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Picturesque Manasbal lake crying for attention
Being the deepest lake of the Kashmir valley, it overlooks the remains of Darogabagh, a 17th century fort and a beautiful Mughal Garden. It is believed that weary travellers coming from far-flung regions of Punjab to Srinagar would stop at this oasis to refresh themselves before continuing their onward journey. Manasbal is considered to be an ancient lake by locals but exact dating is yet to be done.
The scenic lake, which is just 30 km north of Srinagar, has a lot of potential, but lack of infrastructure keeps the tourists away from it.
"There are no arrangements for overnight stay near the lake. I would have liked to stay for a couple of nights with my family, as I was fascinated by the placid and tranquil environs of the lake,” Deepak, a tourist from Mumbai, said.
He was all praise for the tourist resort saying in scenic beauty and serenity, it virtually rivals Dal Lake. "But if you compare it with Dal, there are no facilities like restaurants, parking areas, lavatories and other amenities you need at a recreational resort,” he said.
The lake is also a good place for birdwatchers as it is one of the largest natural stamping grounds of aquatic birds in Kashmir. It is the habitat of hundreds of bird species which are specific to the Himalayan regions lying in J&K. The lake provides abundant opportunities for leisurely boat rides, strolls and hours of relaxed fun.
The root stalks of lotus plant which grow extensively in the lake are harvested and marketed and also eaten by the local people. Although the lake recorded some tourist flow in the last few years, the percentage of foreign and domestic tourists is almost negligible. Mostly people from nearby areas and Srinagar visit this place.
A large number of people from neighbouring villages of Kondabal, Gratabal and Safapora are directly or indirectly dependent on the tourist flow for their livelihood, but during the turmoil of last two-and-a-half decades, the tourist resort is virtually closed down. "We suffered immensely as nobody would visit this place for more than two decades. The government should provide us with soft loans, like Dal dwellers have been provided with so that we can restart our business,” Ghulam Hassan, who runs a small restaurant in the Qazibagh garden of Manasbal, told DH.
Though the government had long back drawn a master plan for the lake for which even land had been acquired, till date the plan has not been implemented. The master plan envisaged building a circular road around the entire lake periphery and development of other tourist infrastructure.
The lake until a few decades ago possessed large expanse of pure waters derived from thousands of interior springs. Several mountain streams and snow-fed seasonal rivers empty themselves into the lake and provide it with vast water resources. However, in the absence of conservation measures Manasbal has been extensively encroached upon. And continuous human activities reduced it to a mere cesspool. Concerned over the deterioration of Manasbal, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 1997 conducted an extensive survey of the lake. The WWF report had recommended certain measures like demarcation of the lake, construction of STPs, regulation of lime extraction and afforestation of mountains to restore the lake’s glory.
A senior official of the tourism department said it has initiated conservation and developmental work on the Manasbal, but it is going on at a slow pace due to shortage of funds. "During the militancy the entire infrastructure was destroyed and it will take time to develop it again. Aquatic sports activities have started and government is trying to give boost to the sports activities at Manasbal,” he said. "We have also managed to close down stone quarries and lime kilns at neighbouring Kondabal village. With the support of local people, we have been able to restore some sanctity of the lake. But it will take time to fully restore it,” he added.
The outflow of Manasbal lake is regulated through artificial means and is connected with the sparkling waters of the River Jhelum beyond.The locals say the government’s attention can restore the lost glory of the famous lake and turn it into a preferred tourist spot. "There is so much weed infestation in the lake that even boats cannot move. The lake which has been a source of livelihood for thousands of families had started to emanate a pungent smell. After the government started its conservation measures, there has been some improvement in its condition, but a lot needs to be done,” Shabir Ahmad Dar, a shikara owner, said.
However, he said, it has been observed that the government leaves conservation projects half-way like they did in Dal lake. "The authorities have to understand that buildings and roads can be built again. Lakes are nature’s gift to us. Their conservation should be given a priority at any cost. We are even ready to migrate from here if it benefits Manasbal lake,” he said.
A unique eighth century submerged stone temple was discovered by the tourism authorities in 2007 near the lake. The temple, which stands on the eastern shore of Manasbal lake below a fine cataract formed by the Amravati stream, was built in the traditional architectural style of ancient Kashmir.