SRINAGAR, July 8: Its crystal clear waters would once leave all – Emperors, travellers and the locals alike – enchanted.
But now the Jhelum, a Paisley-shaped flowing river, has been polluted with its water unpleasantly opaque and muddy.
An elderly local Bashir Ahmad, who has spent his childhood playing around the Jhelum, still remembers the “calm and sweet breeze on its banks”.
“Times have changed. The new generation prefers to stay away from the river because there’s dirt all around. Jhelum is a gift of God to the people of Kashmir.
We need to wake up to keep it clean and restore its glory.”
Also called Vitasta, the Jhelum river is a main source of water supply to hundreds of thousands of people living in Kashmir. It originates from the valley itself with its source believed to be the Verinaag spring in the lower Pir Pinjal mountain range.
The river flows both in India and in Pakistan – two south Asian neighbours which have fought three wars over Kashmir in six decades.
In Kashmir, ringed by snow-capped lofty mountains, the river was an addition to beautiful surroundings. It cuts across the valley passing through historic shrines and temples bearing witness to ages.
Abdur Rahim, who lives just a few metres from the river bank, says the Vyeth – as the river is locally called – was a “Jewel of Kashmir”.
“But look at it now. It has become a foul-smelling drain.”
Rahim blames ordinary people, who live at places through which the Jhelum passes, for the deteriorating condition of the river.
“It is we who throw all our waste into it. Our sewage pipes are directed int it also,” he says.
The authorities have of late launched various projects for the beautification of the river. But people say the implementation of such drives has been selective.
“Yes they spend millions of rupees on its beautification and renovation, but they never think about it; has its glory been restored?” says Javaid Ahmed, who ferries people in his shikara across the river.
“Launch of water transport will not help the river. The government must also start an awareness campaign to make the people realise its importance.
“Then we people have to think and behave ourselves. Otherwise the time will not be far when there will be nothing left at all.”