Karewas: A Treasure of Kashmir Soon To Be Lost Forever

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The Kashmir valley is an oval-shaped basin, 140 km long and 40 km wide, trending in the NNW–SSE direction. It is an intermountain valley fill, comprising of unconsolidated gravel and mud. A succession of plateaus is present above the Plains of Jhelum and its tributaries. These plateau-like terraces are called ‘Karewas’ or ‘Vudr’ in the local language. Despite continuous erosion since millions of years, more than half of the valley is still occupied by the Karewa. These sediments are dominantly lacustrine in origin. Due to the rise of Pirpanjal, the drainage was impounded and a lake of about 5000 sq. km area was developed and thus a basin was formed.

Karewa sediments are treasures of many human civilizations and habitations. The Stone Age man has survived the harshest of the Pleistocene glaciations through these karewas. Apart from the Stone Age man, the remains of Buddhist Stupas on the Karewas show Buddhist influence of the time. The Brahman rulers have also left their footprints on these sediments, which can be seen near Pattan, Awantipora and Mattan. Rishis and Sufi saints are not far behind when it comes to occupying the highest reaches of the Karewas.

The Karewa deposits in the Kashmir valley have been conventionally divided into two stages, lower and upper, representing argillaceous and arenaceous facies respectively. The upper Karewas are less fossiliferous than the lower Karewas. The entire belt touching the foothills of the Pirpanjal represents the lower Karewas, which has been exposed to the rivers starting from the south such as Veshav, Rembiara, Romushu, Dodhganga, Shaliganga, Boknag nar and Ningli. Lower Karewa sections at Aharbal, Anantnag, Arigam, Baramulla have been exposed by these rivers.

The rest of the Karewa sediments occupy the middle of the entire flank of the valley, including Pampore, Srinagar, Burzuhom, Dilpur, Pattan, Parihaspora, and parts of Baramulla District. These represent upper Karewas of the valley. The late Cenozoic deposits exposed in the Kashmir valley assume special significance as they are extensively fluvioglacial, fluvial, lacustrine and eolian in origin. The age determination of a Karewa is based on the correlation between Karewa and Shiwalik fauna from India and Pakistan. As far as the age of Karewas is concerned, the lack of chronological control has impeded the development of a detailed reconstruction of the Karewas depositional history in the intermountain basin of the valley. 

In the past, correlations between exposures have been based primarily on lithological similarities and limited palaeontologicaldata. Magnetostratigraphy and fission track method dating allow a reliable chronology for the sediments deposited in the basin. The dated Karewa sediments span the interval from 3.0 to 0.4 m.y. Geological field expeditions by a number of national and international workers have helped collect a wealth of fossil data in the last two centuries. Vertebrate palaeontological studies of the Karewa Group date to the time of Godwin-Austen (1864), which reports of fish scales from Gogjapatri, Liddarmarg and Yusmarg. Hora described the remains of Schizothorax and Oreinus from the Ningli Nala section at Butapatri. DeTerra and Paterson reported Elephas hysudricus, Cervus, Rhinoceros, Felis and Shivatheriumgiganteum from Somber and Nagam sections. Apart from the micro and mega vertebrate fossils, Karewas are rich in Ostrocods, which provide palaeoecological significance. The different studies carried on Ostrocods show that the upper Karewas were deposited in a large, permanent, cool, slightly alkaline lake which was fed by a number of sluggish weedy tributaries. In the same way, palaeoenvironment of lower Karewas was deposited under partly shallow to deep lacustrine, partly fluvial and swampy conditions. The Ostrocods are highly suitable for palaeoecological studies because of their excellent preservation, great abundance and rapid dispersal. 

However, people in the area seem to be destroying these table lands at the cost of development and petty commerce, ignoring the geological and aesthetic significance of these formations even though alternative construction and building material is available in vast amounts. This only shows our ignorance about understanding earth sciences as a subject. The rich fertile soil is being used for landfill purposes at construction sites which is not only wastage of resource, but a threat taking into account the high seismic zone our Valley falls into. The rush of trucks and tractors into these areas for soil results in air pollution. The dust blocks the stomata of the leaves of apple trees which then causes the trees to dry up. The dust also causes serious health problems to the local people.

The karewas are home to unique biodiversity. The famous almond orchids are best grown in the soils of karewas. Their destruction results in the loss of such a unique biodiversity of Kashmir. The negligence of the concerned authorities will lead to the destruction of these karewas especially in Pattan area. The government employees take money from the people and give them permission to destroy these karewas without knowing the impacts which are faced by all of us. Hundreds of examples are found around the Pattan area where agricultural lands are filled, especially alongside National Highways.

In fact, the agriculture of the valley dominantly survives and sustains on Karewa soils. The world famous saffron from Pampore and apples from Shopian are best examples in support of my claim. The rampant anthropogenic erosion since a couple of years has reduced these plateau lands into ugly ravines. Thus we need to preserve this geological treasure and legacy for the generations to come. Government has to give special attention for preventing the destruction of these special treasures of Kashmir; else the results will be deleterious in the future.

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