Geological evidence and ancient legend agree that the valley of Kashmir was once perhaps a hundred million years ago, one vast lake hundreds of feet deep. In prehistoric times, the basin of Kashmir contained a lake much larger than that of today. The sand stone rock at the western corner of the basin seems to have been rent by some cataclysm followed by attrition; and the lake was drained by the deepening of the Baramulla gorge, which was the slow process of erosion by water, and which must have taken hundreds of years to accomplish. The country could be inhabited only in summer by nomads due to prolonged extreme cold climate and they migrated southward in winter. In time, however, the climate became temperate, and Kashmir came to be the abode of a permanent and prosperous agricultural community. ( The earlier observation of a great prehistoric lake has been contested and abandoned by Mr. R.D.Oldham in 1903 after studying the Karewas which according to him are of fluviatile and not of lacustrine origin and that there was never at any time materially a larger lake than at the present day.)
The old name Satisaras was replaced by Ka-samira that may be taken to mean (land) from which water (Ka) has been drained off by wind (Samira). According to another interpretation, Kashmir is a Prakrit compound with its components: kas, meaning a channel and mir, meaning a mountain. Kas-mir could thus mean a rock trough. In its configuration, Kashmir is a deep trough (84 X 20 to 25 miles) with rocky walls.
The other theory — that Kashmir, or Kashir as named by its inhabitants, was so called on account of the settlement of a race of men called Kash, who were a Semitic tribe and founded what are now called the cities of Kash, Kashan, and Kashghar— has yet to be properly investigated. The fact is that the name Kashmir is ancient and has been used throughout its known history of an unbroken chain of documents for more than 23 centuries, while the name is undoubtedly far more ancient.The inhabitants pronounce it as Kashir, which is the direct derivative of Kashmir with the loss of ‘m’. In Kashir or Koshur—the inhabitants of Kashir and the language of Kashir, ‘u’ replaces ‘I’
The recent finds at Pandrethan, Takht-i-Sulaiman, Vendrahom, Rangyil, Naran Nag, Arhom and Burzahom in Kashmir establish the existence of Stone Age.
The wide prevalence of Naga-worship before and even after the Buddhist period indicates that the first settlers in the Kashmir Valley must have been the people, known as aborigines, who had spread over the whole of India before the advent of Aryans. Nothing is known as to the stage of civilization these early inhabitants had attained when they entered Kashmir.
Next have come the Aryans, the Jews, and the Sayids from Iran, Bukhara and other parts of Central Asia besides the Arabs. Thus the present population of Kashmir is an admixture of aborigines with slight Jewish, large Aryan and some other foreign elements.
The fertile river valleys of the Nile in Egypt, Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, Indus in Pakistan, Ganges and Yamuna in India and yellow river in China, besides other rivers including River Jhelum in Kashmir were able to support very large populations and it was here that great urban civilizations of the ancient world emerged and thrived. Although cities developed independently in several regions they shared certain characteristics.
The Japanese are reported to have expressed high regards for Kashmir as it is the first land-mass to emerge after the floods of Prophet Noah ( called as Manu ) receded. In fact Kashmir has one of the earliest civilizations which thrived after Noah’s flood and river Jhelum has survived till date as a relic of the past history with age old monuments situated on its banks clustered with buildings of Srinagar Township.
The parent stream of the river Jhelum has its source in a noble spring (Verinag) of deep blue water at the bottom of a spur in the Pir Panjal, just below the Jawahar Tunnel connecting the main highway, wherefrom the beautiful octagonal spring is seen like an emerald set in green pines. An important source of river Jhelum is the lake Sheshnag at the head of Liddar tributary. The river Jhelum is a tributary river par excellence. It is joined by Veshav, Rambiara, Romshi, Sukhnag, Dudganga, Tel-bal Nalla flowing into the Dal Lake and thence via Tsunti Khul and also through Brari Numbal besides the Sind through Anchar Lake (now turned swamp). The Dal Lake forms the flood lung of the Jhelum, taking in reverse flows from Jhelum when it floods. The flood spill channel was constructed in the year 1904 to relieve the river of the strain while it passes through the city of Srinagar. The spill channel takes one third of the total flow of the river. The Jhelum flows in loops over river plains apparently quite leveled and gentle slopes. Anantnag is 94 meters higher than Srinagar and Sopore is 34 meters lower than Srinagar. The Jhelum drains off the whole valley of Kashmir catering the whole catchment area and is the most westerly of the five rivers of Punjab.
