By: Aubaid Ahmad Akhoon
“In the midst of the bustling activities of life, there lies an opportunity to embrace the divine beauty of Allah’s creation and reflect upon its significance. As the renowned philosopher John Muir once eloquently said, ‘In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.’ This timeless wisdom guided us, cousins Umar Akhoon, Javaid Akhoon, Tariq Ahmad Akhoon, and myself, on a soul-enriching journey to the hidden gem of Naranag, nestled amid the picturesque landscapes of Ganderbal, Jammu and Kashmir.” This hidden gem, untouched by the bustling city of Srinagar, offered us an awe-inspiring experience. As we ventured into the heart of this pristine land, we discovered not only its enchanting beauty but also the need for its preservation and upliftment.
Our sojourn to Naranag was not only a voyage to cherish its majestic beauty but also a revelation of the challenges faced by this enchanting land.
Naranag – A Natural Masterpiece: Naranag, located in the Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir, holds the key to the mesmerizing beauty of the natural world. Surrounded by stunning mountains and enriched by the crystal-clear waters of the Naranag River, this place serves as a testament to Allah’s divine artistry. The lush greenery, vibrant flora, and glistening waters form a harmonious symphony that captivates the soul.
Preserving Nature’s Bounty: However, during our journey, it became apparent to us that this place, despite its allure, has not received the attention it deserves from the authorities. Basic amenities like proper waste disposal bins, bathrooms, and tap water were conspicuously absent, leading to littering that marred the pristine landscape. Our responsibility as caretakers of the environment compelled us to take the initiative and ensure proper waste disposal and provide basic amenities to maintain the ecological balance.
Amidst the allure of the natural landscape, we took it upon ourselves to preserve the ecological balance by bringing a gas cylinder and essential camping equipment from home, ensuring that we could arrange food and cooking responsibly during our visit.
However, our heart sank as we witnessed a distressing sight – numerous tourists recklessly cutting down precious green trees in the jungle, squandering the invaluable resources that nature bestowed upon us. To our dismay, there was a conspicuous absence of forest department personnel to enforce protection measures.
This magnificent place, steeped in historical significance, appeared to have been forsaken by the hands of time and the government’s attention. It is a sobering reminder of the urgent need for more effective conservation efforts and responsible tourism practices. As stewards of the environment, we must take it upon ourselves to safeguard these natural wonders and ensure that they remain untouched by reckless exploitation, preserving their splendour for generations to come.
Challenges of Connectivity and Communication: Moreover, the lack of modern amenities such as reliable telecom networks and accessible roads posed considerable challenges for both locals and tourists. The absence of government intervention in developing essential infrastructure in this area raised concerns about the welfare of the people who call Naranag their home.
Empowering the Local Community: Naranag, with its potential to be an ideal tourist destination, has the opportunity to become a source of livelihood for the impoverished communities residing in the region. By providing employment opportunities, such as eco-tourism and other sustainable initiatives, the local populace can lead better lives while preserving their cultural heritage.
Promoting Responsible Tourism: To ensure that Naranag’s charm remains intact for generations to come, it is essential to promote responsible tourism. Visitors must be encouraged to adopt eco-friendly practices, respecting the environment and its inhabitants. Additionally, initiatives for the preservation of the natural habitat and wildlife conservation must be put into action.
Unearthing History: The Ancient Monuments of Naranag, a place ensconced in the lap of nature on the banks of Wangath Nallah, reveals a mesmerizing tale of ancient glory. As we set foot on this enchanting valley, we were greeted by an unexpected discovery an ancient notice board by the Archaeology Department, narrating the captivating history of this mystical site.
A Tribute to a Great King and Builder: The temples and structures that adorn Naranag are attributed to the reign of Lalitaditya Muktapida, a renowned king and visionary ruler who graced the land during the circa A.D. 724-61 era. Known for his grand vision and architectural prowess, Lalitaditya left behind an indelible legacy in the form of these awe-inspiring monuments.
The Past Names of Naranag: This ancient sanctuary was once referred to as Sodaratirtha, Nandikshetra, and Bhutesvara. The amalgamation of these names echoes the sacred significance that Naranag held for the people of yore. Standing testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of the region, the temples have withstood the test of time.
Eastern Group: A Marvel of Enclosure: The Eastern Group of temples comprises a grand main shrine surrounded by eleven subsidiary shrines, all enclosed within a sacred enclosure. An intriguing feature of this group is a rectangular stone trough, found outside the northwest corner of the enclosure wall, which encloses a spring. The water from this spring was ingeniously channelled into the main shrine through a stone-built drain supported by sturdy stone posts. Near the spring, we discovered a small temple with a double-tiered pyramidical roof that had recently been exposed. The area surrounding this group beckons further exploration, promising more fascinating structures waiting to be uncovered.
A Bridge Between East and West: Nestled between the Eastern and Western Groups is the plinth of an ancient structure, possibly a pillared hall, along with the remains of a small shrine. This bridge-like connection highlights the interconnectedness of these majestic monuments, serving as a physical reminder of the harmonious coexistence of various architectural marvels.
Western Group: A Jewel on High Ground: Perched on a higher ground, the Western Group boasts six splendid temples, retaining their magnificence within a slate-stone wall. The main shrine stands tall with two entrances, exuding an aura of sacred grandeur. On the northern side, a massive retaining wall, constructed with immense granite blocks, safeguards the temples from the encroaching material from the hillside, preserving their timeless beauty.
Preserving the Treasures of Naranag: As we delved deeper into the history of Naranag, we recognized the significance of preserving these ancient marvels for future generations. The Archaeological Survey of India, under the guidance of the Superintending Archaeologist from Srinagar Circle, plays a crucial role in safeguarding and maintaining these precious gems of our past.
The journey to Naranag not only allowed us to connect with the breathtaking natural landscapes but also provided a glimpse into the rich history and architectural brilliance of our ancestors. Naranag stands as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, transcending time and leaving an indelible mark on the canvas of history. As we bid adieu to this mystical site, we carry with us the responsibility to cherish and protect these ancient monuments, ensuring that their splendour continues to shine brightly through the sands of time. As we embraced the divine beauty of Allah’s creation, we understood the significance of our role in safeguarding it. By joining hands and working together, we can transform Naranag into a sustainable and flourishing haven for both nature and its people. Let us take the lessons from this journey to our hearts and dedicate ourselves to preserving the splendour of Allah’s bountiful creations for the prosperity of all.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum, Senegalese Forestry Engineer.
These words by Baba Dioum beautifully encapsulate the essence of our responsibility as caretakers of the environment and the importance of understanding and preserving the natural world. As we reflect on our journey to Naranag and the divine beauty we experienced, let us internalize this wisdom and take it to heart in our commitment to safeguarding Allah’s creations for the well-being of future generations. (The author is a renowned columnist & motivational speaker and an associate Editor of the weekly publication ‘Education Quill.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)