SRINAGAR, July 8: As the shikara moved silently through Dal Lake on a recent early morning, Lassa Dar, the boatman, quietly spoke of his love for the place and his fears for its future.
“Dal Lake gives me the livelihood. I feel the pain when people throw dirt in the lake,” he said.
Mr. Dar, 65, has been plying his oars in Dal Lake for 50 years. He knows every nook and corner, and he can name many of its birds, vegetation, canals and hamlets.
Dal Lake attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists annually from all over India and the world.
Dal Lake’s legendary beauty has been appreciated for centuries.
In his book, “The Valley of Kashmir,” published in 1895, Walter Roper Lawrence wrote, “Perhaps in the whole world there is no corner as pleasant as Dal Lake.
The water of the Dal is clear and soft as silk, and the people say that the shawls of Kashmir owe much of their excellence to being washed in the soft waters of the lake.”
As resettlement commissioner, Mr. Lawrence measured the lake area as encompassing 25 square kilometers (9.6 square miles).
He warned about the problems of siltation and human settlements inside the lake even in 1887. Ninety percent of the lake water comes from glacier melt, which is brought by several large streams from the surrounding Himalaya mountains.
There are now about 70,000 people living inside the lake area in 2,532 houses in 58 separate hamlets. About 700 houseboats are permanently moored in the lake, according to the Jammu & Kashmir Lakes and Waterways Development Authority.
But much of the waste and sewage from these inhabitants and visitors go straight into the lake without any treatment. This pollution is gradually stripping the lake of its beauty and aquatic vitality. “We have received dead sheep, dogs, old shoes, plastics, mattresses in our sewage treatment plant,” said Irfan Yaseen, vice chairman of the authority. “Every day we collect about 1.5 tons of waste manually from the lake.”
Mr. Yaseen is heading a Dal Lake conservation project worth $55 million and resettlement project worth $67 million. The authority is making efforts to create a sewage pipeline and treatment plant with a daily capacity of 37 million liters (9.8 million gallons). The sewage treatment project is likely to be completed in a few months.
The resettlement project is supposed to be completed by 2016 as the authority works to remove those living in the lake’s hamlets and resettle them in colonies on the outskirts of Srinagar. Already, the authority has moved 1,500 families and demolished 800 structures.
Dal Lake is plagued by fast-growing algae and weeds because of the sewage and agricultural runoff from the surrounding region. The result is a never-ending weed removal effort.
“Every day about 1,000 people work to remove the weeds manually and two barges do the same mechanically,” said Mr. Yaseen. “The water quality of Dal Lake is improving due to all of these efforts.”
The lake is surrounded by vegetation that includes the lotus flower, and it is home to many species of fish and migratory birds.
Mr. Dar, on the morning trip in the lake, pointed out a variety of birds, including the kingfisher, heron, egret, cuckoo and grebe. Mr. Dar saw a plastic bag in the lake and said, “The worst thing is the plastic, which is killing the lake. It blocks the natural process of water circulation.”
With the nearby Himalayan peaks serving as backdrop, Mr. Dar said, “I love the lake. I have spent my whole life on the lake.”