How to make a mess of a beautiful spot? This enchanting place, 75 kilometers south of Srinagar, is a case in point.
The first introduction itself to the garden is marked with stench. There are toilets right at the entrance. They stink in the absence of water. People visiting the garden are asked for money for using the facility, though there is no such rule. Tourist officer Mohammad Afzal admitted the toilets were meant for tourists with entry tickets. It was obvious that the visitors were being fleeced.
Worse still, flower buds were badly trampled upon. Flowers were crushed beyond recognition. Gardeners virtually wept as they lamented that their hard work had been put to naught. Ironically, the people in higher echelons of political power were the culprits.
Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had held a public meeting inside the garden on March 5. Around 10 thousand people participated in the meeting. Former chief minister and Peoples’ Democratic Party supremo Mufti Mohammad Sayed held another public rally inside the park on April 26. This time too the number of participants was in thousands. One could well imagine the havoc wreaked on the fragile and sensitive bio-diversity of the garden.
Incidentally, there is entry fee (Rs 10 per head) for the garden. This was not made applicable in the case of political workers.
KB Sharma, Director, Floriculture, on being reached telephonically in Srinagar, said he was not aware of these rallies.
Kokernag is a valley of hundreds of refreshing natural springs at the foothills of tall lush-green mountains. Over the years a beautiful garden has been laid around these springs, making it a favorite picnic spot. It also has remained on the top of the itinerary of those tourists who knew the Kashmir Valley beyond its famous mascots of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.
When the turmoil began in the Valley in the late 1980s it was pushed into the background. Its location in a deep corner of Pir Panjal mountains deterred the visitors from continuing their date with it. Not many make a detour to it even as they head for better-known Pahalgam in the same range of mountains but on a slightly different route. The fact that there are in any case not many tourists in Kashmir at this moment does make little difference for Kokernag.
In turn it appears that lethargy and inefficiency have set into the official apparatus deputed to manage the captivating resort.
During a visit, on Sunday, this correspondent was shocked beyond belief on seeing some people taking bath in a small stream that has been built to regulate the flow of water from springs. They applied soap on their bodies. It was a sickening sight to say the least. Downstream a group of school children merrily drank the water unaware of its harmful contents.
How could such an obnoxious practice be permitted? Senior officials who were immediately contacted on mobile telephones pleaded their ignorance. They said they would take up the matter with the concerned authorities. The Chief Executive Officer of the Kokernag Development Authority was not available on the spot.
Kokernag has thus lost a lot. Its natural springs are being used as if they are bathing ghats.