BUT WHERE IS THE GLORY NOW AND WHERE IS THAT AURA OF YORE???
City of Srinagar was founded by the King Pravarasena-II over 2000 years ago and named it Parvasenpur. Sanskrit meaning of historic city of Srinagar signifies a place of wealth and abundance and as ‘Sri’ is also used for sun, hence the word Srinagar could connote ‘Sun City’. Whatever meaning is ascribed to the name of this historic city, one feature is fairly exceptional— its richness in every facet of life. Srinagar possesses rich and unique architecture; a glorious history spread over several thousand years , dating back at least to the 3rd century BC; a diverse culture, valuable heritage and distinctive traditions. Srinagar has faced much of political turbulence in the past and experienced a great deal of administrative vandalism over the period of time. This great city has experienced prosperity and faced wrath and vagaries graciously. It got devastated by huge fires, famines and faced severe epidemics many a times, but as always it has stood all odds and resurrected as hub of art, culture, and knowledge like any other splendid civilization.
Srinagar without losing its uniqueness had always resolved to the finer attributes of its invaders and other foreigners in almost all aspects of life. Architecture and landscape has been the most prominent features of this grand city that were influenced by the invaders and foreigners. The Mughal period changed the whole landscape of Srinagar by laying hundreds of gardens and orchards and their influence on architecture of Srinagar was outstanding. Major parts of Srinagar are dotted with marvelous architectural interventions of Mughal period and the imposing fort of Hari Parbhat in the middle of Srinagar city reminds of Mughal majesty and will jog memory of people of Srinagar about splendid Mughal era for centuries to come. After Mughals the most impressive architectural and other related interventions were made by the British during the period of Dogras. Many imposing and inspiring structures were erected by British and the Maharajas prior to 1947. Several other field and landscape related marvels were created during this period of autocracy. One of the most fascinating shopping zones of Srinagar, ‘Bund’ was shaped during Dogra period under the influence of British. Situated on the right bank of river Jhelum in civil lines area of the city, ‘Bund’ was most captivating and well-known address of Srinagar; familiar among tourists particularly foreign visitors.
Erstwhile Grindlays bank building even today is the most outstanding building structure situated on the Bund with colonial architectural touch, splendid lawns and selective ornamental plantation and a soothing ambiance. Other impressive and interesting structures along the Bund were Piston-Ji building, Mahatta studio, GPO (general post office) and several other significant buildings made of local materials, wood and chiseled stone. This charming mall served the dual purpose of a clean walkway in serene and cool ambiance along with a well stuffed shopping centre of selected Kashmiri handicrafts and other traditional material. Earlier Bund walkway extended from Ram Munshi Bagh to Abi Guzar with river Jhelum on one side and the well-known and historic buildings with traditional heritage architecture on other side. The significant part of Bund from Srinagar club to Abi Guzar was full of heritage structures of great historic importance. No mechanical transport was allowed on Bund, even bicycles were forbidden and people would love to walk on this part of city. Small green patches with seasonal flowering plant beds, low-lying wooden fencing was the essence of Bund landscape. Up to seventies of previous century ‘The Bund’ was struggling hard to uphold its traditional shape and mystic ambiance but our untimely overexposure to democratic system played havoc on once charming ‘Bund’. It became victim of our materialistic urge to swallow every inch of land in this city of wealth, rich traditions, culture and heritage.
Democracy emancipated and empowered us but we became slaves of greed and materialism! As every part of Kashmir was under the invasion of newly born oligarchy of political and neo-rich swindlers, Bund could not withstand the onslaught of political opportunists. Vast patches of green land between famous Lambert lane and Khidmat building got defaced with erection of huge multi- storied structures almost extending into the river Jhelum. This onslaught of defacing Bund and its vicinity extended deep into the city up to erstwhile Ambreesh talkies and its ramifications could be felt some half a kilometer away on the edge of once magnificent Polo ground in the shape of new Polo view shopping cluster. This sequence and correlation of vandalizing ‘Bund’ and subsequent erection of Polo view shopping line looks like a goblin tale but people privy to the secrets of enslaving Kashmiries for petty considerations will stand witness to the details of defacing ‘Bund’ and its aftershocks. Today’s ‘Bund’ gives a different look, bruised and defaced place, victim of peoples’ greed and official apathy. The earlier Piston-Ji building and its wooden balcony till recently regularly graced with unique pot plants and a white horse statue in its front courtyard has been replaced with a huge structure made of cement concrete, steel and glass. Piston-Ji’s prize possession, white horse stands caged in huge glass enclosure. The heritage building housing Mahatta Photo Company is being chipped with every passing day and now shabby and stinking eateries and automobile tyre shops have replaced souvenir shops and other graceful outlets within the building. The historic ‘Khidmat’ building a marvelous piece of architecture covered with fragrant climbers of Honeysuckle and other ornamental climbers got replaced with ill planned horrible structures of cement concrete. On the other end once prestigious Srinagar club building is in shambles, covered with overgrown weeds. Restoration of one-time British residency (now emporium building) was the only sincere effort to restore past glory of ‘Bund’ vicinity. A few steps ahead of emporium building decks were cleared to erect a monstrous structure of steel and cement by demolishing attractive work of architecture made of local material. Bund also became victim of our religiosity and like other parts of the Kashmir and Srinagar we intruded into its sole to create structures of religious solace at the cost of fragile environs.
As we all know ‘Bund’ is actually a flood protection structure which requires continuous consolidation to avert any furious mood of river Jhelum, but unfortunately huge water pipes were forced into it and the whole Bund line was not only weakened but deface beyond recognition. Our planners did not end their ‘operation onslaught Bund’ here only; a step further, once well paved ‘Bund’ with an atmosphere of fragrance and colour has now been very recently macadamized! This act of defacement seems prelude to a probable converted operation of exploring ‘Bund’ for vehicular traffic. Many environment loving people objected to this operation ‘black top’ but it looks some vested interests in league with a few moles in our system of governance have made up their mind to trample the sole of Srinagar’s once fashionable bazaar, ‘The Bund’.
It is high time to introspect, both for common Kashmiri and the administration to decide about the workable plan for preserving the existing structures and shape of ‘The Bund’ and its vicinity and motivate authorities to initiate restoration work at an earliest on priority basis. If we will be unable to protect our heritage illustrating our history and glorious past, we will surely fade away as a nation without any magnificent legacy for our posterity.