Gone Dry

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Fresh water springs, fed by the glacial melt, have sustained Kashmir for ages. But we have fast losing these life giving precious water bodies to collective callousness. Suhail A Shah takes a look at some of these decaying springs in the Islamabd area of south Kashmir.

As one walks through the chained iron gates leading into the premises of Andar Nag, one of the few remaining fresh water springs of the Islamabd town, reminds one of the prison gates from yesteryear Bollywood movies. At the end of a flight of mired stairs, a trooper, trying to tune an aged radio set, asks the visitors to enter their names and addresses into a sticky register.

Amid half a dozen concrete religious structures, built by the troopers within well over two decades of their stay in the premises, it takes a while before one could find the Andar Nag spring. The spring, origin of the Nagbal springs, has been reduced to a square concrete pond of murky greenish water, sitting amidst these buildings like a defeated king.

The water, once believed to have medicinal properties, stands marred with empty bottles, polyethene bags, leaves clogging the outlet and stary dogs roaming freely inside the premises. The spring, by the look of it, has not been cleaned in years, or may be decades.

This, however, is not the only spring in the town that stands vandalised; the other springs in the vicinity too share the same fate. With rampant encroachments and not being cleaned in almost two decades now, these fresh water bodies are breathing their last.

Islamabad has a number of fresh water springs dotting the town since centuries. The Andar Nag in Sherbagh, Malkh Nag, Sonir Pakhur Nag, Heemal Nag in Sarnal, the Nag at Saad Sahab’s shrine in Kadipora, Gujnag in Kadipora, the multiple outlets of these springs and the springs that have been wiped from the face of the town and from the memory of the people as well.

“Alas! The glorious past, when the springs of the town witnessed Kol-e-Waan twice a year” says Nazir Ahmad Bhat, a 65 year old local resident, who is visibly shocked when asked what a Kol-e-Waan means.

“How will you know? It (Kol-e-Waan) hasn’t taken place in decades now. It was a process, carried out in March and October by the locals and the administration, to clean the springs,” says Nazir Ahmad, pulling sadly at his Hookah.

Adding that the troopers are not the only ones responsible for the deterioration of these assets, bestowed to the town by the Almighty, Nazir Ahmad says “Our greed and insensitivity has been the basic cause of the present state of these springs.” Nazir, while recounting that he has seen the days when the springs of Islamad, also called Annatnag, were in their full glory says that fish were found in abundance in these waters, the boys young and juvenile spent their afternoons taking long dips in its icy cold waters. Elders performed their ablutions five times a day, the washermen carried out their chores at several outlets of the springs and kitchen gardens were irrigated by these springs. “I fear that the day is not far when there will not be a single spring left in the town,” says Mukhtar Ahmad Waza, a 50 year old resident. Mukhtar, along with his neighbours have been trying to keep clean the only remaining outlet, out of a dozen or so, of the Gujnag springs in Kadipora area of the town.

“Almost every spring in the town has been encroached upon. Some in the name of religion and some brazenly by people with political clout,” says Mukhtar. People say the authorities too are sleeping over the issue and have not dealt with the encroachers strictly enough, encouraging more and more people to take the insensitive step.

“The first step of the encroachers is to build a chapel on the side lines of the spring and then there is no stopping the construction. Soon, shops and other commercial establishments start to mushroom around it and if somebody opposes, he will be labelled as an infidel, an enemy of the faith,” said another elderly person from the neighbourhood, not wanting to be named for obvious reasons.

Besides, the locals say, these springs have been a major source of tourist attraction in the recent past. “Scores of tourists, foreign as well as the locals, used to visit these springs. Some for just sightseeing and others for religious purposes,” says Gulzar Ahmad, a 62 year old shopkeeper in the Sher Bagh area. “These springs (Nags) have a special place in the Hindu mythology. The town has been mentioned in Bhagwatgita as well as in Rishi Kashyap’s mythology. The rich history of the town has attracted countless tourists over the years to the town and the major source of attraction have been these springs. However, times have changed, the pathetic condition of these springs have over the last few years repelled tourists,” said Gulzar Ahmad.

