Songs of Soan: Rawalpindi river has become a sludgy mess

It dates back to Stone Age
soan river

There was a time when Rawalpindi residents used to fish in the crystal clears waters of River Soan but now the freshwater has been replaced by sewage sludge.

Chaudhry Muhammad Amjad, a Rawalpindi resident, recalls that he used to go with his friend to catch fish from Soan River at the bridge alongside the Grand Truck Road----which now has been turned into a terminal for passenger buses and vans.

Those were the days when the water was clear and people used to visit it with their fishing rods and nets, Amjad remarked. The river was famous for its rare breeds of fish such as Balm fish and Mahseer.  

soan river


“Now, the scenario has changed because of water pollution,” he lamented. “The fish have disappeared and it has been contaminated because nearby housing societies dump their sewage waste into it.”

The water body has a length of 250 kilometres. It starts from the hills of Murree and nowadays drains water of the Pothohar region. Other streams such as Korang River, Ling Stream and Lai Nullah flow into it too.

The Islamabad Highway crosses it near Sihala and a known construction in the area, Kak Pul has been built over it. It still supplies water to Simly Dam, a water reservoir for Islamabad, but after passing through recently-built housing societies in Rawalpindi it becomes a sludge because of sewerage dump. It joins River Indus at Pirpiyahi, the proposed site of the controversial Kalabagh Dam.

Unmapped changes

According to Muhammad Qasim, the assistant director at Pakistan Survey, Rawalpindi, his records show that the river’s width is a just a little further away from a private housing society. The width becomes 280 metres near the housing society and then seems to shrink to less than 50 metres near the Fauji Foundation Hospital.

Unfortunately, Rawalpindi’s Pakistan Survey office did not have old maps of the district which could’ve been used to gauge the geographical changes of different landmarks.

“We only have coupleof copies of old maps in our record and these copies too are available at our Murree office,” the assistant director said. We don’t maintain archives at the district level.

If you visit the Survey of Pakistan office, then you can only access the updated maps and guide maps of Pakistan for a fixed fee. The old maps of the Rawalpindi district have been destroyed and only two companies are available at the Murree office. But accessing the Murree office for maps is no less than a Herculean task because of red tape.

‘No ordinary river’

Soan River isn’t just an ordinary river as it is associated with an archaeological culture which is said to be older than Mohenjo Daro.

According to Sajjad Azhar, who is an expert on Soanian Culture in Pakistan, his research suggests that the Soanian Culture dates back to the Stone Age. He said the width of the river’s beds at some places is estimated to be miles long.

His research suggests that the riverbed had spanned from Rawat to Koral Chowk, adding that it used to be a magnificent and majestic river in its time.

He believes that long ago River Jhelum used to flow into itbut later on it diverted its direction.

“If people minutely look into the stones pebbles at its riverbed, it would be revealed that they are of different colours such as blue, green and red which is contrary to the soil structure of Murree hills.” This means that it used to previously flow from the mountains of Himalaya and Karakoram.

The magnificence of this river eroded with time and environmental changes have significantly altered its shape and size.

The river has shrunk because of the construction of housing societies near it. This is the reason why a housing society named after this rived flooded last year during monsoon rains. “Rivers always reclaim their land,” he added.

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