Amir Khusrau put into words what anyone with a beating heart feels when stepping into the heaven that is Kashmir: “Agar Firdaus bar rōy-e zamin ast, hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast.” (If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here).
For my family and me, Kashmir has been home for decades. In the 1980s, when Dachigam was still relatively unknown, I was privileged to trek the Himalayan forests in the company of the legendary forest guard Qasim Wani. We would spend hours birding, watching the antics of langurs and waiting with baited breath for sightings of brown and black bears and, of course, that magical creature, the hangul.
I also recall sitting late into the night with the late Mir Inayet Ullah in the company of General R. K. Gaur and Brig. Moti Dar (who went on to become Vice Chief of the Indian Army), speaking about the good fortune of breathing in Himalayan air, drinking water straight from the river and listening to the rutting calls of hangul deer.
Every Kashmiri child now knows that the crystal waters that flow from Upper Dachigam, through the Dagwan river to the Harwan Reservoir and then into the Dal Lake, are vital to the health (and economy) of Srinagar. As the life-giving Dagwan makes the journey from its glacial source in the high Himalaya, it also feeds countless creatures, great and small, including snow leopards, brown and black bears, the endangered hangul deer Cervus elaphus hanglu, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds such as the Koklas and Monal Pheasants and uncountable smaller life forms including insects and spiders, some surely yet to be discovered by science.
As may be expected, Dachigam is fiercely protected to safeguard this ecological wonderland, however, the Government of J&K encourages trekkers, birders and naturalists, and issues permits liberally, provided they have advance information. Speaking for myself, I have never once been to Kashmir without walking Dachigam’s wilds!
But there is vastly more to J&K than this. The state supports as many as 73 mammalian species, 358 species of birds, 68 species of reptiles, 14 different amphibians and as many as 158 types of butterflies. It’s a wealth that cannot be measured in financial terms.