Majeed says attracting large number of tourists may put more money in the economy, but at what price?
(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 66, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)
Impact of Tourism on Himalayan (Kashmir) Lakes
The idyllic vale of Kashmir is one of the loveliest spot of the world lying in the lap of Himalayas. It has remained famous since historical times and it is on records that some decades before, European tourists were attracted by this lovely spot, and used to tour after crossing gorges and high mountains on horses and donkeys, when there were no roads but only tracks and pathways. It has been rightly said by a great Persian poet, Shiekh Sa’idi, “If There Is Any Heaven on Earth, It Is Here In Kashmir, It is Here In Kashmir”. This part of the world is famous for its heritage, cultures, peculiar customs, high snow capped mountains, meadows, pastures, grasslands, pine and deodar forests, freshwater lakes, other wetlands, and has attracted tourists from all over world for skiing, boating, rafting and overall to see the beauty of this vale and to procure peace and tranquillity.
There are numerous beautiful lakes, but only a few are famous being city lakes, easily approachable with all sorts of facilities and comforts. Among them is the world famous Dal Lake, one of the city lakes and another is Manasbal Lake, a rural lake more than 36 km away from city; present in the lap of beautiful mountains. Lakes in Ladakh are high altitudinal with severe climatic conditions and also in Jammu province; they are of least importance for lake tourism, because of non approachable means. Many lakes of valley once with crystal clear waters and without pollution and an attraction for tourists have lost their charm due to drastic anthropogenic activities such as land grabbing, silting, and addition of effluents, resulting in changed water chemistry, eutrophication and invasion of many other invasive noxious weeds. Also the carelessness of the authorities and their faulty policies has ultimately resulted in change of the entire form of these water bodies. Noticeable example is the Anchar lake, Khushhall Sar lake, Brari Numbal, Hokher Sar lake, Nilnag lake and Wular lake. Many of them are at the verge of extinction and are changing rapidly into marshes. Hokher sar once a fresh water lake, has turned into a marshy wetland, now recognised as International Ramsar Site as a water bird sanctuary.
Nowadays lake tourism has become a passion world over and is regarded as a biggest revenue generating industry. Same is the case with our State also, that has brought boom in our lake tourism. Lake tourism at present is considered as backbone of our State economy. Millions of tourists are attracted every year to visit the valley, particularly for Dal Lake which is a city lake with all facilities and comforts. Tourists enjoy scenic journey around the lake and a boat trip towards various lake islands. Many of them are bird lovers and they visit Lake Hokher Sar bird sanctuary to watch a multifarious of domestic and migratory birds coming from various parts of the world. The fascinating and attractive beauty of the Dal Lake is the presence of beautifully terraced Mughal Gardens and attractive religious places at the rim of high mountains around the lake, beautifully decorated with lovely cascades and fountains. built in 16th and 17th centuries by Mughal emperors.
Although tourism in the state is acclaimed to be one of the biggest revenue generating industries, generating thousands of jobs to our highly educated youth, improving the living standard of all classes of people, but on the other hand there are numerous threats and challenges for the ecological and environmental issues of these lakes. A variety of environmental goods and services provided by lakes make them vulnerable to human demand. Society’s demands for economic gains have contributed to the deterioration of water quality and aesthetic value of lakes. Over the years the value of lakes and water bodies/ wetlands is dwindling. Many lakes throughout the world, have been destroyed or decayed due to influx of tourists, same is the case with our lakes also. Several lakes within or at the periphery of urban areas are either destroyed or are slowly dying or drained and converted to commercial establishments as in the case of Anchar Lake, Mirgund,Hokher sar etc. The water level of the lakes is gradually reducing due to loss of catchment, and suction by the Department of PHE to supply portable water for city people. Change in the urban land use is taking place with reclamation of land from the lakes for real estate development. Lakes have become dumping grounds for effluents, both domestic, industrial as well as agricultural runoff.
It is noticed that more than 70% of the tourists are not environmental conscious. They litter everywhere, wherever they visit within or around the lakes. Picnic parties, either on lake islands or on the lake shores, throw their refusals directly into the lakes along with disposables. Even if they carefully dump it somewhere near the lake margin; it still gets washed down either by rains or by winds. A suggestion regarding the installation of dustbins was made to the lake authorities a number of times; instead they never paid any heed. House boats, hotels and other restaurants are jam packed by tourists almost in every season now; many of them are not properly installed with toilets, washrooms or bathrooms. Their disposals are not properly and regularly disposed, whole residual matter, filth etc. is directly dumped in lakes particularly in substandard house boats and hotels. Number of hotels and house boats is increasing enormously without any check, both within and towards the periphery of the lakes creating havoc in the water bodies. There are a few public conveniences from Dal Gate to Shahlimar Gardens for about a distance of 5 Km. The tourists or even a common local is compelled to use lake margins for relieving himself and that too ultimately goes into the lake. Kitchen wastes from big hotels and other eatery places are directly thrown in the lakes, that has ultimately affected and changed the overall form of these lakes; water colour, its chemistry and its aesthetic nature, its contamination has increased. The water that was once domestically utilized by locals has now turned toxic. Richness in nutrients has ended up in eutrophication; lakes with 6-13 m depth are becoming shallow, weed infestation has increased, noxious invasive are thriving luxuriantly, that has created a new threat to under water life, whose population is decreasing rapidly. Many of our economically important water weeds are suffocating and have either become extinct or are endangered.
The need of the hour is to aware travel agents and people concerned with lake tourism, about the importance and conservation of these lakes in tourism planning, development and environmental protection. Dal Lake attracts a large number of visitors in all seasons as it is included in all the lists of tourist attractions on the tourism portals throughout the world. Being one of the Himalayan lakes, it is a fragile ecosystem and severely threatened due to increased tourism. Some of our urban lakes are encroached from peripheral areas which get exposed when water level falls. Also, they have been subjected to rapid population growth, urbanization and formation of permanent lands for the construction of grand hotels. Immediate need is that lake authorities should be enough strong to implement High Court rulings. Court orders should be strictly implemented to stop further construction of House boats, hotels, restaurants and shops. Plugging of all hotel effluents and the kitchen wastes from the existing hotels flowing directly in the lake water should be stopped immediately. Water chemistry should be checked periodically not only by lake authorities only but also by various other authentic agencies and scientific laboratories and the results should be published in the local dallies to make a common man aware. Remedial steps should immediately be taken for their normalcy, conservation and restoration.