Is Pahalgam losing its sheen?

My hometown is a tourist’s delight. Guest is our soul. We sacrifice our comfort to make visitors feel home. But to my utter shock and disbelief, Pahalgam is not a virgin tourist spot anymore. My dad was a shutterbug. His frames are historical archive to prove that Pahalgam had been married to nature.

My dear father, a veteran photographer is no more but his photographs are the real asset. Thirty years down the line, Pahalgam has lost its essence. In 2010, a PIL was filed in the honourable high court of Jammu and Kashmir to revive the 1980s master plan, full of loopholes, a new master plan was drafted and it is waiting for its implementation for last nine years. The elite and big guns from various corners of the valley have managed to build hotels and resorts while locals are being denied even  minor repairs  in their households.

Roaring glacier’s with gurgling waters were the specialty of my place. Woods were akin to green carpet. Lush green meadows are naked now. There was no hazardous fencing around hotels and big bungalows. Why is it being done? And who is doing it? Why no action against big fish? Pahalgam was our pride but is gar ko aag lagi gar kay chiraag sai. The brazen vialation and the loot in increasing ceaselessly under the nose of administration.

Established some 40 years ago with the sole aim to make Kashmir’s Switzerland picture perfect, Pahalgam Project Organization has completely failed so far. Renamed as Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) in 2003, the organization has much to answer. New parks were demarcated in the Master Plan and a large tracts of agricultural land and natural green spaces were converted into parks. Every park was fenced and people were required to pay an entry fee. The idea of making artificial enclosures in wilderness is unfathomable.  It is like holding captive, God’s creation and handiwork. Like ugly smudges across a heavenly picture.

The rich authoritarian regime of PDA spent money on ill-planed projects and unnatural obstacles. They fiddled with woods. It turned disastrous for environment.  Not even single environmental engineer, urban planner, landscaper or a biodiversity specialist was consulted to draft the plan. I fail to understand why is forest land being fenced? Why is this contractor mafia turning once virgin spot a disturbingly ugly place. Why is district administration has maintained criminal silence over the years?  Land fills can be seen on river banks. Open spaces are shrinking? Construction boom has mauled its beauty.

There is no concept of Sewage Treatment Plant {STPs}. For this purpose, once pristine Lidder river is used mutually. Unnecessary concrete bridges have been constructed for unknown reasons. Not a single rope-way bridge is here.  The worst hit is Betab Valley. Years ago the only access to the meadow was a fallen tree that acted as a bridge. Everything else was untouched. Today it is a man-made park with pathways and gazebos.

Another meadow called Baisaran,  which lies in the deep forests (around 6KM uphill walk from Pahalgam market) has been again fenced. A huge concrete entry block sits like an eyesore at the entrance. Have we any idea what we are doing with nature? Every new year is hotter than the previous one and winters are much drier then they used to be. We are moving towards ice age. Spring and autumn season is gone. We are still in deep slumber. Untreated sewage,  polluted rivers, depleting fish, shrinking forest cover due to smuggling and forest fires, pahalgam is losing its sheen. Almost 74 percent of the waste (12 metric tonnes monthly)  is generated by hotels and restaurants according to a report by  Municipal Committee Pahalgam. All of the waste without even  proper segregation goes to a landfill which is on the bank of river stream near Ganishbal Pahalgam.

Even our high altitude lakes haven’t been spared. The Sheshnag lake (source of Lidder) is the worst hit. It receives tons of garbage during Amarnath yatra. In 2016 alone, tons of garbage was brought down from the Sheshnag base camp. The two month long yatra brings all forms of of pollution with it. It mercilessly defiles this land, it’s air and its waters.  As this was not enough, we have rumble of helicopters tearing through the silence every fifteen minutes. This highly politisized ‘pilgrimage’ is has catastrophic climatic consequences.

The idea of Shiva as a God is one of calm reflection and serenity. Of purity and silence. This yearly cacophony of sounds and contamination must make his spirit restless. It must make him angry.  It is time to mend our ways and to introspect. It will be wise for us all to remember: Lord Shivas wrath, his third eye. At this rate, the day is not far before Pahalgam becomes another concrete jungle in the mountains. Its beauty relegated to picture books and movie scenes. Its sight and sounds lost in the nostalgic stories that we will narrate to our next generation. For them, it will be fiction. What will we do now to preserve our legacy?

The Author is a Naropa Fellow-class of 2018-19.