Srinagar: Pari Mahal and Climate Change Weirdness

Good morning everyone,

Pari Mahal means the Fairies’ Abode.  It is a seven-terraced garden on a ridge in the Zabawaran Mountains overlooking Dal Lake in Srinagar.  It’s a five or six minute drive up a winding road from the gardens below (the road begins at Chashme Gardens, just east of the Indira Gandhi Tulip Garden.

As you know from the previous posts we were not here while the gardens were in their full glory.  Also, the Pari Mahal was undergoing renovation work so I did not climb to the top terraces, which were restricted access because of the work.  The Indian Army also has a presence here.  In fact, they were the only ones around when we arrived.  Not even a ticket seller in the window, though the garden was open.  The soldiers stayed out of my way while I wandered around though I still felt a little nervous about their presence here.

Once inside I can see why they are here.  The gardens give an unobstructed, panoramic view of the valley and lake below so it’s a good spot to keep an eye on the goings on below.

The gardens were built over an old Buddhist monastery by Prince Dara Shikoh in the mid-1600s.  He was a son of Emperor Shah Jahan.  It was built for the prince’s Sufi tutor and at one time was also used as an observatory where astronomy and astrology were taught.

From way up here, you can see some of the flood damage that remains in Srinagar though the government (along with NGOs, community members and volunteers) have done an amazing job so far of cleaning up and repairing after the devastation of the 60 year flood.

This is what they are saying here.  That a flood as extensive as the one in October 2014, which saw much of Kashmir and parts of Punjab under water, comes only once every 60 years.  But when you talk to the local people, the last flood of its kind came well sooner than 60 years ago and climate change is likely to cause this valley to experience more frequent and more extensive flooding along with the earthquakes, the landslides in these shale and sandstone mountains, part of the Himalayas, will also become more extensive.

Some of the local people told me that no-one has been able to figure out where the flood waters arrived from, so suddenly, and why the flood waters took so long to recede.  That strikes me as bizarre, that no one can tell the locals the wheres and hows and whys of this flood.  The water came from the north, further into the Himalayas is all they seem to know.   Given that such extensive flooding is not only a human threat but a security threat and this is a high security zone, I’m sure the Indian Government sent geologists out to tell them what was going on.  Or maybe they didn’t.  I’m also told that the Indian Government, including the army stationed all over Kashmir, took their time even helping provide rescue and relief to the people here.

At least one of the locals speculated that the flood waters came from much further north in China and since the Chinese and Indian governments also have border disputes, the Chinese aren’t sharing information with India.  China is still very far north of Srinagar and the Himalayas stand between the two, so I don’t know how likely that story is.  More likely is that the region is so remote and sparsely populated, that the waters could have come from anywhere and not have been noticed until it was it far too late to provide extensive warnings or even to determine the origin of the flooding.

In any case, given that climate change is already wreaking havoc on the subcontinent and that is likely to continue to worsen, I would hope for the sake of the people of Kashmir, that the government gets on the problem.

As an example of how climate change is affecting this part of India, besides the flooding in October, while we were there it was unseasonably warm.  While I was at the top of Pari Mahal, the temperature rose from about 2C to 20C, in maybe an hour and continued to rise throughout the early morning and afternoon until it was at least 26C at the top of Hari Parbat Hill on the other side of the Lake.  The locals say this is not normal for early February.

The ducks which migrate to winter in Srinagar on Dal Lake came earlier this year and they are leaving to return earlier though there is plenty of food for them still in the lake.  There are fewer eagles too, they say.  Maybe it is due to the flood that there are fewer eagles fishing the shallows of the lake but the locals told me that they noticed the drop in the eagle population for the last few years.

They also say there are more earthquakes.  We woke up to a nasty one that morning as a matter of fact.  It shook the house for at least a full minute after it woke me and the others up and it seemed stronger than any I felt in Whitehorse.  I recall thinking, as I woke to the shaking, that we are at the base of a mountain and I hoped the terraces above me would hold through the violent heaving movement.  They did but we would find out later that the earthquakes caused quite a lot of other mischief throughout the valley.

After breakfast that morning, an hour after the earthquake, I noticed that all the snow that had been on the top of the mountain above me was gone.  It didn’t slide during the earthquake, it had melted in the quickly rising temperatures.  The only mountains that had any snow by the time breakfast was over were much higher mountains west of Srinagar. We had arrived to snow capped peaks and would leave to bare mountains.  The locals say this is also unusual that the snow would be so thin so as to melt that quickly, at this time of year.  Typically, there is some snow on the mountains throughout February and into March.

They have no idea where the melting water was going either, since neither the lakes nor the rivers seemed to be rising in level at all.  In fact, almost all the rivers that we passed where either completely dry or reduced from a hundred metres wide to a trickling creek.  When I showed locals pictures of the rivers between Jammu and Srinagar they were surprised to such little water in them, given the temperatures they had been having.  They also said that some of the rivers I photographed were not old river beds at all but were either greatly widened or created during the flood.

Obviously I’m not a meteorologist or geologist but this gorgeous valley and its friendly, lovely people are going to be devastated by increased climate change.  It could be in a decade or two, that there is no Srinagar to come to any longer, that there are no hill stations left, that there is no safe water to sustain the populations here.  It could be in a decade or two that the eagles will have finally quit this valley, that the ducks will no longer migrate here and that the herders will have moved on with their Kashmir goats.  What a tragedy it would be to lose this paradise, to displace the life from here.

This valley is unique and governments and independence fighters seem to think it’s worth fighting over.  I hope that in the hearts and minds of those same people, that this place is worth saving, before there’s nothing left to fight over.

We’re still in Srinagar for our next post.

Until then,
Peace and love all,
Himmatpreet

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