A River Lost: Remembering the Pristine Vetasta (Jhelum) of 1907 and its Tragic Decline

The mighty Jhelum, known as Vetasta in ancient times, has long been the lifeblood of Kashmir. Its gurgling waters have nourished the land, quenched thirst, and provided sustenance for generations. But a stark contrast lies between the river’s pristine past and its current polluted state. This column delves into the heart-wrenching transformation of the Jhelum, drawing on poignant personal memories and highlighting the urgency for revival.

Imagine a year: 1907. The Vetasta flows unblemished, its crystal-clear waters reflecting the snow-capped peaks above. Every household along its banks draws upon its bounty for drinking, bathing, and washing. The concept of pollution seems alien, and respect for the river borders on reverence. Spitting in its sacred waters is unthinkable, akin to a sin. Communities like the Hanjis, renowned for their culinary expertise, utilize the pure Nallahs (tributaries) and the river itself in preparing the delectable Wazwan feasts. This is the Vetasta etched in your memory, a childhood haven teeming with life.

The picture you paint takes us back to a time when the Jhelum was not just a source of water, but a symbol of purity, cultural vitality, and deep connection to nature. The act of bathing in its clean waters or catching fish near Chatabal speaks volumes about its former health and the harmonious relationship communities shared with it. The presence of water birds further underscores the ecological richness of the riverine ecosystem.

However, today’s reality paints a grim picture. Pollution has cast a dark shadow over the Vetasta, robbing it of its life-giving essence. The crystal-clear waters have become murky, the vibrant ecosystem silent, and the once-abundant fish are a distant memory. Industrial waste, sewage, and agricultural runoff have taken their toll, turning the once-sacred river into a conduit for contamination.

This tragic decline serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of neglecting our natural resources. The Jhelum’s story is not unique; countless rivers around the world face similar challenges. But it also serves as a call to action. We must act now to revive the Jhelum and other threatened water bodies. By implementing stricter environmental regulations, adopting sustainable practices, and fostering community-driven initiatives, we can bring back the lost glory of the Vetasta.

Together, we can reclaim the rivers that sustain us, ensuring that future generations can experience the same joy and connection you shared with the pristine Vetasta of 1907.

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