Kashmir's Dal Lake in its death throes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2006, 12:00am

Dal Lake - the most famous lake in Indian-administered Kashmir - is shrinking and dying.

Popular with tourists who enjoy rides in gondola-style boats with the snow-peaked Himalayas surrounding them on three sides, the lake is regarded as a national asset.

But it is being choked to death by the pressure of human settlements, human sewage, rubbish from the 1,500 houseboats, detritus from its famous floating gardens and the debris from illegal buildings that are constantly closing in on the lake.

Some areas have been reclaimed and turned into horticultural plots.

The lake is an emblem of Kashmir's natural beauty. When Mughal emperor Jahangir first visited Kashmir and saw Dal Lake encircled by meadows, forests and mountains, he famously exclaimed: 'If there is paradise on Earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.'

He would wish to revise that opinion.

From 24 sq km in the 1980s, the lake has shrunk to less than 12 sq km today. The depth has dropped 2.4 metres over the past decade.

Experts say if the pollution and population pressure continue unchecked, it will take only 100 years for the lake to become marshy land. 'The ecological deterioration from the human sewage flowing directly into the lake alone is a major problem. It's also a health hazard,' conservationist Ashraf Butt said.

Any visitor can see that the water is opaque and stagnant. The smell in some areas is disgusting.

The Kashmiri government is aware that its main tourist attraction is being choked to death. But little action has been taken.

Even a report by members of the upper house of Parliament in 2002 saying that conservation of Dal Lake was a 'national priority' failed to galvanise the local authorities to take action.