to the largest earth filled dam in the world: Tarbela Dam

(Shaikh Muhammad Ali)

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

A trip to Tarbela Dam

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The holy month of Ramadan is almost on its way out; today being the 28th Roza (Fast) and Eid ul Fitr is just round the corner. This year the holy month has approached us in summer thus the fasts have been rather long; the duration being sixteen hours but again we cannot complain since at some places in Europe the total time of each fast has been 19 – 21 hours and thus the Muslims fasting there have gathered more Sawab. Coming straight to the topic under discussion: There are 14 dams in Pakistan but Pakistan also holds the honor of having the biggest earthen filled dam in the world and that is the Tarbela Dam. This is what the Wikipedia says about the Tarbela Dam: “Tarbela Dam on the Indus River in Pakistan is the largest earth filled dam in the world and second largest by structural volume. It is located in Haripur District, Hazara Division, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, about 50 kilometers (31 mi) northwest of Islamabad. The dam is 485 feet (148 m) high above the riverbed. The dam forms the Tarbela Reservoir, with a surface area of approximately 250-square-kilometre (97 sq mi). The dam was completed in 1974 and was designed to store water from the Indus River for irrigation, flood control, and the generation of hydroelectric power. 1

(A satellite picture of the Tarbela Dam)

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“The project is located at a narrow spot in the Indus River valley, at Tarbela in Haripur, shortly located at the point from where the District Swabi then starts. Here the river formerly split around a large island close to the left bank”.

(The machinery used to open the spillways of the dam) “The main dam wall, built of earth and rock fill, stretches 2,743 metres (8,999 ft) from the island to river right, standing 148 metres (486 ft) high. A pair of concrete auxiliary dams spans the river from the island to river left. The spillways, located on the auxiliary dams, in turn consist of two parts. The main spillway has a discharge capacity of 18,406 cubic metres per second (650,000 cu ft/s) and the auxiliary spillway, 24,070 cubic metres per second (850,000 cu ft/s)”.

(The spillways of the Dam) “The outlet works are a group of four tunnels that have been cut through the valley wall at river right, for uses of hydropower generation and flow control. These tunnels were originally used
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to divert the Indus River while the dam was being constructed. A hydroelectric power plant on the right side of the main dam houses 14 generators fed with water from outlet tunnels 1, 2, and 3”.
“There are four 175 MW generators on tunnel 1, six 175 MW generators on tunnel 2, and four 432 MW generators on tunnel 3, for a total generating capacity of 3,478 MW. Tarbela Reservoir is 80.5 kilometres (50.0 mi) long, with a surface area of 250 square kilometres (97 sq mi). The reservoir holds 11,600,000 acre feet (14.3 km3) of water, with a live storage of 9,700,000 acre feet (12.0 km3)”.

(One of the 10 turbines of the Power station) “The catchment area upriver of the Tarbela Dam is spread over 168,000 square kilometers (65,000 sq mi) of land largely supplemented by snow and glacier melt from the southern slopes of the Himalayas. There are two main Indus River tributaries upstream of the Tarbela Dam.
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These are the Shyok River, joining near Skardu, and the Siran River near Tarbela. The Tarbela Dam is the second largest in terms of dam volume in the world”. I have been longing to visit the Tarbela Dam since the time I have moved to Islamabad but due to the strategic nature of this installation and the terror threats, the security around such places have been tightened extremely. Luckily, I came to learn that a colleagues brother was posted as an Engineer at the Dam and was living in the Tarbela colony and thus I requested him if we could tour the dam. We got the permission to visit the dam and thus on Sunday, 23rd September 2012 we got up early and left the house at 6:30 a.m. We met Rizwan Ahmed Khan, the HEC colleague and his family at a designated place on the M-1 Motorway and headed off to Tarbela at 7:00 a.m. A transiently changing landscape rolls past us as we move onwards. Houses morph into warehouses, and shops into shacks. Fancily clad modern women give way to barefoot, draped silhouettes and glistening, whizzing vehicles to rusting, drudging trailers. We left the M-1 Motorway at the Chach Toll Plaza exit around 7:25 a.m.

(We are leaving the M-2 from this exit) After driving for another 57 minutes, we reached this point.

