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, January 17, 2011

Developing a New Aquatic Park

Yusuf is excited about a new aquatic park in the making, while Yawar presents a counter-point (at the end)

(Mr. Mohammad Yusuf, 57, was born in the Dalgate area of Srinagar. He attended Government Schools in Drugjan, Sonawar, and Batwara, all in Srinagar, and completed his college studies at the Sri Partap College, Srinagar. Following his graduation, he briefly attended the University of Kashmir, and in 1980, joined the Physical Education Department of the University of Kashmir. Mr. Yusuf teaches aquatics and adventure sports (swimming, mountaineering, snow and water skiing, rafting, parasailing, skating, kayaking, canoeing, etc.) and has won many local sports trophies. He has led many exploration expeditions in Kashmir, and is the Treasurer of the Winter Sports Association of Jammu and Kashmir, General Secretary of J&K Aero Sports Association and the J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association, Secretary of Srinagar Winter Sports Association, and Vice President of the J&K Yoga Association. In his leisure time, Mr. Yusuf engages in social work, gardening and writing.)

University Aquatic Park in the Offing

Srinagar is known as “City of Lakes” worldwide. It has a number of water bodies which include Nigeen Lake, Dal Lake and sick Anchar Lake with river Jhelum majestically running its entire length. But ‘unfortunately’ we could not make full use of these water treasures, accept growing vegetables in the lakes and achieving electricity benefits from Jhelum. Besides, we could in-fact, derive many other benefits from them. From social point of view it could give abundant “recreation and amusement” to our children, youth and elderly denizens .

Recreation is undoubtedly an important need in the human development. It refreshes one’s body, mind and soul after the drudgery of a normal life. It is amusement, that gives pleasure or relaxation to a fatigued mind and makes us use leisure intelligently and profitably. Recreational activities of different kind help develop coordination, confidence, courage and competence like personality traits. Recreational activities, could be conducted on land, water, air and snow etc. Though we have water in abundance in Kashmir but not a single integrated water borne recreational place is created anywhere here. We a have number of terrestrial amusement parks at many places in Kashmir but none in the water. The idea conceived by Kashmir University of developing one such park is highly appreciable.

University campus:
University of Kashmir is situated amidst of two world famous perennial lakes, Dal and Nigeen, located at 34:08:01 N, 74:50:09 E (mean) on the altitude 5236 ft. On its eastern side there is a close magnificent view of Zabarvan range with towering Mount Mahadev in the backdrop. In the distant horizon of its western side one can have glimpse of Pirpanjal range including Mount Apharwat and on the northern side Ganderbal hills are visible. While, on its southern side one can also catch the sight of famous Shankracharya temple and historic Mughal fort atop Koh-i-Maran hillock. Hazratbal Shrine is in its close vicinity. The tall minars of which are overlooking the main University campus. Amazingly there are 696 closely planted huge majestic Chinars on its Naseem Bagh Campus. All these elegant features make it one of the most beautiful Universities of the country.

Three University campuses i.e. Main campus, Naseem Bagh and Mirza Bagh, are sprawling over 106 hectares of land, out of which 53 hectares are developed for Park and Gardens, while 8 hectares are under development and the remaining 45 hectors are under consideration.

Mirza Bagh Campus:
At Mirza Bagh campus the University has developed “University Model Town” where number of flats and quarters are constructed for its teaching and non teaching staff. Being situated on the foreshore of north-eastern edge of Nigeen Lake it has high potential of becoming aquatic hub for tourists.

The University has nearly 14 hectares of waste land adjacent to Nigeen banks. This portion of land has perhaps remained unnoticed and unfocused by earlier University authorities. But appreciatively, the present administrators of the University particularly the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Reyaz Punjabi and Registrar, Prof. S. Fayaz are very keen to develop this waste land into eco-friendly lakeside park and convert its coastal area into an Aquatic Park. The proposed Aquatic Park would be first of its kind in the valley and will certainly be a unique gift to the entire society.

But for converting this waste land into Aquatic Park the University is facing hurdles from some house boat owners who are mooring their boats on foreshore area of University land, which has not only blocked the view of the lake but does not permit University Sports Department to promote water sports in Nigeen. The shanty structures, raised illegally here, give an ugly look to the entire area.. The Lakes and Waterways Development Authority, Tourism Department and Srinagar Municipal Corporation have a big role in rehabilitating them and providing them suitable location for mooring their boots. It may not be possible for the University to compensate them because of its limited resources.

Aquatic Park:
Aquatic Park is an amusement park where there is facility for different water based activities. Keeping in view the location of its Mirza Bagh campus, the University is all set to develop first-ever Aquatic Park here. They are planning to remove the shanty structures, raised close to the lake and clear the view of the lake in first instance. A Committee has been constituted to suggest measures for developing the landscape and introducing different aquatic activities. The Committee is in close touch with LAWDA, Tourism Department and other stakeholders. The park has tremendous scope to introduce different recreational and competitive aquatic sports such as kayaking, canoeing, canoe polo, rowing, dragon boating, Jet skiing, aqua-parasailing, hydro zorbing, water trampoline, surfing and water skiing etc here. For children small rubberized swimming pool, tubing, swan boating, paddle boating. banana boating, and inflatable rafts etc. could be installed in the park to attract families to seek wonderful pleasure and great fun. Not only the aquatic activities the University must install a health gym, artificial rock wall, low height bungee jumping, land trampoline and some environmentally suited food courts here as well, which will be additional attraction for intended tourists. This will give Nigeen a new look and will appear like an aquatic play ground. The nicely illuminated park would certainly attract scores of locals and tourists here. The University should keep the park open for general public and for its maintenance they may charge entry fee to the visitors as is done by J&K Bank at Pahalgam Amusement Park and Iqbal Park in Srinagar etc. This could generate lot of revenue for the University as an institution.