The Wular is the largest fresh water lake in India, 16 Kms. long and 10 Kms wide. The river Jhelum enters it from the Southeast and leaves it to the west near Sopore, which is a typical delta formed by the silt. Small streams like Habuja, Anrah, Erin, Pohru, and Madhumati at Bandipur flow into the lake. The river Jhelum becomes shallow and sand banks appear in the river bed obstructing navigation. It is only in spring (May-July) that rainfall causes the snow to melt at higher elevations on the surrounding mountains and cause floods. The river Jhelum has been described as both a blessing and as a curse in floods.
Beyond Baramgul at Baramulla where the river is hardly 30 meters wide and 3 meters deep flowing between steep mountains, the Jhelum enters a narrow gorge through which it flows a distance of 128 kms. till it reaches Muzaffarabad (Domel) to join the river Kishen Ganga, which drains the northern rim of the Kashmir basin in Telal, Gurez and Sharda. At Uri the river changes its course and flows in through mountain ranges towards Muzaffarabad (1543 meters) with a fall of 1: 160.
The river Jhelum called the ‘Vyeth’ in Kashmiri, ‘Vetasta’ in Sanskrit,’Hydapas’ in Greek and ‘Bidapas’ of Ptolemy, forms the main arterial system to the valley with its affluent canals and lakes. The basis of the name Jhelum is apparently of Muslim origin as Abu Raihan al Biruni calls it JAILAM, perhaps derived from ‘Jihl’ implying slowness on the analogy of Kahil or Al Hadi for the Pacific. Cirivara sanskritizes the name into Jaylami.
The river Jhelum is a trough formed between the Great Himalayan range and the Pir Panjal range. Oval in shape, the diameter of the valley runs parallel to the general direction of the two ranges of about 230 Kms. The alluvium, with which the valley is filled, has a depth of 6000 ft. which according to geologists gave shape to a unique geometric character in the form of lacustrine and fluvatile karewas bordering the margins of the mountains surrounding the valley.
History is witness to the fact that much of the internal commerce depended on the Jhelum. If Egypt be the gift of Nile, it is truer that Kashmir is gift of Jhelum. There is no other instance of a valley of the dimensions of the Kashmir and at an altitude of over 5000 ft. above the sea level, having a broad river intersecting it for such a long distance. Before the construction of motor able road between Srinagar and Khanabal and also between Srinagar and Baramulla (Jhelum Valley Road), it was the Jhelum which was the great highway of passenger and goods traffic up and down the valley.
Srinagar since the dawn of history has remained the capital city of the Kashmir Valley and its growth through different periods of Kashmir history has been very interesting. This Venice of the East owed its importance to its compactness and its large population, its organized public opinion and the superior culture of its inhabitants. ‘Its alliance or opposition almost always proved a decisive factor in determining the fortunes of war’. Besides, Srinagar’s artisans made the city an emporia of trade. Thus it’s central, commercial, political and cultural importance explains why the attempts made from time to time to remove the seat of government to some other place proved abortive.
During the Muslim rule (1320-1819) in Kashmir the ancient name of the capital fell into disuse. The city of Srinagar was termed ‘Kashmir’, the same as country. Accordingly with the exception of Mirza Haidar, Abul Fazl, and Jahangir, almost all Mughal chroniclers call it either ‘Kashmir’ or ‘Shahr-i-Kashmir’. Bernnier and Desideri who visited Kashmir during the Mughal rule also use the name ‘Kashmir’ and not Srinagar for the capital. For several centuries Srinagar was thus known until the advent of the Sikhs in 1819 who restored the old Hindu name, by which it is at present called.
