The Valley Of Kashmir | Sir Walter Roper Lawrence | Part 11

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It is impossible in the scope of this report to do justice to the beauty and grandeur of the mountains of Kashmir, or to enumerate the lovely glades and forests, visited by so few.


Excellent guide-books tell of the magnificent scenery of the Sind and—”— Liddar valleys and of the gentler charms of the Lolab, but none have described the equal beauties of the western side of Kashmir. Few countries can offer anything grander than the deep green mountain tarn Konsa Nag in the Panjal range, the waters of which make a wild entrance into the valley over the splendid cataract of Arabal, while the rolling grass mountain called Tosh Maidan, the springy downs of Raiyar looking over the Suk Nag river as it twines, foaming down from the mountains, the long winding park known as Yusumarg,—and lower down still the little hills, which remind one of Surrey, and Nilnag with its pretty lake ‘ screened by the dense forests, are worthy to be seen.

Apart from their beauty and variety of temperatures the mountains of Kashmir are of great importance to the country. They supply water for irrigation, timber, fuel, and the grazing upon which so much of the agricultural prosperity of the valley depends. As the summer draws on the sheep and cattle are driven up from the valley to the woodland glades, and as the sun grows hotter they pass on to the “Margs” (There is a Persian word (Margh) signifying a garden abounding in plants, but the Kashmiris use the word to denote land lying at a distance from the abode of men.), those beautiful stretches of turf which, ringed round with great forests, lie at an elevation of from 7,000 to 9,000 feet above the sea.

But the best of the grazing is found even higher up, when the forests of pines and firs cease, and the birch trees appear. This high country is known as ‘Ildk’ (The summer quarters of the Persian nomad tribes are known as Ilak ), and is the summer home of the shepherds and graziers.

Many of the Margs are visited every year by Europeans, and Gulmarg, Sonamarg, and Nagmarg are charming places for a summer holiday. Perhaps Pahlgam, the village of the shepherds which stands at the head of the Liddar valley with its healthy forest of pines, and Gurais which lies at a distance of thirty-five miles from Bandipura, the port of the Wular lake, will before long rival in popularity the other Margs.

Gurais is a lovely valley five miles in length lying at an elevation of about 8,000 feet above the sea. The Kishnganga river flows through it, and on either side tower mountain scarps of indescribable grandeur. Perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole of Kashmir is the grove of huge poplars through which the traveller enters the Gurais valley. The climate is dry and mild, excellent English vegetables can be grown, and the wild raspberries and currants are delicious.

As one descends the mountains and leaves the woodland glades cultivation commences immediately, and right up to the fringe of the forests the useful maize is grown and walnut trees abound. A little lower down, at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, rice of a hardy and Chap. II. stunted growth is found and the shady plane tree appears. Lower still superior kinds of rice are grown, and the water courses are edged with willows.

The side valleys which lead off from the vale of Kashmir, though possessing distinctive charms of their own, have certain features in common. At the mouth of the valley, there is the wide delta of fertile soil on which the rice with its varying colours, the plane trees, mulberries and willows grow luxuriantly, a little higher up the land is terraced and rice still grows, and the slopes are ablaze with the aniline blooms of wild indigo, till at about 7,000 feet the plane tree gives place to the walnut and the rice to the millets.

On the left bank of the mountain river, endless forests stretch from the bottom of the valley to the peaks, and on the light bank, where there is a nook or corner which is sheltered from the sun and the hot breezes of India, the pines and firs establish themselves. Then further up the valley the river, already a roaring torrent, becomes a veritable waterfall dashing down between lofty cliffs, whose bases are fringed with maples and horse chestnuts, white and pink, and the millets are replaced by the buckwheat and Tibetan barley. Soon after this, the useful birch tree appears, and then come grass and glaciers—the country of the shepherds.

As regards the formation of the vale itself, perhaps the theory of lake origin will best explain the slopes and ledges which render the configuration of Kashmir striking and unique.

Where the mountains cease to be steep, fan-like projections, with flat arid tops and bare of trees, run out towards the valley. These are known as Karewa. Sometimes these dry table lands stand up isolated in the middle of the valley, but whether isolated or attached to the mountains the Karewa present the same sterile appearance and offer the same abrupt wails to the valley.