Contribution of University:
Pertinently Kashmir University has played a pioneering role in highlighting the potential of water sports in Nigeen Lake. The University conducted two major All India Inter-University Kayaking and Canoeing Championships for men and women here in 2007 and 2009 and has won laurels from time to time. For this purpose the University has procured 24 sophisticated modern fiberglass Kayaks and Canoes worth lacs of rupees. It is considered one of the major facility centers for such sports in the country. The University must now grab the opportunity of introducing the fascinating and scintillating rowing here.

Local Support:
The local inhabitants, particularly the house boat owners and other tourism players, must come forward and help University in developing this ambitious park. The water based activities would help Nigeen not only to keep it clean from pollution but will attract scores of tourists here. The disturbed water would aerate the stagnant waters and thus give it new life. Pertinently the University Lake Club has always been party to Nigeen Lake Conservation Organization in creating awareness among masses about pollution and environmental degradation of Nigeen.

Notably Water Skiing was introduced in Kashmir during British Raj. It is not much popular in other parts of India and should be thus recognized as a heritage sport. The INTACH must also play its role to protect this unique and historic sport. On the lines of Colorado Water Ski Park the Tourism Department must encourage one such park in Nigeen lake in partnership with Kashmir University.

The Tourism Department has undoubtedly played a significant role in developing many parks and gardens all around the Nigeen lake. Credit also goes to them for rebuilding the Rustum Garhi complex and developing Peer Zoo and Zabarvan parks efficiently. They also have decorated some important Squares (Chowks) at different places in the city. Installing street lights all along the Jhelum banks lent an aesthetic look to the river. Restoration of Pokhribal has added charm to the calm and scenic Nigeen lake. It is now time for them to help the University in developing the proposed Aquatic Park. They must adopt this park as they did in the case of renovating the Food Street near KMD bus station and Lal Chowk park etc. Other organizations like LAWDA, Nigeen Lake Conservation Organization, Nigeen House Boat Owners Association, J&K Banks, tourism players and other business houses must also help University in fulfilling its cherished dream of developing the proposed Aquatic Park. The LAWDA must deploy its men and machinery for removing the coarse grass, brackens, weeds and moss from the lake near University land.

The Aquatic Sports - A Counterpoint

Respected Mr. Mohammed Yusuf Sahib,

Your aquatic sport ideas are laudable indeed, but does it prevail to your intelligent mind that Nageen Lake has a very little space for the gigantic sport activities/plans mentioned by you. A Lake which has been famous for its peace and serenity will lose its charm by the activities like Jet Skiing, aqua-parasailing, hydro zorbing in the first place and in the second instance installing a health gym, artificial rock wall, low height bungee jumping, land trampoline and environmentally suited food courts, which will also be contempt of the High Court Orders.

The open secret of our state is that common Kashmiri’s have always been fooled by rosy pictures and most of the time shown by the governance. The fact of the day is that the same rose gardens were shown to Kashmiri's when Royal Spring Golf Course was made and Nageen Club was rebuilt. Reality of the day is that in both the places a common man (Non government employ/ Non member) is not allowed to enter. In case of Nageen Club, the entry ticket itself is quite out of reach for a common man. A sky rocketing price is kept for the membership which is quite beyond the reach of common aspiring Kashmiri and at the same time it is quite easily accessible and affordable by a government employee. AQUATIC PARK? An ordinary citizen has to know the fact that there isn't enough space for a general public park, needless to mention install a health gym, artificial rock wall, low height bungee jumping, land trampoline and some environmentally suited food courts. An attempt was made by the Esteemed University to go against the High Court Orders in a secretive manner by erecting some structure next to world famous peaceful camping site of Mirza Bagh and right on the face of Nageen Lake. However, Intervention by some youth hailing from all parts of Srinagar thwarted the attempt by a timely intervention. Again the media played a vital role in stopping that violation.

University Boat Club and Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation might be known to each other, however, if a survey is done, 99% of people living in and around Nageen Lake are unfamiliar with something called “University Boat Club”. The neighbours of Nageen Lake ranging from Hazratbal, Naseemabad, Umar Colony, Lal Bazaar and right up to Bagwanpora have always been Protective & Proactive when it comes to Nageen lake and that’s the reason why Nageen Lake still shines to its best. The quality of water is better and small localities around Nageen Lake have always cherished its beauty. Tourists apart, a lot of Kashmiri's are in love with the serene waters and tranquillity of Nageen Lake.

Lastly, I think it will be a major "Point of Conflict" where High Court Orders are enacted when poor people want to make shelters and government institutions get immunity irrespective of Gigantic noisy aquatic plans which will result in busting the calm nerves of Nageen Lake. Over and above if they get a hush hush green signal from authorities.



P.S: For LAWDA - A lot of structures were demolished in the recent years and recent months.. Nageen Lake has witnessed quite massive illegal/ unauthorized structures coming up within last 5 years and in recent months. Needless to mention,, Nageen violations were belonging to, in relation with, or influenced by the State Employees and the demolished ones were belonging to poor ordinary people who just needed a shelter to hide.

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