Squeezing Dal Lake - Historical perspective

Greater Kashmir

The measurements recorded in our historical accounts give an idea of the loss

According to Drew (1875) the Dal Lake measured five miles from north to south and two miles from east to west. Hussan (1833) described that the Dal Lake measured approximately three miles long from Gagribal to Telbal and nearly two miles wide from Khawjayarbal to Nishat Bagh and it may again approximately be ten miles in circumference. Lawrence (1895) estimated the length of the lake to be four miles and its width two and a half miles. The author reported that the lake was becoming shallower. Stein (1899) confirmed the dimensions reported earlier by Lawrence and gave maximum depth of the lake as thirty feet. In 1931 Mukerjee reported the deepest part of Dal lake about twenty feet. As per the Enex Consortium New Zealand (1978) the total area of the lake was twenty one square kilometers, out of which open water area was    12.1 Sq. Km. Vass and Zutshi (1979) reported that the total open water area of the lake       11.75 Sq. Km and estimated total volume of the four basins of the lake as 9.83×106 m. Nigeen was found to be the deepest part with maximum depth of 6 metres. Kango and Fotedar (1982) reported that the area of Dal lake shrunk from 23.4 Sq.Km to 13.82 Sq Km during 118 years. Zutshi and Kundangar (1983) on the basis of maps and surveys of the lake by Montogmerie (1856-60) and comparing the same with the latest dimensions reported that the open water area of the Dal lake as 10.56 Sq.Km. According to latest surveys carried out by the J &K Revenue Department the Total area of the Dal and Nigeen lake are estimated to be 50432 Kanals of which 3922 Kanals are open waters and 10206 Kanals land mass.
The famous king of Kashmir Zainul-Abidin popularly known as Budshah, who ruled Kashmir during 1420-1470 AD used the lake for recreational purposes and beautified its surroundings. The importance of the lake as a tourist and recreational spot therefore is more than five centuries old.  Hasssan Khuihami, the celebrated historian of Kashmir reported the laying of floating gardens, islands for cultivation of vegetables in the lake, however, the lake waters were said to be wholesome and calm with restricted zones for Nadroo cultivation. According to the notable historian the SONALANK island (presently 3-chinari) in the Bod Dal basin in front of Hazratbal was constructed by Sultan Zainul-Abidin with three storey building as a Royal Palace, which according to author fell down by an earthquake. During Mughal period a sight seeing tower was also built on the island. Sultan Hassan Shah (1475-1478 AD) built an another island called RUPALANK (presently Char-chinari) but its building was destroyed during Sikh period. During 1771-1774 AD, the governor of Kashmir Ameer Khan renovated the Sonalank and drew the lake water to the Chinar tree and into the garden of the building through Persian wheel. Hassan also states that the waters of the Dal lake would flow into the river Jhelum near Habba-Kadal, It was again King Zainul-Abidin who closed the outflow at Habba Kadal and instead dug out the Mar canal (Nalla Mar) inside the city allowing thereby the flow of the lake water through the canal towards Achan. Prior to it an intervention is also observed in 1413AD by Sultan Sikander who  constructed a strong bund upon the Dal Lake from Nayidyar, Rainawari to      Nishat bagh along with six bridges viz; Choudhry Kadal, Doodpathri Kadal, Tulkhan Kadal, Gani Kadal, Oont Kadal and Nishat Kadal (out of these the last two are vanished, only remains of oont Kadal could be seen even today). Saif Khan, the governor of Kashmir who ruled the valley   twice i.e., 1647AD to  1667AD and 1668 AD  to 1771 AD during the reign of Aurangzeb Alamgir built another bund from Khawjayarbal to Ashaibagh on Suderkhun ( now known as Nigeen lake).Consequently the Dal lake was divided into three parts viz. Bod Dal (in front of Hazratbal), Lokut Dal (expanse from Shankryacahria to Nishatbagh) and Suderkhun (situated in front of Kohimaran hillock).This was the beginning of the changes in the flow pattern of the lake water which continues till date. The large tracts of stagnant waters along the inshore areas were also created. During the current century Dal lake incursions were at its peak and the same resulted in far reaching changes to its banks and also in the catchment. Two additional islands were built which further obstructed the water movements. A road namely Boulevard was laid along the south-west part to improve communication which separated a large part of the lake creating marshy area along the fringes of Zabarwan Mountains. This marshy land was gradually reclaimed and developed into huge commercial complexes. On the government side blunders started in late sixties and early seventies by closure of Nalla Mar rendering Brari-numbal to a cesspool and followed by   late eighties when two huge complexes, one of Centaur lake view hotel and another that of Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre were constructed at the lake fringe. The small bund serving an approach road to Kabooter Khana was dismantled. It was in this era not only mushrooming of hotels and commercial complexes were encouraged all along the boulevard road but a mad rush of people was observed to settle down in the immediate catchment of Dal lake and Nigeen lake. New settlements thus came into existence throwing all the norms and plans to wind. It was during   this period another road from Nishat Bagh to Nassem Bagh as an extension to existing Boulevard known as Northern foreshore road was constructed. This 5 Km long road is significant as it was constructed with an expenditure of more than Rs. six crores i.e., each kilometer of the road has consumed about more than Rs. one crore.  Another road called Western foreshore road from Dalgate to Hazratbal was constructed to ease the traffic congestion and at the expanse of Dal lake but abandoned midway in 1993 as it had attracted huge urbanization along the road alignment. Further a road from Babadem to Barbarshah was also constructed at the cost of Brarinambal lagoon of Dal Lake  From 1973 to 1994 it was estimated that the population in and around Dal lake had 100% increase. The recent studies revealed that more than fifty thousand people are living within the lake which includes 42096 souls within hamlets and more than 8000 souls in house boats and doonga boats.
The human incursions within the lake too are unabated. Thousands of Kanals of open water areas are converted into floating gardens, Radhs and into land masses every year. .
Although the J&K Lakes and Water Authority have succeeded in retrieving lake areas by dredging out the peripheral land masses, fishermen hemlets near Habak and NFR and artificial parks from Nishat Bagh to Naseem Bagh through suction cutter dredgers besides removal of lily pads and floating gardens. The political affiliations and undue political interference is one of the root causes of the failures of Dal Conservation and biggest hitch to realignment of houseboats and removal of illegal occupations within the lake The realignment of houseboats with stipulated criteria suggested by the Enex team, was a long pending issue seem to be resolved in near future through the intervention of the High Court.
The mention of the recent proposal to widen the Boulevard road by way of Cantilever at the cost of squeezing Dal lake has been shelved for some time, which would have added another incursion to the history the Dal lake. This proposal originated byway of extension of Dalgate road through cantilever at the cost of squeezing the outlet channel of Chunti Khul.
Tail piece: The fragrance from three hundred gardens laid on the periphery of the Dal Lake during the Mughal period would be felt by every visitor of Dal lake for years together and       nowadays one could have the foul smell emitting Sewage Treatment Plants around the Dal Lake.

(The author can be mailed on: mrdkundangar@hotmail.com.)