Some four years ago I had written an article for Rising Kashmir on defacing of mountains and hills of Kashmir at the hands of armed forces, irresponsible state institutions and authorities, and the people. I am writing again on the issue because we have seen the situation go worse year after year. This year some photographs of pilgrims (yatris) or tourists who were urinating in the open went viral on social media. There was an outrage over the pictures and the pollution caused by the people photographed. Pollution caused by open defecation especially by the travelers in Kashmir has been a challenge to the state government as every year the government before the annual pilgrimage tries to ensure that the facilities are in place. Inspite of that pollution in Kashmir has been increasing and now we get to hear that the period of yatra may be reduced.
Travelers and pilgrims are not the only ones who need to be blamed. The locals are also responsible for polluting this pretty valley when they allow the waste and sewage from homes to reach the streams. Locals too can be seen urinating at some tourist places and that is because there are no urinals/lavatories installed there. In Srinagar, lack of public toilets earns bad name to the city. The few public toilets that are in the city are in pathetic conditions. The city is modernizing with multi-storey car parking lots being developed but a basic facility for the convenience of the people is not given any attention.
Next comes the deplorable habit of inscribing names on walls or faces wherever it is possible. In my previous article I had raised the issue of defacing of mountains of Kashmir. Armed forces had defaced many hills and mountains by writing their camp names on the rock surfaces. It is horrible to see a beautiful hill be defaced by such foolish actions. But that is a small matter. We all are aware of the battle ground that Tosa Maidan was turned into and how it had affected the trees and evergreen forests.
But the worst pollutant in Kashmir and many other similar places has been plastic. Locals as well as tourists often carry plastic water bottles or soft drinks packed in water bottles to the famous picnic places. Most often we see these bottles being dumped at the site. In Dal Lake I can’t remember of the day I haven’t seen plastic bottles floating in the lakes water. Recently, I wanted to take a selfie on this beautiful lake but it was hard to find a pollution free spot of the lake in the background. Every time we are near this lake we see shopkeepers sell the plastic bottles full of soft drinks. We even buy from them. I have always had this question to ask the authorities who say they are cleaning the lake on regular basis and to the government: why allow the shopkeepers to sell plastic bottle, chips in packets, disposable glasses that we know may end up in the beautiful lake of ours.
People in Kashmir are yet to understand the beauty of nature otherwise they would not have been using cement and iron near places that are picturesque. Use of wood, stone or materials that are raw and found in nature can add great beauty to houses, to hotels and offices as well. But people here are more inclined to spoil the natural look with artificial beauty. Srinagar cannot be turned into a metropolitan city because Srinagar has a very unique character and looks. We all are amazed by the photographs of the city taken some fifty years ago. There is no sign of the so-called development in them, but they all look so serene and pleasing. We are responsible for desecrating the image of this marvelous city. We are cutting down trees, Chinars, to build streets, roads and buildings.
Like thousands of other students and people who have been visiting the Naseem Bagh of Kashmir University, I am pained to see it reduce to a lawn. The expansion of the university infrastructure and shrinking of Naseem Bagh have been going on simultaneously. It pains us because at a place where minds are refined and ignited and know the difference between natural and artificial beauty, the caretakers have carried out an onslaught.
In Nishat and Shalimar there are chinars, perhaps aged hundreds of years. I have seen some become weak ad I don’t know how long they will survive. I am terrified at the thought that someday there may not be any chinars in these gardens. Are we planting new chinars on regular basis so that when an old one dies down there is a new one that takes its place?
Our children are receiving a very wrong kind of education. We teach them to debate, to deliver speeches and write essays but we are unable to teach them the real importance of the topics and subjects on which they debate. We give them awards, points and scores in schools but do nothing to encourage them to participate in the rebuilding of our beautiful Kashmir. If it does not wake us now, it may never wake us at all and we will lost all we have. We have forgotten to appreciate the precious gifts we inherit just because we are born in this beautiful vale.