Tourists’ favourite Dal Lake may soon be a playground for world-class athletes with the Sports Authority of India planning a training centre at one of the most picturesque locales in the world.
The SAI’s biggest centre in the north would train canoeists and kayaks for national and international competitions while giving a boost to sporting activities in insurgency-hit Jammu and Kashmir, director general Injeti Srinivas said on Wednesday.
“The J&K state sports council has suggested this. The SAI has decided to promote water sports at Dal Lake,” he said. “The empowered committee of the sports ministry has already approved that. We will soon sit with the state council to discuss all issues, including security.”
Spread over 18 sq km with a shoreline of nearly 16km, the Dal — as it is popularly known — is the lifeline of tourism in the Valley as shikaras and houseboats jostle for space in summers.
With livelihoods and commercial interests at stake, finding a suitable area to run the centre could pose a challenge.
“We welcome and encourage everything which does not disturb nature and habitat of the area,” MY Chapri, chairman, houseboat association, said.
Causeways divide the lake into four parts — Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Neegin Lake. The busiest areas are spread over three sections — Dal Lake to Nehru Park, from there to Royal Springs golf course and Hotel Santoor to Nishat Bagh.
“Any such activity in the first three parts will not be good for the lake. Somewhere towards Nishat will be ideal but it should not be beyond that,” Chapri said.
Pollution and unauthorised construction have choked the Dal, forcing the high court to recently seize illegal buildings built in and around the lake.
Former international canoeist Bilquis Mir, a local who coaches the national women’s team, said the centre would give a big boost to the state’s water-sports players.
“J&K has won 22 medals in national championships. As Kashmir is a high-altitude area, it has a great potential. I am sure if this centre starts functioning, Kashmir will become the hub for north as there are about 250 paddlers here,” said the athlete who competed in the 2009 World Cup in Hungary.
SAI has water centres across the country including in Alappuzha in Kerala, Hussain Sag ar (Hyderabad), Port Blair, Roorkee (Uttarakhand), Jagatpur (Odisha) and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
The Dal Lake facility will provide training in sprint canoeing, canoe polo, canoe slalom, dragon boat, kayaking, rafting and rowing.