Pohru: The ‘Abandoned’ Unruly Water

Pohru the ‘zigzag’ stream flows from the district headquarter Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir after receiving waters from the Nallah-e-Kahmil, Nallah-e-Lolab, Nallah-e- Bohipora, and Nallah-e- Haihama. It meets Jhelum in Doabgah (Sopore Baramulla) and is one of its main tributaries. The river is known and notorious for its most mischievous and unruly character. Every year during the winter and early spring season once the rain showers pour and inundate, it brings disaster and causes innumerable loss of land and property. The Pohru never remains at peace and shakes its banks by its roars during flood-like situations. It never flows in the same direction and course for two years rather changes its direction and course every year and consumes hundreds of Kanals of paddy land, orchards, and habitable land.  

         The river was once a great source and route of communication and trade, particularly during the pre-partition days, which is evident from many old travel accounts and archival records. Sir Walter Lawerence the author of the famous book, “The Valley of Kashmir”, writes, “…and after passing through the Wular lake the Jhelum receives only one more tributary on its right bank before it reaches Baramula, the Pohru stream which drains the Lolab valley and enters the main river at Dubgam (Doabgah)”. John Ince in his, ‘The Kashmir Hand-Book: A Guide for Visitors’ writes, “Dubgao is a small village on the right bank of the river, and about nine miles, or four hours’ journey above Baramula; there is a large timber depot here, from whence most of the wood for boat-building throughout Kashmir is supplied; it belongs to the Government, and there are three or four bungalows in the fine grove of chenars near it, which are occupied by the agents attached to it… It is one of the routes to the Lolabboats can usually ascend as far as the village of Awatkula when the river is high, and the journey occupies about 20 hours”. Ince further writes, “Awatkoolais a small and half-deserted village on the left bank of the Pohra River, about twenty hours’ journey by boat from the village of Dubgaoat which the Pohrajoins the Jhelamand which is about an hour and a half’s journey by boat below SopoorThis is the easiest and most agreeable route, but can only be adopted when the river is high… The Pohra is about 75 yards wide at its mouth, but varies in depth according to the season; it rises in the mountains on the north-west of the valley, and receives in its course numerous tributaries from the adjacent hills…”

Duke in his account, ‘Guide to Tourists in Kashmir’ writes, “Doabgah forms the depot for all the timber cut on the Lolab Valleys, whence it is floated down the Pohru River, which joins the Jhelum just above it. When the Pohru River is high, it is navigable as far as Awatkoola, about 20 hours’ journey. Immense volume of water passes down the Pohru during floods, holding in check the Jhelum’s flow and causing much flooding above…”

The timber procured from the famous deodar forests of Lolab Valley was flown down this stream and received at the timber depot at Doabgah. From here the timber and fuelwood were taken to the city of Srinagar for local use through boats and some of it was flown to Punjab down the “Vitasta” the Jhelum of today. There the timber was used for railway sleepers and other constructions. John Collett in his account, ‘A Guide for Visitors in Kashmir’ writes, “There is a large quantity of timber here (Lolab), which is brought down the Pohru during the floods in May and June and the rains in July and August; after these months the water falls so low that navigation is impracticable. This timber is used in boat-building and for other purposes…A route to Lolab is up the river Pohru”. C.G. Bruce in his book ‘Peeps at many lands Kashmir’ writes, “The Kishanganga, the Liddar, the Wardwan, the Pehro, and other smaller rivers all empty themselves finally into the Jhelum, which in mighty current carries great logs and planks of timber from the forests, which are cast on its broad bosom, till it finally deposits them on the Forest Department’s beach at the town of Jhelum itself…”.

         Most of the officials, travelers, sportsmen, and other people interested to visit Kupwara and Lolab would travel by boats through this stream up to Awatkula up to which the river was navigable then. Francis Younghusband in his work, ‘Kashmir’, writes, “The Lolab is the western end of the Vale of Kashmir, and is remarkable rather for the homely picturesqueness of its woodland and village beauty than for the grandeur of its scenery. It is usually reached by boat up the Pohru River three miles below Sopur. In two days the limit of navigation at Awatkula is reached. From thence the road leads to Kofwara, eight miles, and Lalpura, the chief place, twelve miles farther. The hill-sides are entirely clothed with thick forests of deodar and pine”. 

