Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pandit at Nehru's Reception, 1948

Pandit Families in Shikaras and Doongas greeting
Nehru in Srinagar, 1948.
[grab from a video via British Pathé archive]

first Kashmiri to swim across Wular Lake

Darim Chand, a teacher with Mission school who in 1909 became the first Kashmiri to swim across Wular Lake.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tackling The Impossible (1944)

Free give away rare book this month for SearchKashmir Free Book Project. This is the ninth book released this year.

A school booklet from year 1944 published by Church Mission School, Srinagar. Among a lot of interesting things, this one gives the story of inauguration of 'Rainawari Hockey Ground' in Srinagar, first ever in Kashmir. All girl excursions to high lakes and mountains organised by Miss Mallinson. Also, the story of "The Sheikh Bagh Preparatory School" started in 1939 by Eric Tyndale-Biscoe for primarily for British and other expat boys. Then a bit about the fact that some of the early school songs were modelled on the refrain style of boatmen of Kashmir.

Cover Illustration by Miss G. Palin of Girl's School

Read and download the book: Here




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Song of the Trees

I, the gardeners's daughter, longed for a mate,
Slowly, slowly, the new spring came.
The apricot tree made a request to God:
I am named 'the late comer';
So early though I blossom;
I shall be useful to the peasant at wedding-time.
Slowly,slowly, the new spring came.
The Phrastan tree made a request to God:
I am named 'the auspicious one';
Why bear I no fruit?
The peasant stands awaiting my fall,
So that he may use me as a beam for his house roof,
Slowly, slowly, the new spring came.

The Chenar tree made a request to God
I am named 'the goddess';
Why bear I no fruit?
Though my cool shade pleases the whole world.
Slowly, slowly, the new spring came,
The willow made a request to God:
I am named 'the hero';
Why bear I no fruit?
Alas! in my youth my body becomes hollow.
Slowly, slowly, the new spring came.
The pear tree said before God:
I am named pear and fruit I bear;
I give cool shade as well,
It pleases the Bhavakhar,
Slowly, slowly, the new spring came.

~ 'Song of the Trees', translation of a Kashmiri folk song given in 'Flowering Trees in India' (1957) by M.S. Randhawa for the section 'Trees in Indian folk songs'

Pear Trees in Blossom.
Village Khrew.
March 2013. 


Monday, September 22, 2014

Aabi Guzar Gone

Aabi Guzar
Water Way Octroi
Francis Brunel, 1977

In around 2010, when my father got posted to Srinagar, I forced him to buy a cheap point-and-shoot camera so that he would send me photographs of Kashmir, the places he saw. Every couple of months we would meet in Jammu and he would show me the photographs. Among the photographs was a photograph of this beautiful old building that stood out. He told me in old days 'Aabu Guzar' was the toll collection point for the goods leaving and entering Srinagar city via the river.

Over the years, I started coming across photographs of the place in old travelogues. Having never been to the place, the sight of the place in an old book became a thing of little joy for me. Earlier this year when I visited Srinagar, the thought of finally visiting the place did occur to me, but it was winter, the water levels were low, it would not have been a pretty sight, I told myself, 'Next time when the water levels are higher.'

This old building is now gone, destroyed in the flood of September 2014.



Tuesday, September 9, 2014


When I witness ups and downs, banks and demarcations, I lose my temper, I seek oneness and equality, for these I run and foam and fret.

~ Dariyaav (River), poet Abdul Ahad Azad (1906-48)


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Flooding Superstition

"Fishing in the Hidden Eddies of the Jhelum. The flow of the river is watched with superstitious fear for signs of increased volume and impending flood. To the Kashmiri the swiftly flowing mountain streams have become barometers of fate."

~from 'Beneath The crags of Kashmir' (1920)  by V.C. Scott O'connor

One of the persistent side effect of frequent flooding and other natural calamities in Kashmir, has been the proliferation of a phenomena witnessed in many other parts of the world: humbug. In times like these most people look upwards and bear witness to work of Gods. [Watch: Impact of 2004 Tsunami on Indonesia]

Walter Lawrence, in the aftermath of great flood of 1893 in Kashmir, recorded a curious practice prevalent among Kashmiri people. He wrote, 'Marvellous tales were told of the efficacy of the flags of saints which had been set up to arrest the floods, and the people believe that the rice-fields of Tulamula and the bridge of Sumbal were saved by the presence of these flags, which were taken from the shrines as a last resort.'

