Like a love affair, the hunt for tracing the source of the Sind river took me years of trekking deep into the gorges and mountains. Finally, I hired boats and sailed through this charming river till it embraced Jhelum at Shadipora, writes Mahmood Ahmad
As my boat glided gently over the turquoise slow-moving waters of river Sind I was riveted by the amazing journey of the river, which provides livelihood to the thousands of locals living along its banks. I hired a boat near the Doderhama a village, named after the driftwood that people have been collecting for ages. Nowadays people are more attracted by the sand the river brings. Extracting sand here is easy due to the river’s slow-moving nature.
Lost Camping Ground
Much before the advent of modernity and mechanical convenience, Europeans used to get their boats upstream the Sind and camp under the Chinar studded Doderhama camp-site. As the boats have stopped ferrying foreigners the campsite was has been converted into a site for a degree college. The ugly cement concrete buildings have damaged the beauty of the place and Chinars are fighting a lost battle for survival. European travellers would embark upon a long and uphill tiresome journey towards Zoji La and thence onwards to Ladakh, Tibet, Central Asia and Baltistan, a long lost historical connection post-independence.
Until the eighties, Kashmiris continued the tradition of the upstream journey where they would hire Dongas to participate in the annual urs of Qamar Sahib.
As the boat flows downstream, many villages have come up along the banks of Sind. Every household allows the effluent to discharge into the river and heaps of polythene are dumped along its banks. It is not an unusual sight to find polythene and plastic flowing down the current.
Downstream, the river enters Harran and Shallabugh reserve forest, a large willow plantation has been raised on either side of the stream. This huge plantation gives a backwater look of Kerala. This wetland is full of birds and it is the prettiest section of the river cruise, a channel on the right side replenishes the waters of Anchar Lake while a channel on the left side connects with Tullmulla nullah.
Shallabugh plantation is being managed by the wildlife department and is about 16 sq km in size. Adjacent to it is Harran plantation, which is being managed by the Forest department and is about 12 sq km. Both these plantations have thousands of willow trees and is being used to cater to the firewood needs of Srinagar city. This willow plantation can prove an immense resource for our cricket bat industry.
The river finds its source in the jagged peaks of Sind valley. Its furthest source lies in the glacier fields of Musranbal. The highest peak in the vicinity is Nichhung with a height of 5444 mts.
Nichhung remains un-scaled to date. The streams emanating from Musranbal and Nichhung meet near Panchtarni, a level alpine meadow where it carves numerous channels. About a few kilometres downstream from Panchtarni, it meets Amarawati stream, draining the holy cave and amaranth nar to augment its discharge.
This place of confluence is known as Sangam. Here not only the streams meet but the trails also do. Yatra trail from Pahalgam and Baltal also meet and lead up to the cave. Every year pilgrims come to seek darshan of the Shivling. From Sangam to Shadipora, Sind charts an epic journey touching both faith and livelihood of the people.
The river runs a course of about 100 km and its basin exceeds 1550 sq km. At Sonamarg it runs through a narrow gorge. Below Kangan, the valley widens. The river makes a knee bend above Ganderbal, before entering into its flood plain below Ganderbal. Up to Kangan, the Sind falls 3433 mts in about 69 km or about 50 mts in one km. From Kangan to Shadipora, the gradient is gentle 6 mts in one km.
Kashmir Shaivism has uniquely evolved in Kashmir and draws a parallel with Hinduism in mainland India, the Prayag at Allahabad where Ganga Yamuna and invisible Saraswati meet is the most sacred and revered place. Its parallel is drawn here in Kashmir at a place called Shadipora.
At Shadipora, Sind, Tullumul nulla merge with river Jhelum, hence the Prayag of Kashmir. Here atop a small island, a Shiv temple hosting a Shivling is dedicated to this holy union.
Next to Shadipora is a camping ground of Narayan Bagh, which is studded with many Chinars, again a camping ground of yesteryears. From Shadipora onwards river Jhelum moves downstream to enter Wular lake.
Shallabugh wetland with an area of 16 sq km is an important wetland that hosts thousands of migratory birds during the winter. Here the clear water body hosts thousands of Mallards, Coots, Braminahy ducks and Geese can be seen feeding during the winter months. This wetland is maintained by the wildlife department that ensures adequate water level is maintained within the wetland to make the stay of birds comfortable. A watchtower inside the wetlands provides a vantage place to view the roosting birds. The approach to the wetland is rough and becomes slippery during snow and rains.
The Lost Art
British introduced Wicker Willow to Kashmir and Ganderbal adapted it. Willow Wicker plantations are grown all along the banks and the flood plains of river Sind. Wicker Willow provides the raw material for making interesting items.
Villages like Harran Shallabugh and Anchar are the hub of practising art. Here one finds plenty of boilers emanating stream macerating the wicker willow. After making them tender, debarking is done manually to make them ready for product manufacture.
Of all the handicrafts practised in Kashmir, Wicker Willow is the youngest, as it has been introduced by Britishers during the Maharajas rule. Here it has found its second home.
The reed mat making is not as fortunate as the Willow Wicker. This art is nearly extinct. The wetlands around Sind produce huge quantities of Typha, a reed that grows in plenty in the swamps. This reed once dried was used to make reed mats. But now the people have abandoned the use of these eco-friendly mats and the craft is nearly dead.