Most of the towns like Anantnag, Bijbehara, Awantipur, Pulwama, Pampur, Srinagar, Safapore, Bandipur, Sopor, Varmul, Bonyar and Uri etc. have thrived on the banks of river Jhelum and lake fronts. The Srinagar City has grown over the past 23 centuries at an average elevation of 1586 meters above M.S.L. on either banks of river Jhelum of Kashmir valley, so vast and so level that the people living here have forgotten that they live in Himalayas. Making a sharp loop the Jhelum (200 ft. wide) swirls through the heart of Srinagar City. The City has cradled along Jhelum over a length of about 20 Kms. and an average depth of 5 Kms. each on either side. The City has distinctly a twin city character.
Old city is huddled brick to brick and roof to roof in most parts. It has practically no parks and play fields. Mini grave yards in some huddled parts serve as lung spaces. It is a city of narrow lanes 4 to 6 ft.wide. About the old city of Srinagar, Col. Torren wrote in his travels about 130 years back that ‘ The houses huddled themselves close together and at last form a street—narrow, dirty and strong warm light, on the dark, foul foot way and through it you see the sluggish stream glittering in the sun light and covered with boats of all sizes, and on the left bank you see reproduced a facsimile of the right bank, the same houses and the same land places, the same people in the crowded dwellings of the capital city of Srinagar’.
‘What Col. Torren had seen more than a century before, we find such characteristics and form of the city still existing in old parts of the city, for their has been no effort by the State Govt. in the direction of the conservative surgery, road widening and slum clearance. The Circular Road Project under Urban Renewal Programme seems to have been left half way in many parts of the core area.
The chronological development of Srinagar City has been as under:
250 B.C.: Srinagri the city of Sri, an appellation of goddess Lakshmi founded by King Asoka at the site of present village of Pandrethan on the right bank of river Jhelum, about two and a half kilometer from the Takht-i-Sulaiman hill. Pandrethan derives its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Puranadhisthana’ literally, the old capital.
6th century A.D.: A new city was founded by Paravarsen II near Kohi Maran hill. This was called Paravarapora and extended only along the right bank of the river Jhelum. It was the old name of Srinagari which triumphed over the new city of Paravarpura.
The later Hindu rulers are reported to have transferred the capital from one place to another. Laltaditya founded Parihaspura, Jaipida laid out the city of Jayapura, Avantivarman founded the city of Avantipura. Samkarapura, Kaniskapura, Juskapura and Hushkapura were some other ancient capitals of Kashmir. But all these later capitals lost their importance and decayed as is seen by their ruins. It was the capital of Parversen alone which has survived various attempts to change it.
1028-63 A.D.: King Ananta transferred the royal palace to the left bank of River Jhelum.
1344-56 A.D.: Sultan Alauddin founded Alauddinpora at Srinagar which at present comprises the locality situated between Jamia Masjid and Alikadal. He made Jayapidpora as his capital and built Cri Rinchanpora, an edifice named Bughagira, which is now a mohalla near Ali Kadal in Srinagar.
1356-74 A.D.: Sultan Shihabuddin selected the Hari Parbat for his capital. He extended the borders of GREATER KASHMIR to Phakli, Kabul, Badhakhshan, Ghazni, Ghor, Kandhar and Heart on the west and Gilgit and Dardistan on the North and Jammu, Kishtwar, Swad, Peshawur, Multan, Lahore, whole of Punjab and defeated the army of Feroz Shah Thghaluq on the banks of Satluj near Delhi, when Hazrat Amir Kabir Mir Sayid Ali Hamdani intervened and a truce was entered into between the two kings, fixing Sirhind as the border of GREATER KASHMIR on the South.