The Spring shrine of Tulamulla obviously became more popular after the floods of 1893 and slowly overshadowed most other sites as the holiest of holy.


Sylabnama: Great Floods of Kashmir

The Great Folld of 1903 in Kashmir

buji aki dop yi kya didi gom
kasabay osum su kot didi gom
su ha didi nyunay gura aban
zor kor veshive sahlaban

Said an old granny in a wild flurry,
"Oh, woe is me! Oh, woe is me!
O' where's my headgear?"

"O granny dear, O granny dear,
The yellow flood has carried it off."
Vishav, in flood, has overflown her banks.

~ An old Kashmiri Ditty

New house over the old three feet base
Chattabal, 2008

When I was a child, wherever I would spill a glass of water, the exclamation from my mother or grandmother would be, 'Ye kus Sylaab!' (What's this flood!). The house I was born in Chattabal was near a river. The hundred year old wooden house was built a good three feet above the ground. As a child I never understood the real need for it. I was told it was for safety from the floods.  I would wonder: 'What floods?'. I had seen the quite river. No way was that river ever going to reach our doorstep and then climb these three feet too. Then in autumn of 1988 (or was it 1989?),  I remember, one morning, on way to the house of the gourbai (milkmaid), walking to the small foot bridge over the river and finding planted at the start of it a red skull and bone signboard with 'Danger' written across it. The reading at Sangam wasn't good. A flood warning had been issued in Kashmir.  I waited for water to rise. Would we be using boats in the house. Could I fish? I waited. The flood never arrived at the gate.


A list of all the major floods in Kashmir and the changes some of them brought. The date till year 1900 is mostly based on the list provided by Pandit Anand Kaul in his book 'Geography of The Jammu and Kashmir State' (1925)' (scanned and uploaded here as part of searchkashmir free book project). The info. about era post 1900 till 1947 is updated using various accounts of European visitors and for more modern times using news reports, government reports and primarily 'Flood Control, Drainage, and Reclamation in Kashmir Valley' (1956) by H. L. Uppal and 'Paradise in Peril: An Ecological Profile of the Kashmir Valley' (1995).

[Update: Entries marked * are from Tarihk-e-Hassan of Pir Ghulam Hasan Khuihami who was the primary local resource for Walter Lawrence and for later writings by Anand Koul. Entries taken from 'Historical Geography of Kashmir' (1981) by S.Maqbul Ahmad and Raja Bano. It is interesting to note that Tarihk-e-Hassan was primarily based on work of Mula Ahmad, the court poet of Zain-ul-abdin. The surviving copy of Mula Ahmad's 'History of Kashmir' was lost by Hassan in a boating accident.]

2082-2041 B.C. 

The one story about Wular from legends. In the time of Sundar Sena, a destructive earthquake occurred by which the earth in the middle of the city of Sandimatnagar was rift and water gushed out in a flood [from Ular Nag] and soon submerged the whole city. By the same earthquake a knoll of the hill at Baramulla near Khandanyar tumbled down which chocked the outlet of the river Jhelum and consequently the water rose high at once and drowned the whole city together with its king and inhabitants. This submerged city is now the site occupied by the Vular Lake.*

*  635 A.D.

During the reign of Raja Durlab Duran, the city of Srinagar was drowned due to a heavy rainfall and the dam (Sadd) at Talan Marg built by Raja Parvaesen, were destroyed. As a result of Talan Marg being flooded, the Dal lake was formed.

724-761 A.D.

During the reign og Laltaditya due to a flood, all buildingd of the Raja in the town were destroyed. So, he rebuilt his palace in Litapur. 

855-882 A.D

During the time of Avantivarman, famine was caused by flood and then steps were taken to deepen the Jhelum near Khadanyar in order to accelerate the flow of the river. This measure had the effect of minimising the chances of flood as it was concluded that flooding has happened because of blocking of a river pass at Khadniyar.