The Highest Point
Mount Harmukh (5148 Mts ) is the second-highest peak of Kashmir. It is a few hundred meters short of Mount Kolahoi, the highest feature of Kashmir. Mount Harmukh was first summited by Thomas Montgomerie in 1858. This mountain is traditionally approached from Bandipora which offers an easy route. It was Brigadier General Charles Bruce who summited it from a much tougher route of Gangbal in 1907. Thomas Montgomerie was the Surveyor-General for the East India Company and from the summit of Gangbal he was able to view Karakorum mountains and while marking the peaks of Karakorum as K1, K2, K3 and so on.
It, later on, turned out that he discovered the second highest peak of the world, K2 from Harmukh. Yet another Britisher Frank J Mitchel is responsible for the introduction of trout from England into the streams of Kashmir also stocked the Sind river and Gangbal lake with the trout.
This species of fish thrives well till this date both in the Gangbal lake and Sind river. The Glacier fields of Harmukh give rise to a stream called Kankanaz Nullah. This is an important right-bank tributary of river Sind and merges with it at Kijpora. Gangbal falls on the Great lake trail, one of the best trekking trails of the Himalayas. Every year hundreds of trekkers can be seen walking this spectacularly beautiful stretch of alpine scenery. This 65 km long trail can be accomplished in 3 to 7 days depending upon one’s pace and taste.
The Historical Pass
Years from 1300 to 1320 are considered important years in Kashmir’s history. During that time many foreigners walked across Zoji La to arrive in Kashmir and would change the history of Kashmir. These travellers were Rinchana or the Rinchen Shah, the first Muslim king of Kashmir and Shah Mir, the man who founded the Shahmiri dynasty of Kashmir that would rule Kashmir for 222 years.
Dulcha who wreaked havoc in Kashmir in 1319 AD also arrived in the valley through Zoji La. Before the conquest of Kashmir by Mughals in 1586, Mirza Hyder Duglat entered Kashmir through Zoji La. After crossing the pass in the year 1531 AD, he met his first resistance near Gagangair. Here Kashmiris had established defensive positions on the steep slopes. However, the Mughal forces defeated Kashmiris, paving way for the first Mughal conquest of Kashmir.
Mirza ruled Kashmir for 11 years before dying in a battle. He remains buried next to Budshah tomb in Srinagar. Rinchen Shah ascended the throne of Kashmir in 1320 AD but his hold on the power was weak. He needed to get rid of Ramachandra, the army commander of Sahadeva, the monarch of Kashmir. He fled Srinagar and took refuge at a fort in Gagangair. Rinchen managed to attack the fort and killed Ramachandra that cleared the decks for full control of the throne. He later married his daughter Kota Rani.
In 1948, this place saw a major skirmish, code-named operation Bison by the Indian army. Light tanks were carried in the dismantled condition near Zoji La while two field companies of Madras Sappiers converted the mule track into a jeep track from Baltal to Gumri. The use of tanks proved decisive and the pass was captured on November 1, 1948, and finally, Indian troops moved towards Kargil and Leh. Presently the work on Zoji La tunnel is underway and shall pave way for year-round connectivity with Ladakh.
Sind valley is known for its meadows. Sonmarg has over the years developed into an important tourist destination, a take-off point for Amarnath Yatra. It is both a starting and culminating point for the Great lake trek. It is considered one of the best Himalayan trails. As we walk this trail a number of meadows are encountered which include Nichnai, Krishansar, Gadsarsar, Sarsar and Gangbal meadows. A number of high altitude lakes empty into Sind while some discharge into Kishan Ganga. The most important pass of the yesteryears, still used by the shepherds and Bakerwals is the Satsar pass. This pass leads from Sind valley into the Burnai village in Tilal Valley.
Another historic meadow of the Sind valley is Mohanmarg. Mohanmarg lies at the mouth of the Sind valley and can be approached fromYarmukam village. This high altitude meadow shot into prominence when M A Stein spent many summers at the place translating Rajtarangni from Sanskrit into English. After finishing his work he erected a memorial stone to commemorate his work. However, the stone was lost to the vandals. A new stone has been put in place.
There is yet another set of lakes and passes falling on the left bank. They include Yemsar and Khemsar, the twin lakes that lie on the foot of Yemhar pass connecting Lidder with Sind valley.
Sonmasti pass also connects the village of Surfarav with Upper LidderValley. Tcendersar, a high altitude lake is located on this trail. However, Tcendersar drains into the Lidder catchment. Durinar and Duchinipora trails also lead from Sind into Lidder valley. Durinar lakes drain into Sind valley next to Sarbal village while Dachinpora steam merges with Sind near Baltal.
The Sind Escapades
My love affair with the Sind valley began in 1989 when I embarked upon my first trek to Amarnath. I could not complete the trek due to a lack of preparedness. Later on, I would do this trek many times. I trekked this trail in 1999, then again in 2011 both times from Pahalgam to Baltal. The treks continued over subsequent years. In 2018 I trekked from Bandipora to Mohanmarg in Sind valley. After undertaking a boat ride this year I was able to observe the source of the Sind river.
(The author is the Director Handicrafts Kashmir.)