Photo by KARAM PURI
An idyllic loch in the middle of Srinagar, the Dal lake is under siege. For years now, the lake has been shrinking in size, and the once small islands in its center have expanded into a major source of fresh produce for the denizens of Srinagar.
Every summer when the temperature rises, reeds growing at the bottom of the lake make their way up to the surface, and every morning one can see a plethora of shikaras with men balancing on them like ballerinas with long poles scooping up the fresh flora, used to create land. These nutrient rich plants are taken back to their farms or sold to other farmers, who expand their fields inch by inch, foot by foot.
Over the past 20 years, housing colonies have come up in the middle of the lake; pucca buildings, hotels, a CRPF outpost and full-fledged farms disturb the once tranquil waters of the Dal. From the break of dawn, as one glides gently to the center of the lake, the morning calm is pierced with the shrill voices of farmers selling everything from saffron to cabbage and flower seeds. The morning vegetable market is in full swing on flotillas of handmade long boats, and all the customers are local residents of the Dal. Nearby, a water taxi takes children to school and an elderly lady does her daily shopping at a floating convenience store, while a CRPF jawan overlooks the Pir Panjal range from his fortified post that was once a hotel.
For environmentalists, this has become a rampant problem; for the tourists, another hotbed for locals to sell trinkets and souvenirs.