A view of the old Zaina Kadal
bridge in Srinagar.
Srinagar: It was the
hub of the city once, a place where wholesale traders did business
and people flocked to visit the nearby shrines. But, in the last
30 years, the Zaina Kadal area in old Srinagar has lost its
importance to the dazzle of the new city.
But old timers still miss the buzz.
The Zaina Kadal Bridge, which connects the Bohri Kadal area of old
Srinagar with the Nawab Bazaar area, is the lifeline of old
Srinagar and is one of the most ancient of seven bridges
constructed on the Jhelum river in the city.
Built by Sultan Zainul Abidin, known as "Badshah" in the year
1427, the 90-metre-long bridge provides a grand view of the old
city that has very few parallels.
The emergence of Lal Chowk in uptown Srinagar as a new central
market in the last three decades has dealt a telling blow to the
importance of Zaina Kadal as a trading hub.
However, Zaina Kadal retains its importance as the place to visit
the Muslim shrines in the old city.
On reaching the bridge one can see the Shahi-Hamdan Masjid, where
if you are lucky enough to be at the right time you might hear the
resonance of 'azaan', the call to prayers, which rings out from
the top of the masjid.
For the nature lovers, the cool breeze blowing from the gushing
Jhelum river below the bridge, combined with the magnificent view
of mosques and historical monuments spanning either side of the
bridge, can transport you into a time capsule.
The beautiful view of the spire of the Ram Temple, and the nearby
tomb of the Badshah's mother, and the crumbling sight of the
once-busy Ghats, Gadiyar Ghat and Badshah Ghat, add to the beauty
of the place.
Harking back to the importance of the Ghats around 50 years ago,
Muhammad Shafi, a local, told IANS: "From these Ghats, goods would
once be loaded to Khanabal in south Kashmir or to Khadinyar in
north Kashmir...But now, look at their dilapidated state," he said
pointing to the desolate Ghats.
The Zaina Kadal bridge was the place where the wholesale markets
of Srinagar were located. The markets on both sides of the bridge
comprised wooden huts and sold garments, spices, dry fish and
grains. But now they have lost their customers with many residents
having re-located to uptown areas like Rajbagh, Lal Bazaar, Pir
Bagh, Hyderpora and Bemina.
The bridge - the old one as well as a nearby new one built five
years ago - is of cantilever design. The bridge, like many other
of the Badshah's gifts to his people, was meant to be "as
important as life".
It was built after he got cured from a very life-threatening
disease by a Pandit doctor.
The doctor, Shri Bhat, treated the Sultan and in return the king
wanted to know what precious gift he could give him. Shri Bhat
said he wanted a gift 'as precious as life'. Impressed by his
humility, the Badshah built the bridge and did other other
philanthropic works. He is also believed to have developed a soft
corner towards the Hindus - which gives a glimpse of Kashmir's
deep secular ethos.
Praising the old bridge, still used by many vehicles today, Zareef
Ahmad Zareef, a noted poet of the Valley, told IANS: "The skill of
the bridge construction of the engineers of Badshah was
marvellous. This bridge has withstood the wear and tear of about
500 years. We should preserve it at any cost."
Zareef has launched a campaign for the preservation of the bridge
as well as many historical monuments in old Srinagar.
Reminiscing the old glory of Zaina Kadal, Ghulam Muhammad Wani,
80, a resident of old Srinagar, told IANS: "Zaina Kadal was the
centre of trading in those days in Srinagar and the posh colonies
you see nowadays were villages where we would be taken for
Taking a dig at the uptown areas, he said: "My father would often
joke that he had ploughed the area where Lal Chowk is."
Many shopkeepers in Maharajganj, which flanks the old bridge, are
upset with the construction of the new bridge by the PDP
government in 2005. They say the new bridge has taken away their
customers. The new bridge, also called by the same name, is far
from Maharajganj, and has weaned away most of the traffic.
"The construction of the new bridge has had a tremendous economic
impact on shopkeepers in Maharajganj," Muhammad Ashraf, president
of the Maharajganj shopkeepers association, said.
In 2011, there was speculation that the old bridge would be
dismantled. However, the government decided to keep it.
"It is a historical bridge that is testimony to the engineering
skills of our people. The bridge needs to be preserved for
heritage," Z.G. Muhammad, a prominent writer of Srinagar, told
Though many well-to-do people have shifted uptown from Zaina Kadal,
it still retains some of the magic of the gift that was named "as
important as life".
(Jamsheed Rasool can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)