Historical monument an example of centuries-prevalent ‘communal harmony’; mosque and temple on it in ruins
WULAR LAKE, BANDIPORA: The authorities’ deliberate effort to wipe out important historic landmarks in Kashmir has another testimony along the pristine waters of Wular Lake, where an island built by Kashmir’s powerful emperor, Sultan Zainul Abidin, is in ruins. Known as Zainalank, the island is afloat in the middle of Wular Lake, surrounded by the lofty, snow-capped Harmukh mountains. The lake, according to historians, is a witness to ‘communal harmony’, dating back 600 years to the time when the island was built.
Historians also say that Zainalank was established to safeguard the lives of fishermen who were often caught in the tumultuous waves of the expansive lake. The Sultan, popularly known as Budshah in Kashmir, ordered the creation of the islet during a visit to the lake when he was told about the miseries of the fishermen.
The island had a mosque and a temple built on it, apart from a palace for the king. It soon became a must-go destination for travellers. The garden, according to historical texts, attracted visitors with its blossoming almond and apricot trees; it became a leisure retreat for Mughal kings, who often visited the island travelling via the Jehlum river which flows into the Lake.
Ironically, with the passage of time, this tourist magnet lost its attractiveness due to official apathy and perpetual neglect.
“The island has been left in ruins and the government never restored it, in spite of its historic value,” the locals complained. Villages in its vicinity – Banyari, Lankreshipora, Kulhama and Saderkoot Payeen – have received no attention from the government for even basic facilities. Worse, the government even declared Saderkoot Payeen a ‘tourist village’ eight years ago, but nothing has been done on the ground to make it look like a tourist hamlet.
Officials said that the Wular Manasbal Tourism Development Authority, which was constituted in 2006, had moved a proposal to the Government of India for the restoration of Zainalank in 2007. The proposal comprised various restoration and developmental works besides restoration of the island’s most important mosque and temple.
Official documents of the proposal which Kashmir Reader got access to envisaged the restoration of the island into a full-fledged tourist resort. Projects proposed included: electrification and illumination of facilities via an 11 KV tape lane from Banyari village to Zainalank garden, construction of approach roads, transportation and boat landings, jet skies, construction of a 63 KV sub-station, removal of lake vegetation, manufacturing, supply and commissioning of motorised ferries, dismantling of stone pitching from water relaying charges, protection works from the Jehlum and construction of a public convenience block at Lankrishipora.
The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, sanctioned the project to restore the island in 2007 for Rs 206.72 crore, and Rs 165.42 crore was released the same year in favour of the Wular Manasbal Development Authority (WMDA) to begin the island’s restoration.
However, work initiated for Zainalank’s restoration stopped within months and was never returned into reality. The work, which started in December 2007, continued for only eight months, till August 2008, after which it was “verbally stopped and taken back from the WMDA in 2012”.
The only work the WMDA claims it has done for the Rs 165.4 crore it received is the construction of two upstream-downstream parking areas, the development of an approach road by way of construction of side drain and E-wall and laying of RCC pipes in Lankrishipora, upgradation of a few other approach roads and the construction of Devri Ghat in Lankrishipora.
“After that, within only one year, we were directed by the Tourism ministry, Government of India, to stop work on the project, citing that the Archeological Survey of India would further take up the work because of its monumental value,” Chief Executive Officer, WMDA, Zulfikar Khan told Kashmir Reader.
“But the formal order only came in 2012, after which we returned Rs 62.80 crore of the Rs 165.4 crore to the ministry. From that date in 2008, no restoration work has been initiated on the island,” Zulfikar shared.
Though the officers claim that the project was taken back by the centre, Zulfikar is of the opinion that the “failure may have been on our side”.
Zulfikar adds, “There must be some reason that the project was taken back, otherwise whatever work we have done was properly tendered and assigned to contractors.”
As for the top officers in the department, who ironically share that they have never visited the spot, the four newly built walls of the mosque that stands on the island were never constructed by them. A visit to the place reveals the nearly irretrievable damage the monuments have taken.
A crumbled mass of carved, ancient stones lying in a corner and a few scattered around are all that remain as witness to the fact that some monuments once stood here, apart from a signboard from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) declaring Zainalank a monument of national importance. Besides the mass of stones, the northern part of the island has been turned into graveyard.
But despite the official neglect, curious tourists track down the place on the internet and hit the bumpy roads to reach their destination as there is no transport to bring them to the neglected island which now only serves as a resting place for boatmen and shepherds making their way through the Wular Lake vegetation.
Though the government has many a time in the recent past promised to restore the island, nothing concrete has been done so far. “The words and promises haven’t been turned into action,” one curious visitor to the island says to me.
The ASI has declared the site a ‘Monument of National Importance’ under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (24 of 1958), but the ASI’s official website only notifies the mosque as the island’s protected monument. The expenditure on Zainalank incurred under minor works in plan and non-plan from 2007 to 2012 amounts to Rs 4,344,333 in plan and Rs 223,761 under non-plan.
According Dr Vasant Kumar Swarnakar, Superintending Archeologist, the only monument declared as protected on the island is “the mosque”, as in the ASI’s protocol, he says “we can conserve the structure only, not construct it even hypothetically, even if it is found in ruins”.
He informs that the ASI gets no external funding for preserving monuments; “whatever conservation we do is from our own resources,” Swarnakar said.
Speaking about the temple, he said, “At that time, the officers only declared the mosque as the protected monument as it has been done much earlier.” He added, “The officers at that time may have verified it with evidences and declared the mosque as a protected monument only, but as far as the temple is considered, there is scope we can declare that too as a protected monument, following the criteria with evidences, even though it is in ruins.”
Swarnakar added that since he is newly appointed to this position, he will try to verify from field officers “whether the four walls of the mosque have been done by the ASI”.