         Moreover, the river was famous for its beautiful locale, freshwater, and faunal variety, particularly fish. Lawerence while writing his account on Kashmir and its faunal variety mentions particularly the famous fish diversity of the Pohru river. “I have seen what I believe to be the white mullet of India in the stream at Sopur Nagri on the Karywali of Zyn-i-gyr; but it is most probably found also in the Jhelum… Lastly comes the Ram Gad, or fish of Ramah, which has been already mentioned as being caught at the village of Sopur Nagri”.

         The river feeds many canals like the famous Sultanate period canal, ‘Lalla Kul’ built by Sultan Zain ul Abidin the Bud Shah of Kashmir. Apart from this it also feeds the Band Kul and Doon Wari and irrigates thousands of kanals of agrarian land. Furthermore, it also acts as a source of livelihood and employment for many people like the Hanjis the fish catchers of Kashmir, and the sand and gravel extractors. The river also adds some amount to the state treasury in the shape of royalties on crushers and sand extraction. 

         Many state agencies look after the wellbeing of this river, prominent being the Irrigation department, flood control, geology and mining, soil conservation, ecology, and environment and fisheries. But the river has been ignored and abandoned like a stray animal by all these departments. There is no proper management of this water body and no attention has been given to the illegal encroachments and sand extraction. Every day many JCBs and tractors can be seen looting and scratching the body and belly of this once famous stream. The concerned departments responsible for controlling the illegal and misuse of this river hardly pay any heed to their duty and seem in a deep slumber. The sand mafia has damaged the physique of this river and many deep gorges can be seen dug in and outside the area of this river. Such misuse of the river prompts it to change its direction and course which in turn causes huge damage. 

         There is some unchecked and uncontrolled fishing go on for a couple of years and people across professions and castes and from minors to octogenarians can be seen fishing in this river. This trend upsurges mostly during the April-June months as the flow of fish and water both remain suitable for catching fish. But these months are the breeding months for fish and their uncontrolled catching causes unimaginable damage to the growth and rise of the fish population in this river. Some exemplary and necessary steps need to be taken to control this herd fish catching, otherwise, the river once famous for its fish diversity will remain a matter of history and past. The fisheries department needs to act as it is supposed to. The sale of any materials like chemicals, baits, hooks, and nets, and tools that are not allowed by the law books of the fisheries department to catch fish should be banned within the range of five kilometers of this river or as deemed feasible by the department. 

         Apart from departmental negligence, the river has also seen political victimization. The works started by one government were never preferred to be completed by the other government of which some bridges and embankment projects are living examples. The pillars constructed amid the river were never completed and instead of problem solvers, such projects became a matter of headache for the people living around the river. The pillars constructed barricade and halt the flow of water which forces the river to change its head and tail. Such unnatural shifts in the river’s directions cause huge loss of land and property.

         Other than all these issues, a serious matter of concern is the pollution of this water body. The river is becoming the ultimate trash bin of the people living around it. Every day people particularly women can be seen throwing dirt and garbage into this river. Also, some of the security forces camps, located on its fringes or the suburbs of its tributaries contribute a huge amount of pollution to this river. Many villages are living on the peripheries of this river which drink water from this stream. The people polluting this river not only damage the quality of water and its faunal population but also jeopardize the lives of thousands of people taking water from this water body. Here the departments concerned cannot help as much as the civil society can. The village heads, ulemas, mosque imams, and elderly people can spread the word and inculcate a sense of responsibility and the civic sense among the masses. Help from the religious scriptures can also be taken and from the Islamic point of view pollution and irresponsibility is a sin and the most hated crime. Allah says in Quran, “Blessed is he who hath kept it (water) pure and undone is he who hath corrupted it! (Quran, 91:10-11). Such verses need to be taught to people to educate them about the sanctity of water. The concerned departments like flood control, fisheries and environment need also to do their bit by organising environmental education and awareness programs to spread consciousness among the people about the hazards of pollution, the value of water, and water bodies. 

Zahoor Ahmad Shah
Zahoor Ahmad Shah
PhD Research Scholar, Department of History, University of Kashmir, Srinagar