Kashmir’s Dying Water Bodies

On the occasion of Ambassador’s golf cup at Royal Springs Golf Course (RSGC) Srinagar on 31st of October one of the visiting Ambassadors’ while describing beauty of Kashmir said,’ I had a notion, that to be in heaven you have to make an ascend, but when our plane approached Kashmir valley from mighty mountains, I experienced even a descend can land you in heaven’.  Valley of Kashmir is bestowed with many features and characteristics of enormous beauty; there is no doubt about it. Lofty mountain ranges with dense forests, snow covered peaks, bubbling springs, fresh water lakes, roaring streams, winding rivers, lush green meadows and diverse flora and fauna are the major attributions of this charming vale. These characteristic provide a unique status to Kashmir valley as one of the beautiful places on earth. Its pleasant climate spread over four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, and winter give a distinctive status to Kashmir. All these four seasons contribute in sustenance of beauty of Kashmir and particularly provide life to its water ways and water bodies. Detailed study of climatic cycle in this region will reveal how water bodies get charged and sustain by the influence of climatic diversity within a scheduled year. Nature controls and manages our water cycle as per our requirements, by pouring it; storing it on top of our surrounding peaks as glaciers; releasing it at proper time and circulating it through streams and rivers, the life line of our survival. This whole ‘water drama’ being enacted by nature on such great heights (altitude) is beyond the imagination of preset day advance scientific conception.  Forest and other valuable ground cover also play vital role in conserving and harvesting the water bestowed by nature through these climatic settings. Every feature of Kashmir as a whole works in tandem to shape and sustain our precious water bodies and ultimately guarantee and safeguards our survival.

If we go through the documented history of Kashmir spread over many thousand years, there is no mention of worsening state of our water bodies in earlier times. Instead at many occasions the beauty of our rivers and lakes has been mentioned in a way as if these are the major attributes of attraction and charm in the valley. One of the great chronicler Kalhana while describing the grandeur of Pravarapura the city founded by king Pravarasen II near the Hari Parbat hill in close proximity to old city Srinagari, mentions in Rajatarangini about Dal Lake, river Jhelum, and the numerous canals which once intersected the historic city of Srinagar, ‘the streams meeting, pure and lovely, at pleasure-residences and near market-streets’. Kalhana especially mentions about the cool waters of Vitasta (river Jhelum).  Many travelers in their travelogues have mentioned about the beauty and charm of river Jhelum and Dal Lake in particular and given a mesmerizing image of these two vital water bodies of Kashmir. Mention of Jhelum with religious sacredness attached to it remains part of every creditable work of history on Kashmir.

Now the situation is quite different! For last more than six decades we Kashmiries are appreciating the freedom attained after centuries of suppression and autocracy. This long cherished liberty has bestowed us with dignity and authority but at a bigger cost of diminishing values, lack of responsibility and collective efforts to preserve our art, culture, language and heritage. We have let loose our greed and brought destruction to our prized possession bestowed by nature, particularly water ways and water bodies. If Kalhana will rise from his grave, or for that matter Mughals will dare to venture out and pay a visit to Kashmir, they will be surprised to see a different, vandalized valley with polluted waterways and encroached water bodies, inhabited by emancipated but materialistic and selfish populace.

Kalahan’s account of Dal, Jhelum and other water ways in the city of Srinagar are self explanatory descriptions of magnificence and beauty of these water structures but now in this era of emancipation these iconic structures are facing cruelty of mankind. These water ways and bodies are being chocked with the enormous dirt and filth accumulated by the people after their liberation from the clutches of dictatorship. These blessed lakes and marshes which were mainly contributing in maintaining the precious water table of the valley and draining extra water, have turned into cesspools and at places into mass of land by encroachers. During the democratic system of governance, in place for last more than six decades much damage has been done to the water bodies of the valley both by the common people and the establishment. It will be wastage of time and precious space of this newspaper to rewind the brutal events enacted while ruining the historic Nalla Mar by so-called popular governments of Kashmir, thus chocking almost whole labyrinth of water channels within the city of Srinagar. It was a fact that Nalla Mar once hosting many historical bridges of Srinagar was loosing its charm but killing an ailing patient instead of treating it is the most unwise and cruel decision. This was never expected of a leadership claiming to be the savior of Kashmiri people and custodian of their art, culture and heritage. The enormous damage caused to water system of this historic city by filling heritage Nalla Mar (Snake canal) and dismantling its historical bridges namely Nyid Kadal, Bhuri Kadal, Saraf Kadal, Kadi Kadal, Raza Ver Kadal ( now Rajori Kadal), Khwador  (Kawdara)  and Sekkidafar is the most unpardonable act of our popular leadership. Boulevard, on the periphery of Dal Lake along Zabarwan range, once was the best dividing line between the Lake and the materialistic populace but our shady popular leaders did not spare even this beautiful avenue and blemished it with concrete jungle of hotels. It appears as if it was part of ‘Naya Kashmir’. This brazen violation of ecological norms is indefensible. No mind was applied regarding disposal of waste management at the time of commissioning these hotels and now huge money is being pumped to handle the foul misfortune discharged out of these structures of shame.

Dal is shrinking and its waters turning murkier with every passing day by intrusion in to the eco-system; greed of inhabitants in its vicinity; and above all administration’s lack of concern.  Same is the case with Nigeen Lake, Anchar Lake, and Khushaal Sar. These water bodies have turned into soakage pits of Srinagar city where every sort of dirt is dumped under the senseless nose of indifferent administration. As earlier mentioned there is no trace ofNalla Mar now, Tsunth Kul looks like a filthy drain, Rainawari canal flowing under heritage Naid Yar bridge is disappearing, water structure once passing under Jogi Lankar bridge is no more, Brari Nambal  lagoon is almost dying. The Dal along the Miskeen bagh complex (once known as Haart meem hund bunglea) has lost its charm. In early seventies when this beautiful garden with a heritage bungalow, well designed lawns and a spacious gazebo was not vandalized in the name of destitute, fresh water of the lake would touch its edges giving an exclusive feeling.   The other prominent water bodies in the valley, like Waular and Manasbal Lake are bearing the brunt of human intervention and tampering with the eco-system and are proceeding towards gradual extinction.

We as individuals and society have to make honest efforts in saving these water structures from further degradation, so that survival of our future generations is guaranteed. Other wise such an ecological disaster will confront this heavenly place, where again a Kashyap Reshi or Soya has to come to our rescue, and in the following legends we will be passed on as reincarnation of Jaldeo (Jalodbhava) the demon, in the annals of history.

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