Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Developing Manasbal as a Tourist Attraction

A native to the area describes the beauty of the place and his mixed feelings towards its future

(Mr. Shyam Kaul, 76, was born in Safapur, near Lake Manasbal, in the Gandarbal District. He did his schooling in the local area (then part of Baramulla District) and his graduate studies from the Sri Pratap College and the Amar Singh College. He obtained double Master's degrees in Psychology and Philosophy from the University of Lucknow. Subsequently, he moved to Mumbai and obtained diplomas in Advertising and Journalism. His first job in 1950's was with the Jaico Publishing Company in Mumbai as an Editor. Following a brief stint at the Filmistan Studios as the Marketing Manger, he returned to Kashmir where he became associated with the All India Radio (AIR) and various media outlets before joining the National Herald where he stayed until his retirement in 2002. He is now a free lance journalist and his commentary appears regularly in various J&K dailies. In his leisure time, Shyamji enjoys writing poetry in Urdu and cooking.)

Rebirth of a Temple, a Lake

Decades ago, during the Maharaja-ruled days, the only symbol of progress and modernness in my village, Safapur, was a primary school, in a two storey structure of Sunbaked and bricks, with a staff of two oft-smoozing and less-teaching teachers. As younsters our only recreation was to walk over to the banks of our village lake, Manasbal, to spend hours playing, frolicking about and bathing in the lake waters. A more absorbing pastime was to watch fishermen, standing motionless on the stem of their boats, with pronged spears in their hands to strike the unwary fish. Nets could not be used by them because of the heavy underwater growth of weeds. We would also often make trips of about two kilometres to Qazi Bagh, on the south-east periphery of Manasbal. It was a thrilling experience to watch the shimmering waters of the lake when the sun set over it as we sat under the huge chinars on the terrace of Qazi Bagh. Sometimes we would also have rare experience of seeing white visitors there, whom all Kashmiris held in awe.

The Qazi Bagh slopes present a tastefully decorated spectacle today, with beautifully carved out stretches of greenery, flowers, shapely dwarf treees and plants. The surroundings have been completely transformed, with many structures having come up for the convenience and pleasure of tourists.It was later in my life that I read about sunset view at Manasbal being among the finest anywhere in the world.

When at Qazi Bagh we would always have a look at the temple nearby. In summer it was only the crest of the temple which would be visible, the rest of it being submerged in swampy periphery of the lake. During winters, however, one could see a little more of the temple downwards due to the fall in the water level. But the whole structure would never be visible. It took ages for this ancient temple to free itself from its marshy confines and make itself visible in its completeness. It is the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism department which deserves kudos for having reclaimed this ancient legacy from the jaws of oblivion. As far as I know, it was the former secretary of Tourism department, Nayeem Akhtar who took great pain in spearheading the task of the reclamation of the temple. All researchers, scholars and lovers of Kashmir's past legacy, owe their gratitude to Nayeem Akhtar.

We find the reference of the Manasbal temple in the writings of Fredric Drew, a visiting geographer in Jammu and Kashmir territories, who came to Kashmir during the 19th century. He visited Manasbal in 1875 and wrote that the temple was submerged beneath the water of the lake. He says: "It may be that the rise of the waters over the base of the temple is due to the supply of water brought by the later-made artificial canals not having been able to rain off to the river (Jhelum) except after a general rise of the lake."

The temple, situated to the south-east of the lake is fairly intact. According to the literature so obligingly provided to me by an avid researcher, Dr. R.K. Tamiri, the temple depicts the tradition of Pandretha and Payar temples.

Noted archeologist, Dr. R.C. Agarwal, says that the Manasbal temple was built by a minister of King Jayasimha, who ruled over Kashmir from AD 1128 to 1149. It was built along with other temple in the valley including, Payar, Pandrethan, Mamal, Kothar and others. The temple, he writes, has been built in two blocks and is smaller than the Payar temple. It is the third temple after Pandrethan and Payar, with a Shikhara (crest) which is intact.

At the entrance of the Manasbal temple is the figure of Lakulisa, besides those of Ganesh and Ghandarvas. Lakulisa is shown seated on a pedestal in 'Dhyanmudra' (meditation) under a tree. The left hand holds a staff and the right is damaged. The facial impression is also eroded due to weathering. The figure of Ganesh in Lalitansan holds an axe in the left hand while the right is in Abhayamudra. The Ghandarva figures are shown with a garland of flowers, on either side of the Lakulisa figure.

Manasbal temple, with its main entrance on the west, is externally square but internally circular. The walls of the sanctum are plain except for the pilasters which are decorated with lotus and other flower designs. The brackets of the pillar are lentil-shaped and decorated with the lotus petals and occur on all sides except on the main entrance.

The shikhara of the temple is pyramidal and made into two parts. The lower part is built within the block of the sanctum and separated by a recessed course of the upper portion. On both sides of the entrance there are fluted pilasters. Over these rests a trefoiled arch surmounted by a pediment. In the trefoiled portion a chaturmukhi Ganesha and ghandarva figures are shown. The sanctum is circular internally and possibly in the Centre of the sanctum of Shivalingam must have been enshrined which is now missing.

The reclamation of Manasbal temple is a part of the adornment drive of the lake and its surroundings, by the Tourism department. The objective is to develop Manasbal, less than thirty minutes drive from Srinagar, as an alternate tourist resort, and also to ease the pressure on the capital city during peak tourist seasons.

The metamorphosis of Manasbal lake from nature's gift of virgin beauty to a glamorously embellished tourist location, is defined by the three photographs.

These photographs represent the visual setting of the lake during three successive centuries, i.e. 19th, 20th and 21st. The first photograph was taken in 1864 by Samuel Bourne, the second in 1936 by Mahattass, and the third in 2008 by Tourism department.

No doubt, the lake now looks prettier, more attractive, and beautiful, and tastefully organised, but one wonders whether the man-made adornment is more captivating, than was the lake's pristine naturalness.

The lake known for its imperturbable placidity had been defined in these columns once as a hermit in deep meditation.

One hopes that the modernisation of Manasbal, will not bring with it the impurities, contamination and environmental degradation, which we have seen, with our own eyes, happening to Dal and Wullar lakes. We fervently hope and pray that Manasbal, a godsend marvel for the people of Kashmir, especially those of Safapur and neighbouring villages, will not be made to suffer the same fate as its sister lakes have.

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