1374-89 A.D.: Sultan Qutbuddin laid the foundation of Qutbuddinpora, on which two mohallas of Srinagar namely Langarhatta and Pir Haji Mohammad now stand.
1389-1413 A.D.: Sultan Sikandar built a mosque known as Khankahi Mualla on the right bank of river Jhelum. He also built Jamia Mosque.
1420-70 A.D.: Sultan Zainul Aabidin (Budshah) built Zainakadal, founded Nav Shahar near Srinagar, the Mar Canal—main artery of communication between the Srinagar city and the villages near the Dal Lake.Budshah built the Khanqah of Sayid Mohammad Madni near Navshehr—the new capital built by him, besides two artificial isles of Rupa-Lank and Sona-Lank to beautify the city. He is reported to have introduced the new industries like that of shawl, carpet, silk, papier machie, wood-carving, namdha and ghabba. These industries made Srinagar famous emporium of trade. In addition he introduced stone- polishing, stone-cutting, glass-blowing, widow-cutting, gold and silver leaf making, book-binding and above all paper manufacture in Kagazgari mohalla at Naushehar. These industries were found only in Samarqand and Bukhara at the time.
1470-72 A.D.: Sultan Haidar Shah transferred his seat of government from Naushehar to Nowhatta.
1472-84 A.D.: Sultan Hasan Shah shifted the capital to Naushehar again.
!540-50 A.D.: Mirza Haidar Dughlat found the city of Srinagar thickly populated. In his time there were lofty buildings constructed of freshly cut pine. According to him most of these buildings were five storied, each story containing apartments, halls, galleries and towers. The streets were paved with stone. There were shops of retail dealers, grocers, drapers etc. There were no large bazaars, for the wholesale business was done by the traders in their own houses or factories. During his regime there was lot of musicians. And he is praised for introducing the hot-baths, latticed windows and the apparatus of drying paddy, locally known as ‘narahlul’.
1555-86 A.D.: Chak rulers marked by internal feuds.
1586-1753A.D.: Mughals ruled Kashmir. During the early period of this rule Srinagar became the headquarters of the army occupation, constantly engaged in war. The political history during the Moghul rule is centered round the Hari Parbhat fort, Takht-i-Sulaiman hill, Nowhatta, Naushahar and the area in the vicinity of Jamia Mosque. The events that occurred in these parts of the city during Akbar’s reign were very decisive for Kashmir. Akbar first entered Kashmir on 5th June 1589. During the second visit to the city on 7th October 1592, the great Moghul enjoyed the saffron blossom at Pampore and celebrated the festival of Diwali. On this occasion the boats on the Jhelum, the banks of the river and the roofs of the houses in Srinagar were illuminated at the Emperor’s command. Akbar’s third visit to Kashmir on 6th June 1597 was accompanied with the famine, which forced the mothers of children to put them on sale in public places in the city. The emperor is said to have ordered a strongly bastioned stone wall to be built around the slope of the Hari Parbhat hillock in the city. The township within this fort wall was named as ‘Nagar Nagar’
1606-1628 A.D.; Jehangir became so enamored of the vale of Kashmir as to make it ‘the place of his favorite abode, and he often declared that he would rather be deprived of every province of his mighty empire than loose Kachemire’. His visits to the valley brought an era of splendor and prosperity to Srinagar. It is said that in his time there were 800 gardens in the vicinity of Dal Lake ‘and the owners, the nobles of the court, were certain to follow the example of their master in making full use of the facilities that Kashmir so readily offers for pleasure- seeking and enjoyment.
1664-65 A.D.: Aurangzeb’s governor Islam Khan rebuilt Ali Masjid at Idgah, a 16th century dilapidated structure, and lined its extensive compound with chinar trees.
1665-68 A.D.: Saif Khan laid out the garden of Saifabad on the banks of the Dal Lake.
1669-72 A.D.: Saif Khan spanned the Safa Kadal Bridge over the Jhelum in Srinagar in 1670.