917-8 A.D. 

During the time of King Partha, rive crop was destroyed by flood, the result being a great famine. Srinagar drowned as houses floated on the river as though they were bubbles. *

1122 A.D. 

During the time of Harsha, crops were swept away.

1379 A.D.

During the time of Sultan Shahabud-Din, 10000 houses were destroyed

[The above entry is by Anand Koul. And probably wrong on account of timeline [the Sulatan died in 1373]. Also, Rajatarangini of Jonaraja tells us:

There was flood in 1361. The town of Laxmi-Nagar was founded at Hari Parbat by Sultan Shahabud-Din to rehabilitate the people of the Srinagar city.It was named after his wife Laxmi. ]

1573 A.D. 

Ali Khan Chak's time many houses and crops were swept away*

1662 A.D.

Houses destroyed during Ibrahim Khan's rule. According to Hassan the year was 1682 A.D. and the reason was a severe storm in which houses whirled around on water like boats. At the time an earthquake is also supposed to have occurred.

1730 A.D.

Houses and crops destroyed during Nawazish Khan's time due to heavy rains.*

1735 A.D.

Thousands of houses said to be destroyed during Dildiler Khan's time. * After eight days of rain, flood water stayed in courtyards of houses as well as in the fields for a long time.

1746 A.D.

10,000 house and all the bridges on the Jhelum and also the crops swept away during time time of Afrasiab Khan.*

1770 A.D.

All bridges and many houses destroyed during Amir Khan Jawansher's time.*

1787 A.D. 

During Juma Khan's time, Dal Gate [*Qazi Zadeh] gave way and all the easter portion of the city of Srinagar was submerged.*

1787 A.D.

Crops destroyed during Abdullah Khan's time*

1836 A.D. 

Bridges at Khanabal, Bijbihara. Pampor and Amira Kadal were swept away during the time of Col. Mian Singh.*

1841 A.D.

During the time of Shekh Gulam Mohiuddin, rain fell for seven days continually, Jhelum overflowed the Dal Bund [ Qazi Zadeh] and submerged the whole Khanyar and Rainawari. Six bridges from Fateh Kadal to Sumbal were swept away. *

[1844. great Gilgit valley flood ]

[*1882 A.D. 

 Sind-lar river flooded, changed course, water entered Anchar Lake extending the size of the lake three times. (Before this flooding, Anchar Lake was much smaller (probably of the present size)]

['John Bishop Memorial Hospital' got washed away in devastating floods of 1892.~ Until the shadows flee away the story of C.E.Z.M.S. work in India and Ceylon (1912)]

21st July 1893

The first of the well documented case of flooding in Kashmir during the time of Maharaja Pratap Singh. It rained incessantly for 59 hours and the river became so swollen that miles of land on both banks were flooded. The water rose to the height of R.L. 5197.0. All the bridges except Amira Kadal, and many houses were destroyed. Loss of cattle and crops was immense and many people were drowned. A detailed account of this and previous flood was provided by Walter Lawrence in his 'Valley of Kashmir' (1895).

"In 1841, there was a major flood which caused much damage to the life and property in Srinagar. Some marks shown to me suggest that the flood of 1841 rose some nine feet higher on the Dal lake than it rose in 1893. But thanks to the strong embankments around Dal, the flood level in 1893 never rose on the lane to the level of the flood in Jhelum"

 It is interesting to note that New town area of Srinagar was formed in 1891, in the 1893 flood most of the old town of Srinagar was swept. After the flood of 1893, Jhelum bank was strengthened to protect Munshi Bagh, and the new 'bund' came up. This was the first of 'Great Flood' in recent history after which modern preventive measures were started.

Between 1895 and 1903, flood kept arriving.

The water was nine feet lower at Munshibagh than its predecessor. It is chiefly remembered for the breaches in the right bank above Shergrahi. 

The flood of 1902 was lower than the previous one by 2'2 feet.

24th July 1903

The second of the great flooding in modern times. Five inches of rain fell between 11th and 17th July and eight inches from 21st to 23rd idem and the river rose to the maximum of R.L. 5200.37 on the 24th July at 2 P.M. The whole valley became one vast expanse of water and fearful loss of life and property and crops occurred. The damages caused to the roads and other Public works alone rose to over three lakhs of rupees.

