In Burhan’s Tral

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The crisis and the conflagration that followed the killing of Burhan Wani became the introduction of Tral. But M A Shah reports of his first-hand knowledge about what Tral holds for Kashmir

A view of Aripal spring. Pic by the Author

As I walked the alley of the S P Museum to take a round, I noticed just at the entrance a map indicating the Neolithic sites of Kashmir. It is a nicely done map with the names of the kings that have ruled Kashmir.

On a cursory glance, one finds the highest concentration of Neolithic sites in Kashmir happens to be in Tral. Out of the total 45 sites in Kashmir, 10 are in Tral. Little did I think that this number is going to go up in the coming days.

Archaeology has always interested me. So the map left an indelible impression on my mind. Soon, I began searching for the Neolithic artefacts in the museum. To my disappointment, there was nothing. All the artefacts excavated at Gufkral adore different museums across India, but ironically, nothing has been left for the S P Museum. Dismayed I decided to visit the very site to find for myself about this forgotten cradle of ancient life, which has been hogging the limelight for all the different reasons for the last three decades.

I had various short-duration visits to Tral, a decade back. Then, I could not visit many places because of the security situation. More recently, Tral was all about Burhan Wani, whose 2016 killings triggered chaos across Kashmir. But Tral holds a lot beyond the grave of Burhan.

Khankahi Faiz Panah, Astan Kounsar Bal, Asatan Baba Din (Khan Gund) are some of its famous shrines. Some important temples include Ganishbal Mandir and the Mandir at Pinglish. There are many Gurdawara as well speaking about the religious tolerance of the belt. Gung has the highest concentration of Chinars; at Parigam, Kashmir’s oldest and the largest standing cum prostrate mulberry tree exists. Tral is home to innumerable springs, it has rich fossil beds in Postun, Laam and Narastan.

The slopes around Tral are thickly forested with evergreen and are rich in flora and fauna. Tral borders Dachigam in South East, and there are many trails that lead into the national park of fame. One such trail leading from Zusatan via Sangur Gul approach lands in famous alpine meadows of Kashmir Naagberan. The spot overlooks the Tral valley and is the summer pasture of Hangul.

It was autumn when I visited the most important Neolithic site at Gupkral. The foliage en route was of different shades. The drive was pleasant but under these varied autumn shades, there was an uneasy calm. Rumour had that militants had procured a new sniping weapon and had claimed many security forces lives as such the security grid was on the edge. This discouraging news did not prevent me from travelling to the place. I was stopped by my local guide at Gufkral.

A short hike up the Kerawa, I was ushered to a residence of a potter who had just churned out many pots that were lying in his courtyard. Later, he enquired about our purpose of visit. Later, reluctantly, he ushered us to few caves. One was shut as a brick wall was erected to block its entrance as it was used last year by a bear to hibernate; others were destroyed as a number of new constructions had come up. However, the remains of many vandalised caves were evident.

It was utterly disappointing to see wholesale vandalization of the site. All these caves exist on the margins of a flat-topped kerawa where from a panoramic view of Tal can be obtained.

Though the view was splendid, lots of unplanned construction had already come up. A government school at one end and an army establishment at the other end had spoiled the kerawa as in between tourism hut is coming up. It is a paradox that the site is being decimated and no effort is underway to conserve it. I left the place wondering that in a few years’ time the whole site is going to be lost unless efforts are put in place. As I left the site towards Tral I saw scores of houses coming up and remnants of caves visible along the entire length of kerawa.

Perhaps the most revered spring of Kashmir is Verinag. For centuries, it has attracted pilgrims, tourists, princes and kings. As a result, an octagonal structure was constructed by Jehangir in 1632 to beautify the place, and later, a garden was laid to embellish the place.

An equally beautiful and majestic spring is at Aripal. A rough road leading to the village and a walk across the river leads to an almost 100-foot wall of a mountain. Underneath this sheer vertical precipice, a spring gushes out. Though springs are common in Kashmir but what makes this one distinct is its setting. It gushes out from the foot of a mountain as it rises vertically high up. This spring is unfortunate in the sense that it did not find Jehangir to embellish it up; instead the present day qualified engineers working in various departments have wreaked havoc on it. The engineering wings of Irrigation and Flood Control, Fisheries and Rural Development departments have left no stone unturned to turn it into an ugly mangled mass of concrete and chain link. To ensure its further desecration, obnoxious iron pipes lie scattered in the stream. A cement canal leading out the pristine water towards fisheries farm is equally repulsive to look at.

Next, I proceeded further up a valley towards the famous archaeological site of Narastan where an eleventh-century stone cut temple is located deep in the Kashmir Himalayan recess. It was in 2016 that Narasthan was connected with Tral by road after a new bridge over Brariangan stream was completed.

10 Year Challange: Narastan in 2008 (L) and in 2018. Pics by the Author

Incidentally, a PMGSY road passes just in front of this historical monument. The Temple of Narastan figures as a state protected monument and figures at S No 30 of the state protected monument’s list on the state archaeology website. However, the SRO is a dead letter. The monument lacks fencing or any other protection. On the south of the monument is a residential house; on its east is a government college. There is a marriage hall in the north. Seemingly, the society and the government are partners in this crime.

After my disappointing return from Tral, I started browsing about the legal status of Gufkral caves and to my dismay neither the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) nor the state Archaeology has staked ownership to this vital site. It baffles my imagination to think that while the Gufkral is the subject matter of many research papers and books, it is battling for attention as it is still unprotected. A few days later, I visited Hariparigom, Tral’s yet another Neolithic site. This village is known for its menhirs. It is also a sad sight. The megaliths are located in-between fields and anybody can freely vandalise them. I was informed that at some distance there was another Neolithic at Daddo.

As I reached Daddo, we have a huge rock where one finds about 40 cup marks. On enquiring from ASI and the state archaeology department, they knew nothing about this site. Seemingly nobody has taken notice of the place and is still unexplored. I shot a small video of the place and forwarded it to a few of my archaeologist friends.

Everybody in the policymaking is waiting for the security situation to improve. But these sites of enormous importance cannot wait that long. Today, when everyone is busy with the 10-year challenge, I have two pictures that I clicked between 10 years of Marastan temple. It speaks volumes that neglect can cost Kashmir.

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