1698-1701 A.D.: Fazil Khan raised the embankment (bund) at Haft Chinar near Hazuri Bagh in the city to save it from recurrent floods of the Doodhganga River. The bund was lined with chinar trees to strengthen it.
1669A.D. The Holy relic (Moi Mubarak) of the Prophet Mohammad (PBH) brought to the city by a rich Kashmiri merchant Noor-ud-Din Ishbari. The relic was later on kept at Hazratbal mosque (Baghi Sadiq abad), which is known as Second Madina (Madinat-ul-Thani) , because of its supreme religious importance in Kashmir.
Under the Mughals Srinagar was a splendid city by the standards of the time. Father Xavier, Abul Fazl, Fransisco Pelsaert, Jahangir, Bernier and Desideri have all described the city as it existed during the Mughal period. Abul Fazl found the capital of Kashmir a very fascinating city. He remarks, ‘Srinagar is a great city and has long been peopled. The river Behat (Jhelum) flows through it. Most of the houses are of wood and some raise up to five storeys. On the roofs they plant tulips and other flowers, and in the spring these rival flower gardens’. Jahangir described the practice of planting tulip flowers on the roofs of buildings as a peculiarity of the people of Kashmir. Francisco Pelsaert, written in Emperor Jahangir’s time, says,’ the city is very extensive and contains many mosques. The houses are built of pine wood, the interstices being filled with clay, and their style is by no means contemptible; they look elegant, and fit for citizens rather than peasants, and they are ventilated with handsome and artistic open-work, instead of windows or glass. They have flat roofs entirely covered with earth, on which the inhabitants often grow onions, or which are covered with grass, so that during the rains the green roofs and groves make the city most beautiful on a distant view.
Francois Bernier, the famous French physician and traveler, visited Srinagar during Aurangzeb’s reign. He calls the valley of Kashmir the paradise of the Indies. There were only two bridges on river Jhelum. Describing the houses in the city, he remarks that although most part is of wood, the houses were well built and consisted of two or three storeys. Wood was preferred by the people of the city because of its cheapness and the facility with which it was brought from the mountains by means of so many small rivers. Most of the houses in the city had also their gardens, and not a few had a canal. On which the owner kept ‘a pleasure boat, thus communicating with the lake’.
Father Ippolito Desideri and Manoel Freyre arrived in Srinagar on 13th November, 1714. The later in a letter from Agra dated 26th April,1717, dwells on the same points that Desideri had noted—the populous character of Srinagar, its lakes surrounded by pleasant gardens and crowded with boats for pleasure and commerce and the lilies growing on the roofs of the houses. Desideri makes mention of the small and large boats. The later must have been the ‘doonga’, the precursor of the modern houseboat. Indeed, Desideri seeing Srinagar at the end of Mughal rule, found it at its best.
1713-1819A.D: Afghans ruled the valley. Some of the Afghan Governors did much for the beautification of Kashmir’s capital. Amir Khan Jawansher (1770-76) reconstructed the Sona Lank in the Dal Lake and raised a seven storied mansion upon it. He rebuilt the Amira Kadal Bridge, which had been washed away by inundation in 1772. He also laid out Amirabad garden with beautiful pavilions in the Mughal gardens. But the most beautiful building built by Jawansher was the fort of Sherghari which is now in ruins.
Another Afghan governor Ata Mohammad Khan Barkazai (1806-13) constructed the massive fort on the top of the Hari Parbhat hillock.
George Forster who arrived in Srinagar on 7th May, 1783 during the Afghan rule, like Bernier, calls it Kashmir. Srinagar had evidently grown since Bernier’s visit, as Forster says that the city extends about 3 miles on each side of the Jhelum. While Bernier had noted only two bridges spanning the river in the city. Forster observed that there were 4 or 5 bridges. But the traveler describes the streets of Srinagar as filthy which shows the deterioration had set in under the later Mughals and Aghans.
