“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature,” Henry David Thoreau.
The nature has been kind enough to Kashmir as it has blessed it with bounteous array of beautiful lakes, like Wular, Anchar, Nigeen and the most gorgeous and splendid of all, the Dal Lake. The stupendous panoramic beauty of the Dal Lake is matchless and has been attracting tourists for all over the world. It is virtually the first stop of all the tourists who throng the valley, particularly during spring and summer seasons.
The Zabarwan hill range stretched out along the bank of the lake is stunning enough to mesmerize the visitors at the first sight.
Undoubtly, Srinagar owes its charisma to Dal Lake with other attractions like hills and gardens coming next.
Few days back, a friend of mine proposed a motor boat ride in the Dal Lake. The proposal was more than attractive and I immediately consented. Ever since my childhood, the very mention of Dal lake would mean to me a magical and crisp aroma of a crystal clear water with lung squeezing sparkling freshness and mirror like reflections.
Having heard and read a lot about the dilapidation of the lake, I still visualise Dal Lake exhibiting some of water’s most alluring qualities, from mesmerizing ripples and crystalline clarity to heavenly purity.
The Dal is a place wherein you boat around waters reflecting the slivery and blooming rays while admiring the magical lush green hillside line along and snow-capped mountains in the background.
The lake always meant to me a place where heaven-leaking light added a golden tint to the face of the silvery trembling surface creating a display of magical light show.
The Dal Lake has a monumental status in the tourism domain of the valley. The lake is situated in the heart of Srinagar City and is the major tourist attraction within the City for its panoramic surroundings with a splendid line up of Zabarwan hills along its coast.
The vintage Shikaras which have been plying over its waters since ages, seen moving like colourful water birds and the majestic house boats lined up spectacularly along the inner lines of the lake provide a dream spectacle to the visitors.
Adding to its allure are islands, like Nehru Park, Son lank and Rup lank each with its own uniqueness, adding grandeur and magnificence to the lake.
Backed by the out-of-this-world beauty this stunning lake is the kind of heavenly blessing that would leave one searching for poetic acumen to capture its exquisiteness. I thought of the stunning surrounding greenery stuffed in majestically jagged background mountains and waited impatiently for the grand day.
Thus on a pleasant sunny afternoon, we boarded the motor boat at a ghat near Nehru Park. The boatman, a middle aged veteran of the lake assured us of a fulsome tour in the lake and would also enrich us about the past glory of the Dal.
The start was magical. The boat pushed slowly first but soon caught speed as it pierced the silvery waters zooming ahead with its snout raised considerably.
The boat made a round of the lake in front of the boulevard and we were thrilled to see the huge splashes of water the boat was leaving behind while whooshing ahead. I asked the boatman to take us into the deeper areas of the lake, which I had not got a chance of tread into.
The sight of house boats lined up majestically was breath taking. But the first bout of distaste struck while moving closer to the area where house boats were parked. The water behind and in between the boats was very dirty, almost murky brown, stuffy and smelling with moss surrounding the base of the boats and the logs with which they are tied.
The boat further drove deeper into the lake towards the northern foreshore road, Rainawari, Hazratbal and Ashaibagh Bridge. My excitement of the excursion began to liquefy as we drove through clumps of mud and excreta of fish and water birds, squadrons of flying insects swamping the lake turning it into a muddy sledge. The dream drive turned into a nightmare with unbearable foul stench hitting us hard, reminding me of Nala Mar when it was near extinction.
The entire area seemed to have become habitat for obnoxious plants and insects that thrive in wet muddy conditions. This ugly dilapidation of the marvellous lake deflated my spirits and the enthusiasm and made me gloomy.
The drive became more and difficult as we proceeded deeper in different directions. The conditions worsened as the expanse of open water ceased to exist and the motorboat now moved ahead through narrow passages amidst heavy stinking vegetation. The vegetation at some places was so dense that the motor boat struggled to cut through.
The lake seemed to have squeezed from all directions as we saw numerous dwellings and vegetable gardens and landmass eating into the water area.
The sight was so depressing that I finally asked the driver to take us back. It was great relief to see the open part of the Dal again as we approached the ghat near Makai point.
Dilapidation of this legendary lake is a serious problem throwing a tough challenge to the society as a whole. The lake is severely degraded in terms of its ecology as well as physiology. Rapid urbanization and unauthorized settlements has made the pollution situation of the lake progressively dangerous, which might cost us severely.
Water bodies like Dal are natural reservoirs to harvest the rainwater and prevent any flooding into the city core and this water is also used for various purposes like drinking; even to tide over the situation of drought.
The urban sprawl and expansion has resulted in an increase of illegal settlements which leads to the severe increase of waste disposals across the Dal Lake.
Having had a painful sight of the dilapidation of the Dal, the trip was a gloomy experience. The lake is dying, I thought sadly while driving back to home.
As per the older records, the area of the Dal Lake is around 26 SqKms, with water area of around 18 SqKms and rest being the land area in the form of land mass, fixed cultivation etc. While going around the lake, one wonders about the actual size it is reduced to as of now. If the present condition of the Dal is any indicator, time may not be far when it will be reduced to ruins and a site of archaeological value.
The provisional area of the lake may not have changed, but the condition of the entire area barring few Kms from Dal gate to ChashmaShahi, is absolutely ramshackle and one feels pained to look at the Dal dying silently without any serious and dedicated effort being put forward to save it.
The entire expanse of clear water has changed into a marsh due to extensive overgrowth of biological vegetation which has drastically reduced the clarity and transparency of the water even in the area we still feel is live and undamaged.
The weeds seem to be multiplying geometrically, continuing invading the clear waters and threatening to turn the entire lake into a stinking marsh.
The dying Dal owes its present condition to the departments which are responsible for its preservation and maintenance.
Unfortunately the departments have become hubs of corruption and have always been n news for wrong reasons. Ever since the LAWDA took over the charge of protecting the lake in 1997, more harm has been reported, and the lake is fast losing its water area to the marshes and the encroachments.
There are few more departments, like UEED, Irrigation and Flood control, Fisheries and the tourism departments which are directly responsible for the overall maintenance and care taking of the lake. It is collective negligence of all the concerned departments which has brought the splendid lake to the brink of death.
Employment of huge manpower and spending of enormous chunks of money by the ministry of Housing and Urban Development with additional aid form projects like NLCP (National Lake Conservation Plan) and PMRP (Prime Ministers Reconstruction Plan) have not been able to produce desired results and the reason must be known to those who spend the money.
In order to save the Dal, the government should introduce a nearby solid waste disposal, prevent human activities on the area, disseminate enough education on the importance of environmental conservation, introduce plan to preserve water quality and finally introduce regulation, laws and legislation toward the use of the lake.
The major step would be to undertake dredging after bathometric survey and controlling the habitation with geo-tagging and issuing licence to the existing and upcoming structures. The STP's around the lake need to be upgraded to the highest standard, with scientific treatment plants for the catchment area habitation whose sewerage ultimately make way to Dal.
The major organizations which are polluting lake are SKICC and Royal Springs Golf course and a host of high end hotels. Their sewage and that of hotels like Lalit, Hotel Taj and the hotels who have their own STP's should be connected to the STPs of LAWDA.
Experts opine that their STP's of most of the hotels are not working properly. Sufficient machinery must be pressed into service for planned removal of floating weeds to increase DO levels.
Restoring the lost glory of the Dal Lake may be an uphill task, but this job must be take the topmost slot in the priorities of the government.