Nature has indeed endowed the valley of Kashmir & the neighbouring mountains with an abundance of fine springs including the one named “Kounsar Nag”. (The ancient geography of ancient Kashmir (1899) by M A Stein, pages 32, 72) It is a two miles long & ½ mile wide beautiful lake lying above Kongwattan village in Pir Panchal mountainous range of Kashmir’s Kulgam district’s Noorabad area. The lake is at an elevation of 4000 meters/13,000 ft above sea level. It is one of the most picturesque & pristine pure lakes of the valley with small icebergs floating in its powder blue melt water of snow beds & glaciers of the surrounding high peak mountains of the area. It has motor-able road up to Aharbal, while real arduous trek starts from Aharbal to it: Kaunsar Nag proper. The nomadic Gujjars from Reassi would often during midsummer travel through Kounsar Nag & hold it sacred. “Kounsar” is a Quranic word which means holy water of paradise & “nag” means spring. So, “Kounsar Nag” means spring of sacred water of paradise.
Sir G T Vegne has, as early as 1840s, penned similar lines of description about the lake in these words: “The Musalmans on account of its extent & height have given this lake name of Kounsar, one of the rivers in paradise, whose waters are whiter than milk & silver, and more odoriferous than musk, ……by which righteous are refreshed after passing the bridge of Al-Sirat” (Travels in Kashmir, volume 1, (Second edition, 1844 London) pages 295-296) Gazetteer of Kashmir (1890) too uses the name of Kounsar Nag for the lake. It further states that there are many legends & superstitions about it. One of such Kashmiri-Pandit-legends was that “the lake was created by Vishnu Pad (foot of mythical God Vishnu) that he put on the mountains surroundings it. Hence, the ancient name of it was Kysur”, according to their version. (Supra Vigne) The mountains surrounding it have long been known by the name of the Fathi Pansu, or the Ridge of Victory. The name was not given on account of any recent event. (Gazetteer of Kashmir (1890), pages 511-513)
Being a rare gift of nature to Kashmir, the Kashmiris have always stressed on preservation of its pristine purity at all costs without any human interference. But, in recent past, “some” Kashmiri Pandits backed by some “vested interests” had tried to invent new religious pilgrimage, “Kysur Yatra”, to the Kounsar Nag. As a matter of fact, a few people had been coming to the lake for ablutions using the traditional route via Reassi, (Vigne, supra), but that would not mean that there was any organised religious pilgrimage ever made to this lake in the history of Kashmir. However, in the recent past (2014) it was attempted by resorting to what is called the doctrine of “invention of new traditions”.
During the months of July-August, 2014, the district administrations of Reassi & Kulgam together with security forces had announced that they would provide logistic support to “Kysur Yatra” that had started from Reassi via Kulgam to the lake. When “Kysur Yatra” reached Kakran village they were stopped from proceeding ahead with the Yatra by the local villagers who had formed Kounsar Nag Bachao Front to put resistance against “new tradition”. There were valley-wide protests against “invention of new tradition” of traveling to the glacial body, thereby, greatly endangering its related ecology. Fearing that the events might take an ugly turn like that of Amarnath land row of 2008, the State government ultimately had to cancel the yatra. This is history now.
But here a question may be raised. If, once name of this lake as “Kounsar Nag” (Lawrence the valley of Kashmir page 16) has been in use since centuries, and if, there was never any organised pilgrimage made to this lake by local Pandits in history, then, what is the logic behind the action of these Pandit-groups to go on rampage of ecosystem of entire valley by inventing this kind of new Yatras to glacial bodies. Seemingly, such move or attempt will only threaten very survival of all Kashmiri people whose lives entirely depend on un-polluted fragile ecosystem of the mountains surrounding the valley. Some say that such an attempt was aimed at reclaiming “lost ancient land” of Kashmir-Pandits. But this argument does not seem to be convincing since the land belonged to none other than pre-Islamic ancestors of 96% Muslims population of the valley. “The experts have warned against such moves saying that by human intervention ecological set up would be disturbed. Moreover, experts and the majority political players are of the opinion that the glacial water bodies are only tourist spots and don’t have any religious significance”. (Kashmir Life, 02-08-2014).
Irony is that while good number of sensible Kashmir Pandits appreciate & share with Muslim majority the grave eco-risks in undertaking “religious yatras” to glacial bodies like Kounsar Nag, “some” reactionary groups do not understand the dangers laden in such eco-unfriendly-yatras. However, one feels pleased to note that finally better sense prevailed upon these Pandit groups & any possible catastrophe that was likely to be caused to the valley by any kind of human pollution & meddling with this serene glacial body has been kept at bay. If understood in proper spectrum of sensitive ecosystem of the valley, it is & was obviously in the interests of all its inhabitants.
Note: Views expressed here are personal & not of the organisation the author works for.
M J Aslam is Author, academician, story-teller & freelance columnist. Presently AVP, JK Bank.