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(We are about to enter the Tarbela Colony) Before reaching the designated colony, we passed by the famous Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) Institute of Engineering & Technology in Topi, District Swabi.

(The entrance of the GIK Institute) After driving for around 93.5 kilometers in 1.5 hours; we reached the house of Rizwan’s brother around 8:45 a.m. A sumptuous ‘Anda-Paratha-Channa’ breakfast was served to us which we thoroughly enjoyed. After the breakfast i.e. around 11:00 a.m., we quickly embarked on the journey towards the Tarbela power station and the dam in company Hiace since private cars were not allowed inside. Nauman (Rizwan’s brother) gave us a complete 2 hour tour of the Dam which the children and I thoroughly enjoyed. It was indeed a privilege to have gone around the premises during the current times in spite of the strict security measures around the installation.
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Of course, photography in and around the Dam area was strictly prohibited. We first went inside and saw the six turbines in full working order while the remaining four were under maintenance break. We then came out and visited the tourist area on top of the hill which has the entire replica of the dam.

(The children enjoying around the replica of the Tarbela Dam) We stayed in this area for some good 30 minutes and enjoyed the beauty and the marvel of the Dam and the power station from the top.

(Ayesha & I with the reservoir in the background) The children thoroughly enjoyed the open space and went up and down the rocks, playing to their hearts content. We took group photos at this location and then retreated around 11:45 p.m.

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(Adil took this memorable picture for the entire group) By 12:00 p.m. we reached Nauman’s house where a wonderful fried fish lunch was awaiting us. The fish was a fresh catch from the nearby stream and tasted brilliant. After a quick lunch, we went out again; this time to the nearby stream which runs down South.

(Ayesha took this family picture for us) We spent about half hour at this spot and the children wanted to put their feet in the water and they were thus allowed while remaining under parent’s vigilant eyes.

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(Mr. & Mrs. Shaikh basking in the sun) We again came to Nauman’s house and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Around 4:15 p.m. Rizwan wanted us to visit the small hotels around the Indus River which forms the off shoot of the Tarbela reservoir.

(Mohsin, Adil and I are relaxing by the Indus River) We had visited this spot some five years ago and it has not changed much. There are a few hotels by the river bed and are very popular among the tourists for the chicken and fish barbeque that is served here.

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(The famous ‘Chicken and Fish’ barbeque at the hotel by the river bed) Since we had already taken our lunch, thus we just enjoyed a hot cup of tea at this spot and of course clicked some more pictures.

(Another good shot with the River Indus in the background) We stayed here till 5:00 p.m. and came back to Nauman’s house.

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(Our parting group photo at the road side hotel) Although we wanted to leave now but Rizwan had made plans for a barbeque and remarked that instead of going back to Islamabad tired and then having dinner, why not have dinner here? The idea was bought out sooner than later and we started preparing for the barbeque around 6:30 p.m.

(I am playing the role of the Head Barbeque Chef while others are helping) By 6:50 p.m. the barbeque was ready and served and we all enjoyed the wonderful meal in the cool breeze of the Tarbela colony.

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(The meal is almost over and tea is about ready) In order to gulp down the heavy dinner, another round of tea was but required. We enjoyed another hot cup of tea by 7:30 p.m. and right after that decided to pack up.

(Tea is being served) We had a wonderful time at Tarbela and thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality of Rizwan and Nauman whereby they both left the metaphoric ‘No stone unturned’ to make us comfortable and @ home on this day’s out at the Tarbela picnic. After exchanging pleasantries, we left Nauman’s house around 8:30 p.m. and headed for the Motorway. Somewhere in the midst of all the shabby architecture doting both sides of the farm road, the sky drew to a deeper shade
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of purple. A couple of hours flash by without us even noticing. Along the highway, we did not stop although deep slumber overtook the kids. But it is not before the car takes a final hiccup at the house back in Islamabad around 10:00 p.m., that my brats start waking up from the surrealistic dream of the day spent in an out-of-body experience. Till next time!

Shaikh Muhammed Ali ‘The Wandering Dervish’ E-mail: Cell: +00-92-321-5072996 th Wednesday, 7 August 2013, 10:03 p.m. (PST)

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