1819-1846 A.D.: Sikh rule—with the assumption of political power by the Sikhs in Kashmir in 1819, the old Hindu name of the capital of Kashmir was restored. Moorcraft, Hugel, Vigne and Schonberg who visited the valley during the Sikh rule have left their impressions in their works. It seems that the general lot of the city population did not improve under the Sikh regime. According to Moorcraft, ‘the general condition of the city of Srinagar is that of the confused mass of ill favored buildings forming a complicated labyrinth of narrow and dirty lanes, scarcely broad enough for a single cart to pass, badly paved, and having a small gutter in the centre full of filth, banked up on each side by a border of mire. The houses are generally two to three storey’s high, built of unburnt bricks and timber, the former serving for little else than to fill up the interstices of the latter, they are not plastered, are badly constructed and are mostly in a neglected and ruinous condition, with broken doors, or no door at all, with shattered lattices, windows stopped up with boards, paper or rags, walls out of the perpendicular and pitched roofs threatening to fall—The houses of the better classes are commonly detached, and surrounded by a wall and garden, the latter of which often communicate with a canal and the whole presents a striking picture of wretchedness and decay.
Moorcraft also describes the several canals in the city which were crossed at various places by stone and wooden bridges. But their general condition during the Sikh rule was that of decay and they were choked with filth.
1846-90 A.D.: In the early part of the Dogra rule, Srinagar presented a very sad picture. There was deterioration in the physical appearance of the city. The streets were full of filth. There were only a few public buildings in Srinagar, the principal of them were the ‘Barahdari’, Palace, fort, gun factory, dispensary, school and the mint; and also some ancient mosques and temples and cemeteries. The narrow streets were dirty and choked with the traffic of pack animals, horses, pariah dogs, donkeys, cows and pedestrians. In the rainy season the streets were extremely muddy owing to the absence of any drainage system. Both the drainage and the water supply had been grossly neglected.
Srinagar even lacked ordinary sanitary arrangements. The majority of the inhabitants used the public streets or the lanes or the courtyards of their own houses as latrines. This had been going on from time immemorial, wrote General de Bourbel who submitted a report on the epidemic of 1888. As a result of the accumulation of the filth, soil had become contaminated. Private houses with a few exceptions had no privy, and even those few were seldom cleared. Dr. Mitra, the able and energetic Chief Medical Officer of Kashmir, in a pamphlet on Medical and Surgical practice in Kashmir, tells the same story regarding want of sanitary arrangements in Srinagar. Human ordure is scattered—all over the town from the roads and houses on the river bank, drains carrying the slush, filth and sewage empty in to the river, on which the washer men wash unclean clothes; the dyers wash their dyes and the butcher entrails of animals.
The city of Srinagar started with certain initial advantages. In the first place, the Jhelum provided a regular highway as well as means of water supply. Besides the city was so well situated that it became since ancient times the natural capital of Kashmir, the emporium of trade and the seat of culture and industry. But unfortunately, as the population grew, the defects of the city became apparent. Firstly Srinagar was subject to floods owing its low lying position. Secondly the river which was the main means of transport became by its pollution from the drains of the houses on its banks a great source of danger to public health. Thirdly as the population grew, the city limits expanded. The expansion took place without any systematic town planning. This resulted in to irregular narrow streets, ill-ventilated and ill-planned houses, congestion and defective drainage.
The result of all this was that the health and sanitation conditions in the city became unsatisfactory. Not only did the river Jhelum carry filth & drainage, but also the canals inside the city were mostly silted up. Other insanitary evils that existed in Srinagar were overcrowded burial grounds, unclean slaughter houses, slimy tanks etc. It may also be noted that thousands of pariah dogs, starving donkeys and cows lived on this filth.
Such was Srinagar about a century ago. The constant presence in the city of cholera and other infectious diseases was therefore scarcely to be wondered at. Lawrence wrote that ‘the centre and nursery of cholera in Kashmir’ was ’the foul and the squalid capital, Srinagar’
Apart from cholera, earthquakes, floods, fires, and famines were the recurrent visitors to the city.