The Karewa are pierced by mountain torrents and seamed with ravines. It has been suggested that ‘ a plane, not indeed an even one joining the tops of all the remaining plateaus, would represent the position and form of the lake bottom at the last.’ Bearing in mind that Kashmir was once a lake, which dried up when nature afforded an outlet at Baramula, it is easy to recognize in the Karewa the shelving shores of a great inland sea, and to realize that the inhabitants of the old cities, the traces of which can be seen on high bluffs and on the slope of the mountains, had no other choice of sites, since in those days the present fertile valley was buried beneath a waste of water.

Leaving the Karewa one drops down to the alluvial soil which slopes gently towards Jhelum, the great river. The Hydaspes of the ancients, the Vedasta of the Hindus, it is known to the Kashmiris as the Veth. When it leaves Kashmir at Baramula it is called the Kashu Darya, and after joining the Kishnganga, it is spoken of as the Jhelum river. This river is navigable without a single lock from Baramula to Kanabal, the port of Islamabad, a distance of 102 miles’.

Up to the present by far the larger part of the traffic of the country is carried along it in the flat-bottomed boats which are towed upstream or drop gently down at the speed of about 1 J miles an hour. The lazy river and the absence of roads and wheeled carriage have had their influence on native character, and time seems to be no object to a Kashmiri.

The great Wular Lake may be regarded as the delta of the Jhelum in Kashmir. In its course from Kanabal to the Delta the fall of the river is 165 feet in the first 30 miles, and,55 feet in the next 24 miles. From the Wular to Baramula the fall is very slight. In December, when the river is at its lowest, the average breadth is 210 feet and its mean depth is 9 feet. To the ordinary observer, it would seem evident that the river arose from the grand spring of deep blue water at Vernag which bubbles up underneath a steep scarp of rock clothed with pines, but the Hindus maintain that a spring a little below Verndg, known as Vethvatru, has the honour of being the source of the great Kashmir river.

Above Kanabal the mountain streams from the south, the Sandrin, the Brang, the Arpat from Kotahar, the Kokarnag and the Achibal springs, join the river, and just below Kanabal on its right bank the Jhelum receives one of its most important tributaries, the Liddar or Lambodri, which comes down from the everlasting snows which over- hang the head of the Liddar valley and from the lake of Tarsar.

Further down on its right bank, the Jhelum receives the water of the great Arpal Nag spring and the drainage from the Wastarwan and the mountains above Trahal, and at Pampur a small amount of overflow from irrigation channels falls into the river. The Sind river, the most important of all the tributaries of the Jhelum, joins it at Shadipur, the place of marriage of the two rivers, and after passing through the Wular lake the Jhelum receives only one more tributary on its right bank before it reaches Baramula, the Pohru stream which drains the Lolab valley and enters the main river at Dubgam.

On its left bank the Jhelum receives the drainage of the western mountains, but none of the streams possesses the same importance as the Liddar and Sind rivers. The chief tributaries on the left bank are the Vishau, the Rembiara, the Ramshi and the Dudganga, which last joins the Jhelum at the lower end of the Srinagar city, the Suknag and the Ferozepura, which lose themselves in the large marshes under the Chap. II. banks of the Jhelum, and the Ningl which flows into the Wular lake and affords a secure haven to wind-bound boats. Of these streams ‘ the Pohru, Sind and Vishau are navigable for a short distance.

About the Author

Sir Walter Roper Lawrence (9th February 1857 – 25th May, 1940) was a member of the British Council of India and an English author who served in the Indian Civil Service in British India and wrote travelogues based on his experiences of travelling around the Indian Subcontinent.

He was appointed as the Settlement Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir between 1889–1894, during the rule of Maharaja Pratap Singh. While travelling in Kashmir, he recorded and produced a brief history on account of the geography, the culture of the people and the Dogra rule over Kashmir.

Over the course of his travels, he developed a close affinity with the Indianand Kashmiri people, who figure prominently in his work. His best-known books are ‘The Valley Kashmir‘ (1895) and ‘The India we Served’ (1929).

Book Details : London Henery Frowade, Oxford University Press Warehouse, AMEN Corner, E.C

Print Date: 1895