V.C. Scott O'connor mentions that people claimed Dal Lake rose Ten feet in thirty minutes. Three thousand houses in and around Sringar collapsed, and over forty miles of roads were under water.

This was the flood that lead to the first proper scientific approach to control the floods in the valley using the help of British. In 1904, a spill channel was excavated above Srinagar through a swamp rejoining the river at some distance below the city and proved much helpful in protecting Srinagar. Dredging work started in 1907 from Baramulla unto Vular Lake using electricity. In around 1906, came the weir at Chattabal. The flood control work with British help continued for a couple of decades. A Kashmiri poet of that time named Hakim Habibullah went on to write a work titled 'Sylab Nama' based on this natural calamity of 1903.

The flood kept arriving at regular interval: 1905, 1909, 1912, 1918, 1926, 1928 (about 75 people lost lives), 1929, 1932, 1948. 

During the years 1900 and 1965, valley experienced about 15 major floods.


Fifties started with flood. In 1950, water of Jhleum was flowing 10-15 feet over the banks in Srinagar. In all about 70 mile area of the valley was under water. In Jammu, about 12,000 houses collapsed.

In the fifties, the floods were witnessed in: 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1959. Of these, the floods in 1950, 1954, 1957 and 1959 were major. And among them the flood of 1957 and 1959 were two greatest ever in recent recorded times of Kashmir.


Capacity of Jhelum river is 36,000 to 50,000 cusecs and flood situation is declared in Kashmir when the water discharge at Sangam in south Kashmir is above 24 thousand cusecs. 

In 1957 it was estimated roughly to be 90,000 cusecs to 1 lakh 20 thousand cusecs at Sangam while the flood capacity of Jhelum is 90,000 cusecs. That year Wular Lake rose from normal height of 5,172 meters to 5,184 meters.  It is said, "the area on the left bank of the Jhelum from Sangam to Srinagar, and on the right bank from Sangam to Barsoo, appeared one continues sheet of water, with the submerged village site sticking out as bench marks on the watery waste." Human lives lost were at about 41 with 600 villages inundated. The damages was at about Rs 4.2 crores.

July, 1959

This flood is considered the most devastating in recent times. Jhelum was assumed to be at 80,000 cusecs to 100,000 against its normal capacity of 17,000 cusecs. The highest gauge touched at Sangam was 31.00 feets and the discharge through the river was about 50,000 cusecs.

About 82 people lost lives. Damage to public utility services was about Rs. 20 million, in addition to Rs. 15.6 million of damage to crops.

1960s started with Kashmir placing order for British shovels and two American dredgers (costing about $16, 800,00 or 8 Crore of the time) capable of dredging 750 cubic feet per hour. The floods continued in 1962, 1963, 1964, 1969 and 1972.

August 1973
About 20% of the population of the state impacted flooding about 40 villages. About seventy people dead, with 50 in Jammu province and about 21 of drowning in Kashmir. Damages amounted to Rs 12.18 crores. The Buddhist site at Harwan (the upper terrace) was buried under debris during this flood (it was finally cleared in 1978-80). 

Floods kept arriving at regular intervals




14,700 hectares of land was under water, 1.66 lakh quintal of paddy crop costing Rs. 2.50 crore were damaged. Three hundred villages were affected and four hundred and fifty hours were washed away. Loss of irrigation and flood-control works totalled Rs 15.50 crore.

The possible reason for damage to the city from these recent floods remains the slitting of water bodies. "The 1891 census of the state mentions 34,000 boatmen using the Jhelum as the Kashmir Valley's only highway. Today Jhelum is least fit to accommodate even an average sized cargo boat. So shallow are the waters that in the summer of 1987 one could wade through the river as it passed through Srinagar."

September 1992

About 210 lives lost.


August 1996

Happened while Amarnath Yatra was going on, about 160 dead.


September, 2014

Triggered by merging of western disturbance and the monsoon over the entire three regions of the State. Heavy rain experienced in upper reaches of Kashmir on 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Upper-reaches of Pahalgam experience three massive cloudbursts.

