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Week of 4.17.09

David's Journal from India: Day 1

David Brancaccio spent 12 days in the Himalayas to see the effects of global warming first-hand. Read his day-by-day journal below or visit
"On Thin Ice" to watch the hour-long NOW on PBS special.


New Delhi, India
Sweating it out in the big city


Even the weather forecast in India has a spicy flavor. There it is, in this morning's Hindustan Times, a box with the weather map, like every newspaper weather forecast I have ever seen. Only this time whoever has prepared the thing has chosen a word that transforms a liability into an asset.

The forecast is not hot, sticky, muggy, unbearable, or fiendishly oppressive. No, this weather forecast says it is going to be "sultry,"—in other words, hot in exactly the right sense, the kind of hot that can lead to some very good things. I hope that is true, ahead of this two week assignment to India. The forecast also says the temperature is going to reach a high of 37 C. I know that number. In Fahrenheit, it's 98.6 degrees, body heat. Sultry, indeed.

Taxis line up in New Delhi. (Photo: David Brancaccio)
Taxis line up in New Delhi. (Photo: David Brancaccio)
Also looking over the forecast is my partner on this journey, Conrad Anker. He sees something else on that weather map, a dotted S-curve across India's mid-section. That is the monsoon line. Below the line is the famed weather pattern that produces the seasonal deluges of rain for which this continent is famous. In the coming weeks, that line will move north and east.

"Last year at this time, I was watching that monsoon line closely," Conrad says. "I was on Everest heading for a June 14th summit and we needed to be sure we got out ahead of those storms."

Left to Right: David Brancaccio, Dr. Syed Iqbal Hasnain, and Conrad Anker examine glacier locations on a map of the Himalayas.
Left to Right: David Brancaccio, Dr. Syed Iqbal Hasnain, and Conrad Anker examine glacier locations on a map of the Himalayas.
Conrad was on Mount Everest exactly a year ago. He got to the top, for his second time. Everest is the kind of thing he does. Conrad is the mountaineer who found George Mallory's body atop the world's highest peak back in 1999. George Mallory is the mountaineer who tried to climb Everest in 1924 and didn't make it back.

Mallory was famous for his "because they are there" answer to the question as to just why people climb mountains. Conrad and I have a more specific answer as to why we are in India. We are looking for answers about global warming.

Left to Right: Conrad Anker with environmentalist and political activist Vendana Shiva, and David Brancaccio, in a park in New Delhi.
Left to Right: Conrad Anker with environmentalist and political activist Vendana Shiva, and David Brancaccio, in a park in New Delhi.
You see, there is something wrong with the frozen reservoir of ice that produces what is, arguably, the most revered river on earth. The river Ganges, the lifeblood for more than half a billion people in India, has a problem at its source: the glacier that feeds the Ganges is melting away and melting away much more quickly than before. Before my first day in India is out, I have been able to sip tea in a comfortable living room with Dr. Syed Iqbal Hasnain. Dr. Hasnain is a scientist and glacier expert at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi who says there are several things causing that glacier atop the Ganges to disappear, but a big one is global warming. If the glacier goes, the Ganges could become a seasonal river, one that flows only after the rains.

If that happens, it will be a disaster felt around the world. That from R. Vendana Shiva, a legendary Indian scientist and environmentalist who shared the dire forecast as we sat together on a bench mid-afternoon in a Delhi park that was decidedly sultry.

Visit "On Thin Ice" to watch the hour-long NOW on PBS special and learn more about global warming.
In the coming days, Conrad and I are traveling north toward the Himalayas to better understand how the Ganges plays such a central role in the spiritual, economic, and everyday lives of so many. The plan is then get out the hiking boots and trek to the source of the Ganges. Then, we will break out the ropes and crampons to see the condition of the glacier first hand...

Read Day 2: "My First In-person Glimpse of the Ganges"

*Note: All photographs by John Siceloff unless otherwise credited.