Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

When Shahr-e-Khas was a Destination for Global Merchants

Tariq Ali Mir takes you down the memory lanes when trade caravans came from places like Yarkand, Samarkand and Bukhara, taking a detour from the Silk Route to visit fabulous Safa Kadal


Looking at this dilapidated two-storied building at Safakadal in Shahr-e-Khaas, one can hardly believe that till some six decades ago, the place used to be a prime international trade hub for the central Asia. But this is true for Yarkand Sarai popularly known as Safa Kadal Sarai which for now is nothing more than a home of some refugee families.

The Mughal Emperors are believed to have established this place as a transit camp for central Asian traders on journey. Eventually, the place grew as a trade hub and achieved major importance on the international trade map. But the 1947 crisis in Kashmir and subsequent closure of the Silk Route, brought an end to its golden era.

Commenting about the historic importance of Safa Kadal Sarai, an expert on Central Asian Studies and ex-Professor of Kashmir University, Gulshan Majeed, said: “It was the only trade point between Kashmir and Central Asia and the business was so good that all type of merchandise were available here round the year.”

He said even though the Dogra rulers had constructed the Sarai building, the place was known for trade since the Mughal era.

“All what Kashmir would export to Central Asia was sent to other countries through the Yarkand Sarai,” he added.

The Sarai, Gulshan said also served as a Mandi for the then neighboring countries of India.

A variety of commodities like silk, gold, silver, textiles, soap, leather, tobacco, medicines and even gems like Topaz were imported to the Sarai via the Silk Route.

Added scholar, Pirzada Muhammad Ashraf: “Those days it used to be a fashion statement to own a Yarkand horse and people used to buy these horses from an open field near the Sarai.” The field used for the horse trading, as per Ashraf, now houses a densely populated colony.

To a question about the Silk Route link, he said: “One of the branches of the Silk Route via Korakoram ranges was connected to Kashmir through Ladakh.”

“Since centuries this route was used for trade,” he added.

Ashraf said even though after 1947 crisis, there was a decline on Silk Route trade with Kashmir, the business activities continued to some extent for two more years when the historic route was finally closed.

And after the 1962 war between India and China, the other trade links via Leh and Tibet were also shut.

But in the past, there were no problems.

“Despite political crisis in the Central Asia during the Mughal Era, Kashmir traded with other countries through the Sarai,” the scholar added.

Famous German tourist, Charels Baren Heugal, visited Srinagar during the Sikh rule and had interacted with the Sarai traders. Heugal writes that the international trade with Kashmir was prosperous.

Historian Muhammad Yusuf Taing said the then rulers had built two buildings at the Sarai. But with the closure of the international trade routes to Kashmir, the Sarai started to loose its sheen.

“The worst hit was the Shawl and Namda making because all the raw-material would reach Srinagar through the central Asian routes,” Taing added.

And as the post ’47 governments couldn’t reopen the central Asian trade links with Kashmir, the Safa Kadal Sarai lost its identity.

And, Sitara Begum prepared Ghosht Naans for traders

As the central Asian link to Srinagar was through Ladakh, its traders also frequented the Safa Kadal Sarai. And after the decline of the trade hub, some of their families got settled in the Sarai. Presently some 70 such families live at the erstwhile trade centre.

80-year-old, Sitara Begum has been witness to this international trade. And whenever she hears news about international trade on radio or TV, Sitara turns nostalgic of the caravans that visited the Sarai.

“I would prepare special Gosht Nan (a kind of bread consumed with mutton delicacies),” she recalls. Sixty-five-years ago she was married to a Yarkand man, Haji Sadiq, a trader who frequented the Sarai. Sitara would accompany her husband for business.

Haji Sadiq, she said, was a Namdah dealer who procured Namdas from Yarkand and sold them in Kashmir.

“After some years, our business flourished so much that we hired some employees to look after the procurements back home, while we got settled here,” she adds.
Sitara says Gosht Naan was introduced in Kashmir by Yarkand people.

“As for me I had learnt to prepare it from my in-laws,” she adds.


“Before death I wish to see the Yankand Sarai back abuzz with business activities when traders from Yarkand, Samarkand, Bukhara, Turkistan and Gilgit visited the place and we prepared Gosht Naans for them.”

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