JHELUM Amazingly beautiful, frightfully ferocious

The Jhelum is focus of a massive development plan in Kashmir to revive inland water transport

Words:N.B. RAO

It is one of the seven rivers (‘sapta sindhavah’ or ‘sapta sindhu’) mentioned in the Rig Veda. Known in Sanskrit as Vitasta, the Jhelum is a tributary of the Chenab and forms part of Punjab’s five renowned rivers.
According to Indian mythology, Goddess Parvati was asked by sage Kasyapa to come to Kashmir to purify the land from impurities. She assumed the form of a river and Lord Shiva used a spear to make a stroke near the abode of Nila, resulting in her emergence at Verinag spring.

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Originating from what is the one of the largest springs in the country, about 80 km south of Srinagar, the river flows northwards to Wular, once one of the largest fresh water lakes. It passes through Kashmir before Pakistan. The 725-km-long river has fascinated civilisations in the area for centuries.

The ancient Greeks, who considered it as a god, called it the Hydaspes. Alexander and his troops crossed the river in 326 BC.

He then struggled in a fight – known as the Battle of the Hydaspes – with king Porus of the Paurava kingdom and finally emerged victorious.

Mughal emperor Jahangir got the original Verinag spring (located at a height of nearly 1,900 m) renovated by getting an octagonal-shaped base built. His son Shah Jahan, who also loved nature, continued with the work of beautifying the spring.
The spring is located just below the Jawahar tunnel, the main highway that links Jammu to the Kashmir valley. The river emerges in beautiful surroundings in a trough formed between the Great Himalayan and the Pir Panjal ranges, and flows down through loops from Anantnag to Srinagar and Sopore.
The river, which is the westernmost of the five rivers of Punjab, drains off the Kashmir valley.

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But it has over the centuries triggered off floods that have done enormous damage in the Kashmir valley.
Hundreds of thousands of homes in Srinagar and other cities in the valley have been washed over hundreds of years after the swollen Jhelum wiped across the state, killing thousands of people.
Ashraf Fazili, a former chief engineer with the state PWD (between 1963 and 2003) recently highlighted the major floods that have destroyed the valley since 2000 BC.

“Kashmiris have faced floods since the very beginning of life in the valley,” he wrote in a piece on the Jhelum. “Over the years, many measures were adopted to confine floods, but it is unfortunate that the authorities never devised a serious strategy to safeguard the lives and property. The last deluge in September 2014 is one such instance that highlighted a lapse in state government’s preventive measures.”
The Jhelum is today the focus of a massive development plan that has been taken up by the state government of Jammu & Kashmir.

It aims to launch public water transport in the river and the Dal lake.
State chief minister Mehbooba Mufti wants to revive water transport in Srinagar, especially between the two large water bodies. The water bodies will not only ease travel within the Kashmiri capital, but hopefully encourage more tourists to visit the valley.
According to tour operators, the development would encourage ‘shikara’ rides in the Jhelum, which would be much better than the ones in the stagnant Dal lake.

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