The Newt of Chuharnag
Margan Pass at 3810 m is a Pass which connects the Kashmir Valley with the fascinating Wardwan Valley in the Kishtwar District. However the main Pass which connects Kishtwar proper to Kashmir is the Sinthan Pass and that is the Route which is usually taken.The Newt of Chuharnag
The Margan Pass which has in recent years become Motorable (though the climb is tough one) is as fascinating as ever and has many stories connected to it as from Wadwan one can cross over to Suru Valley or even Zanskar or the Lidder Valley or even Amarnath. I had trekked across the Margan Pass into Warwan in 1989 as a part of school Trek and we had camped just under the Pass and it was just amazing.
As it so happens near the Pass and a short hike away lie a couple of Alpine Lakes which I have not had the opportunity of visiting but they are on my List. One of these is called Chuharnag Lake or the Tsuharnag Lake. Point to be noted is that the Wadwan has for centuries being a region which straddles almost all the three Divisions of the state Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh has been a haven for all kinds of renegades throughout history. I had recounted the story of Chamal Singh and Co, a disgraced General who became a very successful Dacoit and spread terror all across the Pir Panjals.
But this particular Lake has certain mystical stories attached to it which are fascinating to say the least. The Lake gives great views of the Valleys around and is surrounded on three sides by grassy sloped Mountains which abound with flowers in the Summers. Those who have been to the Lake swear by the beauty of the Lake and a Lake such as this one was sure to have Legends attached to it as the norm with the Ancients.
Apparently the Chuharnag Lake was the guardian angel of the Kutahar Pargana in Kashmir though ironically not a drop of water from this Lake comes into Kashmir and flows into the Warwan River which is a tributary of the Chenab. The Kutahar Pargana consisted of a number of Villages like Tserpura, Shangas, Naogam and Achabal. I have spent nearly a year in Achabal as a toddler so I kinda like the place and the whole area as such.
Another story about the Chuharnag is the one about its family. Apparently Chuharnag’s mother sent her Eldest son to look for a place where they could live comfortably. The son returned and told her that he found a place but it only had room for him but not her. The Mother cursed him and he was turned into a spring coming out of white Rocks in a crag in the Mountainside. Its still there. Next she asked Chuharnag for the same thing. He came back and told his Mother though he had found a place but it only had Room for her but none for him. The Mother was impressed with him and granted him a preeminent place in the surroundings. The Mother also became a spring which used to be called Maji (Mother).
But the most interesting Legend of the Lake consisted of a Newt (a kind of Lizard for the ones not aware). These Himalayan Newts are found on the banks of some Alpine Lakes in the Himalayas. It is said, that since the Kutahar Paragna was mostly dependent on rain water for their crops (as Chuharnag used to send the water to the Chenab), the Hindus and Muslims of the Pargana used to send a Brahmin priests every year to come and pray at Chuharnag for the rains and make a sacrifice to the Rain Gods.
After having done this the Brahmin used to look for the Newts and eventually catch one. Once caught they put the Newt in a bowl filled with the Lakes water. Next they invoke the Lord of the Chuharnag and inform him that please grant us good Rains and in order to ensure you do the same we will carry the Newt down with us a “guest”. So basically the Newt was taken hostage in return for good rains.
But of course the Lords are also smart. Though it worked most of the times sometimes a smarty pants Lord would just cause Rainfall in the Mountains and not the Villages themselves. Well it didnt say anywhere in the agreement where they were supposed to cause the Rainfall.
The Brahmins were no less. In the beginning the Hostage is kept at a Brahmins place. And when they realise that the Lords have played the ‘Rain in the Mountains and not in the Villages” trick they turn the Newt over to the “scavengers” at that time at the lowest rung in the hierarchy of the Caste System. Of course this was a chastisement that even the Lords couldnt do with. And they had no options but to make the rains in the Villages.
Of course once the Rains came the Newt was ceremoniously released into the spring waters around the Village in a special ceremony. The Lords fulfill what is asked from them and as a result the hostage is honourably released. But during this period if any harm would befall the Newt then the wrath of the Lords would befall the family who were taking care of the Hostage. And incase the hostage died then a member of the family would also die as devised by the Lords.
Of course this is no longer the case. But once you hear such stories then the fascination for visiting such a place just goes to another level. Try and hike upto the Lake next time and try looking for a Newt but make sure not to take it back home as a Hostage ! :)
Story Source : The Legendary Sir Ram Chander Kak.
Pic from Summers. Chuharnag Lake, Margan pass, Jammu and Kashmir. Photo credit Aarif Mountaineer