On 3rd September, Gauge at Sangam reads 21 feet. Flood is normally declared when water is at 23 feet. Ram Munshi bagh reading is 12 feet. Danger mark is 18 feet. People worry about the rising water levels. Rains continue.

On Sept 07, 2014. Flood hits Srinagar city. Deaths in Jammu regions.

Gauge reading at around 1200 hrs in Srinagar:
Sangam = Gauge plate under water (last recorded gauge 33.65 ft).
Ram Munshibagh = Gauge plate under water (last recorded gauge 26.25 ft). 
Ashram = 17.58 ft

Conditions abate by September 10th. But almost entire Srinagar under water.

Satellite image of Srinagar as on 10th September


Related Post:

Flooding Superstitions

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Finding Harwan

The east rises up and the west sinks
The west rises up and the east subsides
The south rises up and the north sinks down
The north rises up and the south subsides
The edges rise up and the center sinks
The center rises and the edges sink

~ Nāgārjuna, Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra, explaining the six ways in which the earth quakes, a reminder from Gods that nothing is eternal.

Geography befuddles me. After returning from Verinag, in the evening, I decided to visit Burzahom. Now the problem was that no one could point me the direction to the neolithic site. Technology too wasn't of any help. Since my phone wasn't working in Kashmir, I couldn't access Google map. So instead, I went for Harwan Garden. As a Kid when we would go for an outing to Mughal Gardens we would visit Chasmashahi, Shalimar, Nishat and by the time we would think of moving to Harwan, it would be too late in the evening, everyone would be tired, someone would say, 'Anyway, what's there at Harwan!' and so Harwan Garden was often skipped. I have never been to Harwan Garden. While on way to Harwan, I decided to keep the old tradition alive and instead decided to take a detour to the 'Ancient Buddhist Site at Harwan', the 3rd-4th century A.D. place that may have once belonged to a pre-Buddhist Ajaivikas.

I had already read a lot about the place and written about it. So I headed for the Buddhist site of Sadarhadvana, 'The wood of six Arhat saints' located at Harichandrun in older Kashmiri, Harwan of new Kashmiri. What followed is a little tragedy of comic proportions. There is a reason I keep reminding myself, no matter how much I know about Kashmir, if I were to be suddenly airdropped in Kashmir, I wouldn't know which way is Varmul and which way is Anantnag. I have lost keys to my own house. I am locked out. Now, I have to climb up the window.

On the road to Harwan Garden from Shalimar, there is a small twisted discrepant sign board that supposedly points to the place. It's a short hike up a little hillock.

Walking up the hill, you walk past all these houses built into the hill.

After a ten minute leisurely walk, another rusty signboard announces the place and you walk to the top of the hill.

It was a strange little scene why I just couldn't decipher. All around the place there are broken pieces of ancient pottery. There's an unmanned post and a gate. There are water tanks and what looks like a cemented apsidal.

More circles. The place looked the part. But, something was definitely wrong. Buddhist site was supposed to cover a larger area. Has the place shrunk. I had read the conspiracy theories that things had been removed from here, like from other parts of Kashmir, and moved to other parts of India. Is it possible the whole site has been transported and I am only seeming the remains.

Maybe, there is more to the site, I climbed to still higher ground, looked around, clicked the water tanks, at the extreme end there was wire fencing and across that there was a small irrigation canal. It made no sense.

But the ground here certainly looked ancient. There were remains of an older civilisation everywhere. Pieces of fabled pottery, with parse motifs, prodding out of broken ground, like a dead body uncovered.

Why would have all those people climbed all this way up the hill with all those pots? Why would someone have modern constructions over them? What is this place? Is this the ancient Buddhist site of Harwan, the dwelling place of Nagarjuna? The place that may have been visited by Hsüan-tsang in 7th century. I walked down the hill carefully, avoiding treading on the broken pieces of pottery that lay strewn all across the path.


After I returned from Kashmir, about a week later, I checked Google Map. It turns out I had visited a water filtration unit that has been carved into a portion of the Buddhist site.

With no signboard, or direction guides, like migratory birds, people desirous of visiting this spot rendered invisible, are expected to read magnetic fields in their head and find it.

I was so close.

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