The history of urban improvement in Srinagar dates back to 1886, when the first Municipality Act was passed. As a result of later extensions, Srinagar expanded rapidly. By 1941 the city extended over an area of about 4 miles in length and about 2 miles in width. The increase in the area of the city, its growth as a centre of economic, political, administrative and religious activities and the increase in the number of its inhabitants are all independent. The urbanization on a massive scale continues to take place with migration of rural population without any check. The whole of Kashmir rotated round the city of Srinagar. There had been a continuous and ever- increasing rural response to the urban challenge. The city acted as a catalyst for socio-cultural change. The presence of colleges, schools, hospitals and hotels in Srinagar meant a new kind of existence for the rural immigrants. There was also a reverse migration to the mofussil of professionals, teachers, lawyers and Govt. servants. The outcome of this reciprocal pull between the city and the country, modernization of Kashmir, was well under way at the turn of the 20th century.
Kashmir, having been wrested from the Afghans by the Sikhs in 1819, was attached to the Punjab until the British occupation of Lahore in 1846, when it was handed over to the British Govt. in lieu of indemnity. Instead of retaining Kashmir, the British assigned it by the treaty of Amritsar dated March 16, 1846 to Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu, in consideration of the valuable services he had rendered to the British during the Anglo-Sikh war.
Maharaja Gulab Singh and his successor Ranbir Singh regarded Kashmir as their personal property. They banished every thought of reform and reconstruction from their mind. They showed little or no interest in the social uplift of their subjects. But with the accession of Maharaja Partap Singh in 1885 occurred a big change. His reign saw the establishment of British Residency in Srinagar. The new Maharaja like his predecessor, resisted this encroachment on his power, but ultimately yielded to the British.
During 1885-1910, the Residency with its charming garden was occupied by a succession of British residents, whose period was marked by striking industrial developments and some of these proved an asset to the State and the people in general.
The transition from the medieval to the modern age is the keynote of Srinagar’s history in the last decade of the 19th century. It ushered in those forces and movements in the political, religious, literary and economic life which have produced the Srinagar of today. In the history of this transition, again the improved transport in the country, as conceived by the Residents, had an important role.
The Jhelum Valley cart –road was constructed in the mountainous terrain from Domel to Baramulla and was a feat of engineering by the State Engineer, Mr. Alkinson through Spedding and Co. contractors. The road connected Srinagar with the rail-head at Rawalpindi and was completed in Sept. 1890 during the rule of Maharaja Partap Singh. The Jhelum Valley road ran 196 miles. One could travel in one day from Srinagar to Rawalpindi by car and in about 4 days by tonga. It was most commonly used by the travelers and was judged as one of the finest mountain roads in the world. The volume of trade also passed by this road in bullock carts and ekkas.
The construction of Jhelum Valley road had a tremendous impact on various aspects of life in Kashmir. The isolation of the city got diminished; visit of travelers and missionaries became faster and more frequent. The reforms in the administration with change of life- style of the inhabitants, new houses, metalled roads, masonry bridges, solid embankments and electric lights with the establishment of Public Works, Postal Telegraph, Forest and Financial Departments contributed a great deal to the social and material uplift of the people. The tourist Industry received a great boost as a result of the new communication system improving the economy of the concerned masses, besides generating employment opportunities.