“Half of these are sulphur springs and the waters are believed to have medicinal properties but these waters have been polluted to such an extent that I seriously doubt that the medicinal properties would still be there,” said 55 year old Muhammad Amin Bhat, another shopkeeper in the vicinity.

Now, the people think twice before using the water even for washing purposes.

Andar Nag, Sherbagh (Nagbal Springs)

The biggest and by far the most famous of them all, the Andar Nag spring is divided into two parts. The outer one, called SherBagh which gets its water from the inner part called the Andar Nag, and from there on the water of the spring pops out at several places in the town.

(Verinag)

GujNag Spring

The Andar Nag has been under the occupation of the troops for well over two decades now and the locals say that no care is being taken to make sure that the water inside stays clean and fresh. They (the locals) allege that not only the water has been contaminated by the presence of the troops, but they have also, over the years, finished all the fish from the spring. “Our elders told us that the fish from a spring are Haraam (forbidden), however the idea behind this myth was to try and preserve the fish. But who will make the troopers understand that,” says Mukhtar Ahmad.

The troops posted at the Andar Nag have a different story to tell. They blame the pilgrims visiting the place throughout the year.

“They come and litter the filth around. We try hard on our part to keep the place clean but these pilgrims too need to understand the fact that the place has to be kept clean,” said a trooper posted there, wishing anonymity. The other outlets of the spring at Dangerpora, Bkhshiabad and other places have witnessed unabated encroachments, say the locals.

“At least forty odd shops have come up at the Dangerpora outlet of the spring and more are being constructed. The establishment is doing nothing to stop the construction for reasons better known to them,” said Gowher Rasool, a teacher. The Sherbagh spring is under the control of the local bodies but according to the locals they too are doing nothing to save the fresh water spring.

MalkNag Spring

After this place, called Malkhnag after the spring, was burnt down in the 1990’s the rebuilding process of the area proved detrimental to the spring.

The locals Kashmir Life talked to said that marble was laid around the spring unnecessarily and the mosque besides the spring was expanded over it. “I cannot fathom the logic of using marble,” said Nasir Khan, adding that the spring was so beautiful when he was a child. “It was an open space and now with the use of the marble and the expansion of the mosque, it has turned into a pond,” adds Nasir.

The other locals lament that despite the fact that the spring now is located just beneath the mosque and the water is used for daily ablutions by the faithful, it’s seldom cleaned.

Sonir Pakhur Nag

Located just besides the MalkhNag, this spring is in the worst condition among all the springs in the area. Although it too has been choked using marble, what remains inside the marble walls is a junkyard.

“You can see for yourself, how wretched, the condition of this once so wonderful spring is. It has literally become a dust bin for the whole area,” said Adil Wani, a 26 year old boy from the area.

GujNag Spring

Located in Kadipora area of the town, this spring too had multiple outlets but over the years all of them barring one have been either encroached upon or damaged to the extent that there is no more water left in them.

“This is the last of the Gujnag springs,” says Mukhtar Ahmad Waza, pointing towards the spring besides his palatial house.

Mukhtar thanks his neighbours for helping him in keeping this one clean and free of any encroachment.

Recounting how in the 1980’s the water of the springs is used to be fresh and crystal clear Mukhtar says, “When the forces fired tear gas shells at us during the 1980’s we used the water from these springs to wash our eyes. It used to be so refreshing .”

“Even though we are making sure that the last one of the outlets is kept clean, but there is a lot more that is to be done and the authorities and the civil society should come forward and make sure that our younger generation does not curse us for whatever we have done to these water bodies.”

The civil society of the town, comprising of some lawyers, journalists and others have pledged to save these fresh water bodies.

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