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Indian pilgrims disappointed by dry pond at Katas Raj

Indian pilgrims disappointed by dry pond at Katas Raj

CHAKWAL: Sweety Dalvi and her husband Rama Chandra are visiting the Katas Raj from Bangalore for the first time.

“I was smitten by the amr kund (fabled pond) of Katas Raj when I saw pictures of it on the internet,” Ms Dalvi told Dawn.

“My husband and I were very excited when we left for Pakistan but when we reached here, we were very disappointed by the state of the pond,” she said.

Like Ms Dalvi, 83 other pilgrims came to Katas Raj on Dec 2 from various Indian states and were just as disappointed to see the pond, which only has about six inches of water and that too in a small portion of the lake.

“We could not perform Ashnan at the amr kund on Saturday morning as there was not enough water in the pond to take a bath in,” she said, adding that Ashnan is one of the main rituals of a Yatra or pilgrimage.

The pilgrims are led by Shiv Partab Bajaj who belongs to the city of Yamuna Nagar in the state of Haryana.

“It is our belief that the earth has two eyes. One is the fabled pond of Pushkar in the state of Rajasthan and the second is Katas Raj,” Shiv Partab Bajaj told Dawn. According to Hindu mythology, both the sacred ponds came into existence by the tears of Lord Shiva, who wept uncontrollably at the demise of his beloved wife, Sati.

‘The Yatra is incomplete without the Ashnan,” Mr Bajaj said.

“Every yatri has to dip his body and head in the amr kund, or fabled pond. That is the only way the Ashnan can be completed. We had to pour water over our body with a mug today,” he said.

Mr Bajaj said he has been visiting Katas Raj since 1982 but has never seen it in such a bad condition. He said he has a special bond with the lake as his mother was born in Dulmial, a neighbouring village hardly 6km from Katas Raj. “We had problems with the visa and only got them two days before our Yatra. Some 166 pilgrims had applied but only 131 of us got the visa. Of these, 37 could not come from the south of India as the visas were only issued two days before the Yatra date,” Mr Bajaj said and stressed on the need for increasing visas for pilgrims.

“According to the 1973 agreement, only 200 pilgrims could visit Katas Raj. This restriction should be ended,” he said. A similar plea was made by another yatri from the state of Haryana, Jivan Das.

“We were received very warmly by the Pakistani government but were disappointed by the state of the pond,” Mr Das said, adding that he was born in Multan. The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) hosted a ceremony in honour of the pilgrims on Saturday.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Bajaj and another pilgrim, Chetna Sharma, thanked the government and the ETPB for making arrangements for the Indian pilgrims.

ETPB Chairman Mohammad Siddiqul Farooq assured the pilgrims that water will be restored in the fabled pond. He said the pond had dried up due to less rain, cement plants and the use of underground water for domestic and agriculture purposes.

“Restoring the pond is top priority for the Punjab government,” he said and urged pilgrims to spread the message of love and peace in India.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2017

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