Lawrence paints the following picture of Kashmir at the end of 19th Century:
One of the points which at once strikes a visitor to Kashmir is the absence of roads fit for wheeled carriage. In the flat country around the Wular Lake, low trollies resting on wheels roughly fashioned from the round trunks of trees are used for carrying the crops, but at the time when I write, there is no other wheeled carriage in Kashmir. There are roads along which ponies and bullocks can pass in fair weather, but roads as understood in other countries do not exist. The main roads at present connect Srinagar with Islamabad, Verinag, and Jammu via the Banihal Pass (9200 ft.) with Shupiyon, Bhimber, and Gujrat in Punjab via the Pir Panjal pass (11400 ft.) with Ganderbal at the mouth of the Sind valley, and Ladakh via the Zojila pass (11,300 ft.)with Bandipora And Gilgit via the Rajdiangan (11,700 ft.) and Burzil (13,500 ft.) or Kamri (13,101 ft.) passes and with Baramulla, whence a cart road runs down the Jhelum valley to the Punjab. In fair weather these roads, so for as the valley is concerned, are easy for the traveler, but heavy rains and snow render these difficult; and the frail bridges over the side streams are often carried away by the floods. There are no real difficulties in road-making in the valley, and when the cart- road now being constructed from Baramulla to Srinagar is completed, it is hoped that other cart- roads will be made. They will prove of the greatest benefit not only to the villagers, but also to the people of Srinagar, who will be no longer at the mercy of the boatmen, so clever in adulterating grain when it reaches the barges.
Thus Srinagar has survived as the capital for its beauty, strategic importance and intrinsic value. It is gifted with great natural advantages. The river Jhelum which winds its way through the thickly populated city, has served as the main artery of communication from times immemorial. The principal bazaars of the city are built along the river which has provided at all seasons the most convenient route for trade and traffic both up and down the valley. The Jhelum Valley road running parallel to the alignment of the Jhelum added to its charm. Thus economically Srinagar is a distributing centre for incoming merchandise from the different parts of the Valley.
Besides Srinagar is the point which commands trade routes to India and Central Asia. Also the Dal and Anchar lakes which flank Srinagar with their numerous agricultural products fulfill the needs of the city population. The lakes and the rivers make Srinagar invulnerable. In addition Srinagar is centrally situated, being equi-distant from the two chief commercial towns of the valley, Anantnag and Varmul. Srinagar is almost equi-distant from Jammu, Rawalpindi, Leh and Gilgit.
The future of Kashmir valley in general and that of Srinagar City in particular is directly linked and wedded with the condition and beautification of River Jhelum. In fact the project report on Inland Water Transport on River Jhelum from Pampore to Chattabal prepared by the Srinagar Development Authority at a cost of Rs. 25 Lakhs. In the year 1999 is gathering dust on the shelves of LAWWDA. The project is reported to be financially viable, technically feasible and would give a boost to the beatification and also to the improvement of tourism and thereby a flip to the economy of the valley. The programme has a potential for extension of the water transport to Khanabal in the South and to Varmul in the North, besides covering the Dal Lake and Wullar Lake as well.
Due to the water transport being the only means of transportation, the boat industry of Kashmir was of great importance. The industry has been very old in Kashmir and we learn from Ain-e-Akbari that boats were the centre around which all commerce revolved. The Hanjis or the Boatmen were about 24000 in number about a hundred years back. The present numbers are expected to be much higher. Their vocation used to bring them in to contact with all classes of population. There used to be many kinds of boats all flat bottomed excluding boats owned by private persons and used for private purposes, there were about 2417 boats employed in trade and passenger traffic in 1890’s. Of these 1066 were of larger size.
The greater portion of the grains and wood imported in to Srinagar by the river was brought in large barges not unlike canal barges and these were towed or polled upstream and dropped down with the current. The boats were called Bahats, Dunga, Shikara, Demb Nao, Tsatwar, Parinda and Larinda according to their size, composition and usage.
Lawrence had predicted that evil days are in store for the boatmen of Kashmir. Forest conservation will make it difficult to obtain the long planks of cedar of which the boats used to be made and the deodar punt pole, so precious to the bargeman, will be a thing of the past.
The House boat has been a later innovation as there was no ban on the occupation of the water as against that of the land for non state subjects, an Englishman Mr. M.T. Kennard is said to have built the first house boat in Srinagar about 1888 which ultimately gave birth to hundreds of house boats for tourists as we see today.
Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili FIE,CEng (I)—Chief Engineer (Retd.)