Rise and Fall of The Bund
Arif Shafi Wani (Greater Kashmir)
Dotted with towering mighty Chinars and overlooking gushing river Jhelum, The Bund in the heart of Srinagar till a few decades ago was a favorite haunt of nature lovers and British. However, ill-planning and haphazard concrete constructions along the once famous walkway have vandalized this stretch.
Raised nearly a century ago primarily to protect Srinagar from flood waters of Jhelum, The Bund was developed during the Dogra regime as a nature trail cum walkway by British tourists and officers who used to stay mostly in houseboats anchored along the walkway.
With heavy inflow of British tourists, gradually handicraft, carpet, jewellery and fishing equipment shops came up along The Bund and it became a favorite shopping hub for British. The Emporium building along The Bund was originally British Residency in Srinagar. The Bund comprised of over two kilometer stretch from Amira Kadal bridge to Ram Munshi Bagh.
The stretch from The Bund to Shivpora was known as European Quarters as it used to bustle with British. The shops were constructed in colonial style and decorated with chiseled stones and wood carvings. All the shops had small sprawling lawns infront with neatly paneled wood fencing. Its remnants are still visible. Decorated with fragrant flowers, ornamental trees and clay tiles, the British were so mesmerized by The Bund’s beauty and solace that many of them selected a chunk of land along it as their last abode in shape of a graveyard at Sheikh Bagh.
“The Bund was mostly thronged by British officers posted in Pakistan before partition. Due to immense publicity by British, this place became famous world over and gradually emerged as most preferred shopping hub for foreigners,” recounted Muhammad Shafi Qureshi, an octogenarian owner of Munawar Shah and Sons—an exclusive shop of fishing equipment near The Bund.
“The British were so fascinated by The Bund that they used to clean garbage from it. Walking through The Bund was considered to be a privilege. It was a royal route. There was so much admiration for The Bund that locals used to wear new clothes before walking through it,” Qureshi said with animated eyes.
In his famous book, Valley of Kashmir, Sir Walter Lawrence settlement commissioner of Kashmir writes Srinagar suffered massive devastation due to flood in the 18th century. “In 1841, there was a serious flood which caused much damage to the life and property. Some marks shown to me suggest that the flood of 1841 rose some nine feet higher on the Dal lake than it rose in 1893. But thanks to the strong embankments around Dal, the flood level in 1893 never rose on the lane to the level of the flood on the Jhelum,” Lawrence writes while referring to The Bund.
However, noted historian Fida Hasnain said The Bund was fully developed by Maharaja Pratap Singh in early 1920s. “At that time, there was high concentration of British around The Bund. Even the Srinagar Club was located at the present site of General Post Office. The Club was thronged by British who visited Kashmir,” Prof Hasnain said.
The Bund was strictly restricted for walking. When Prof Ghulam Ali Wani, 85, of Jawahar Nagar locality as a youth traveled on his new cycle through the Bund in 1947 he attracted angry looks of British tourists. “I was abruptly stopped by some officers and fined Rs 15. I realized my mistake. Even Maharaja Hari Singh used to occasionally walk through The Bund,” Prof Wani said. Till 1990, The Bund was thronged by British and domestic tourists. “Our shop used to be thronged by British and other foreign tourists. Besides natural trail, The Bund offered them quality items at economical rates,” said Mushtaq Ahmad partner of Mahad Joo and Sons—one of the oldest handicraft shops on The Bund.
The stretch of river Jhelum along The Bund is believed to the first site of houseboats in Srinagar. “The Bund provided them easy access to the houseboats most of which were anchored on its banks. A British Colonel Bedool living in a houseboat near the Bund introduced water sports in the river. He used to organize water skating from The Bund and it attracted many foreigners,” said Chairman Houseboat Owners Association, Muhammad Azim Tuman.
“The British felt at home while walking through The Bund. Architecture of the buildings and landscape reminded them of their homeland. Till 1990, I organized many water sports activities for foreigners along The Bund,” said president of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir Rauf Tramboo. “Government should restore The Bund to its glory to boost tourism sector,” Rauf added.
Convener Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Kashmir Chapter Muhammad Saleem Beg said The Bund was repository of colonial architecture. “There were many landmarks including The British Residency, Ahdoos Hotel, Lyods Bank, and many exquisite handcraft shops. The Bund has been listed as an urban site by INTACH,” Beg said. Beg said then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who used to stay at state guest house was a regular visitor to The Bund in ‘70s. “It was a must visit place for dignitaries who used to visit Kashmir,” Beg said.
Fida Iqbal a noted architect of Kashmir says one of the most fascinating shopping zones of Srinagar, The Bund was shaped during Dogra period under the influence of British. “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,” he says.
Few decades ago many monstrous ugly concrete structures came up along The Bund from Abiguzar to Abdullah Bridge breaking its colonial architecture pattern. With the onset of political unrest in Kashmir, The Bund became free for all. It was dug up to lay water pipes, macadamized extensively and motorized with all sorts of vehicles trampling its heritage character. Gradually, The Bund’s green slopes abutting Jhelum banks were dotted with illegal hutments.
In 2005, authorities launched demolition drive and cleaned up the encroachments. The slopes were turned into numerous parks laced with fountains regained some respectability.
But it became victim of ill-planning earlier this year when government started work on a Skewed Bridge from Rajbagh to The Bund side near the General Post Office. Notwithstanding massive outcry by concerned environmentalists, engineers and civil society groups, Government has expedited work on the controversial bridge which has marred beauty The Bund.
The Bund is presently littered with construction material. And ever-growing movement of excavators have disturbed its serene environs. “The Bund became victim of our materialistic urge to swallow every inch of land in this city of wealth, rich traditions, culture and heritage. Today’s Bund gives a different look, bruised and defaced place, victim of peoples' greed and official apathy,” says Fida Iqbal who has been vocal through his newspaper columns against vandalisation of The Bund. “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. 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,” he said.
Iqbal said the planners did not end their “operation onslaught Bund’ here only. “Once well paved Bund with an atmosphere of fragrance and colour was macadamized. This act of defacement seems prelude to a probable converted operation of exploring The Bund for vehicular traffic,” he says. Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din who works at a photo shop along The Bund said the construction of concrete bridge has taken heavy toll on The Bund. “Vandalisation of The Bund has shocked many people including locals who used to walk and enjoy nature here,” he said.
Noted poet and chairman Valley Citizens Council Zarief Ahmad Zarief who had resented construction of a bridge near The Bund in ‘80s, termed the Skewed bridge as an eyesore on The Bund. Zarief said in ‘80s, the then government led by GM Shah has proposed to set up a colony for his ministers near the Institute of Hotel Management. Zarief said due to public outcry, the proposal was shelved and Raj Bagh and its adjoining areas were declared as green belt. “Few years later Dr Farooq Abdullah took over as CM and started construction of a bridge near The Bund. We fought against it tooth and nail. After spending nearly Rs 16 lakhs on construction of pillars, Government was forced to shelve the project,” Zarief said. “We as a collective society must join hands to save The Bund from further vandalisation. Our next generation should not curse us for failing to save this Heritage spot from becoming history,” Zarief added.