The Dal Lake is a fascinating body of water. In the evening when the sun dips behind its vast expanse the sky flares up in a brilliant display of colours, the type Messrs Kashmir Beautification & Co. could not have managed to provide. Its the play of clouds, the sun and the open skies. Below them, the Dal lake reflects the hues – a deep orange and blue – like a giant mirror. No sunset here is ever ordinary.
Once upon a time, the Dal Lake was much larger than it is today. But now, no one remembers the day when the Dal got spoiled. It has shrunk to less than half the size of what it was a few centuries ago, and in the past twenty years the rate of shrinking has increased. The Dal is shaped somewhat like a kidney (somewhat, not completely) and half of the kidney has severe calcification. But, you won’t see that on the Boulevard side. That is for tourist brochures. On any given day there descends an army of photographers armed with DSLRs, ‘point and shoot’ and even mobile phones busily clicking the Dal away. It’s not a generally known fact, but the famous “boy with the faraway look in his eyes” pose was invented to be used exclusively on the Dal shores.
The call for beautification has so far resulted in two extremely beautiful sewage plants around the Dal. Don’t get me wrong. Sewage treatment plants are the need of the hour. The filth going into the lake needs to be treated to make it less toxic. The “less toxic” sewage is then pumped into the lake and it mingles with the “more toxic” sewage coming in from the houseboats. Together, they stay in the Dal feeding its algae, and floating gardens and the famous lily pads.
This Dal of ours was simply too beautiful for its own good. Tourists wanted to see it. They often inquire from locals if the lake is “open” at all times. This was the opportunity the newly grown crop of hoteliers were waiting for. They descended like a pack a wolves, looking for rooms wherever they can to accommodate just one more ‘tourist’ coming in from neighboring India who would take immense pride in buying the romance of the Dal. The neophytes were not even looking at the long haul. Back in 2005 when the seemingly sudden desire to see Kashmir arose in Indians and in one eventful summer there appeared hordes of them, they weren’t even calling themselves “hoteliers”. They made “rooms available”, generally out of charity because the “hotels” were overflowing. And now, almost seven years later they do not bother themselves with nomenclature. They find people, who usually arrive in fake Volvos and mini-travelers, tired and dusty, dragging their suitcases with one hand and balancing a kid or sweater on the other. It doesnt take a very keen expert to realize the mushrooming hotels around the Dal. Such are the colours of “normalcy” in Kashmir and the ‘tourists’ it brings along with it. The Dal Lake crossed itself and waited patiently for a safe death. Perhaps the lake hadn’t wished to die in this way, but you can’t negotiate with the hangman.
Unfortunately, not many realize that the Dal is not a gold mine. You can’t grab a handful of this gold and cash it. With each hand-span of water lost, the Dal loses its edges forever. One could only sigh at the colossal loss and tragedy that Dal Lake is. A lake right in the center of the city is a rare occurrence. But Kashmir is an exception to so many rules, that rules have begun to look like exceptions. Dal falls in line.
At this moment the government decides to beautify the Dal. The words used are decidedly misleading. What the administration can do is make an earnest, last ditch effort to save something that defines the city’s tourism heritage. It can’t beautify the Dal anymore than Nature has already done. What the government can only hope is to clean it, which will restore the Dal. The lake. It’s survival. Bring it back on the track where the imminent threats are warded off. So to say, take the sting off the ‘developments’ going around it. Beautification is a long distance away. That would be when standing on its bank, one could smell the fragrance of flowers growing far away in the Dal. When the famed “Dal ki hawa” (Wind of the Dal) does not carry obnoxious odours of weeds and sewage treatments plants. When empty cans and bottles are not found floating on the Dal like unwelcome visitors. When there are bridges which do not contribute to its eutrophication. Beautifying would be giving the Dal something which it didn’t have. Painting a clean house is “beautification”, but cleaning the house is a necessity – even if it doesn’t diminish its ugliness.
There needs to be a line between “beautification” and “restoration”. Till then the LWDA may, as one of its signposts round the Dal reads, “have a think” over it!.
The gate in the Lake was supposed to check the flow of water, as it connected to the city’s inner water ways. But now the gate has effectively divided the Dal into two parts. The touristy and the non-touristy. the touristy Dal is the larger part where the water is visible in front of the long row of houseboats. Behind them, of course, there is no water. Its all green, algaed and eutrophied. Petrified, if you may. The touristy Dal also has the floating gardens, and the Char Chinari. And the Nehru Park, with its increasing periphery.
The non-touristy Dal has been left to die with the city plan under which more bridges are supposed to come up. The one in the pictures above is being extended, and there is another one coming up near the Moulana Azad Bridge. The non-touristy Dal also has houseboats, many of them dilapidated and non-posh kinds. It serves as a dumping ground for local waste, a public urinal and worse.
The Dal is ticking away. And we are waiting.
Steps like reopening of cinemas and liquor sale would boost the tourism industry in the state, he said.
So many people have already berated him on comparing tourism and tipsy-ism. Only today Greater Kashmir carried this post. So one cannot really add anything new to this.
The minister for new and renewable energy was addressing a function to celebrate the birth anniversary of his father and National Conference founder Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah here.
How on earth could he have reached from Sheikh Abdullah to making such statement is beyond me, but we all know Dr. Abdullah’s speech making faculty. If anyone could reach from making a tribute to a dead dad to opening cinemas, Dr. Abdullah can.
“The cinemas are not here, where will the tourists go at night. Do you want them to stay inside the room?” Abdullah said.
|Dal Lake at night (C)|
|Boulevard on a Wintry night (c) Ironically, there is a bar right next to the point where this picture was taken.|
The Union minister asked the media to tone down its reportage of protests as it had a “negative impact” on the tourism industry.
So much for banning private news channels in the Valley. So much for censorship on the media.
Where to channelise the growing rush of tourists.
Liquor bars, eh?