The Forgotten Deity: Sheshnag Lake in Trouble
En route to the Amarnath cave, is a beautiful alpine lake, revered most by Hindus due to its religious history and the rest because of its placid nature. Lake Sheshnag is situated at an altitude of 3590 metres above sea level, reclining midst the Himalayan mountain ranges. Though the lake is just about a kilometre long, nevertheless its importance in the Lidder valley ecosystem is significant. Snow melt from nearby mountains forms the primary inflow of this lake while the major outflow is a tributary which later on joins the Lidder River further down in Pahalgam. Rich in fish species like the brown trout that is endemic to the lake, Sheshnag is oligotrophic in nature i.e. this lake has low nutrient content with high oxygen levels. Situated at such an altitude has resulted in Sheshnag being devoid of a large number of plant or animal species but its ecological importance is not diminished. The lake freezes during winters from the month of December to March. During the yatra season, the lake is in its prime, with sparkling fresh water and lush meadows extending towards its perimeter. The best months for visiting are June to September. Although mostly a yatra route, apart from the Hindu pilgrims, many nature enthusiasts do journey to this lake during summers.
Like most lakes in the high altitude region, Sheshnag is relatively safe from encroachments, siltation, fertilizer pollution, or loss of biodiversity. What, however, afflicts the lake is garbage disposal and littering. This is usually seen during Amarnath yatra when pilgrims, to pay obeisance at the Shiva shrine, pass through this lake. It has been observed that littering of containers, confectionery wrappers, water bottles, and single-use plastic material escalates during these months. Instead of utilizing biodegradable material or steel/aluminium containers, pilgrims often take the easy way out and opt for single-use plastics. These containers can be easily discarded anywhere by devotees, thus reducing their cargo but increasing burden on the lake environment. The lake periphery and associated pathways can be seen plagued haphazardly by non-decomposable material that in turn reduces the calm Sheshnag Lake is so famously known for. Although the competent authority responsible for the pilgrimage appoints volunteers and staff to clean up the mess, yet the need to ascertain such damage is not repeated in the future looms in apathy.
Journey to one of the holiest Hindu shrines is afflicted by degradation of the environment. To prevent this, pilgrims must be made aware of the dilemma Sheshnag would face if this blatant ignorant behaviour continues. In the same vein, the government and authorities responsible for this sacred journey should make sure no such material, with potential to cause irreversible damage to this pristine ecosystem, is allowed. For now the lake is safe, with rapid action taken to prevent damage. But for how long can this continue? Until and unless no input of SUPs (single-use plastics) is authorized, the lake would continue to head towards an unfortunate decrepit condition. What we require now is proper management on part of every organisation, government or private, to ascertain no harm is afflicted on Sheshnag and that the lake is not led to its ruin.