Decades have passed since those fateful years and Kashmir has witnessed joy, sorrow, celebrations, and never-ending conflict. Its historical monuments, heritage buildings, shrines with all their beautiful wood and stone carving art portray the artistic bent of its people and their love for art and culture. These places have their own importance and are connected in one way or the other in the lands of Kashmir.
As one walks down the roads of Kashmir, he/she can see various historical places. Some of them maybe in a dilapidated condition but nevertheless inflict a nostalgic feeling upon the beholder. However, the unique and ancient sources of attraction for many people are the historical connectors – the famous bridges of Srinagar. Some of them serve as business hubs becoming a source of income for many whereas some of them have served as the platforms for freedom struggle movements.
The famous river Jhelum is famed for its nine old bridges (called Kadal in Kashmiri language) some of which have been replaced by newly constructed ones. Commonly referred to as the first bridge, the “Amira Kadal” Bridge was built in 1774-1777 by the Afghani governor Amir Khan Sher Jawan with the help of ‘hanjis’ (boatmen) and the mansion called ‘Sher Ghari’ on the banks of river Jhelum. This bridge is a great source of income for the fisherwomen who sell fish on this bridge and other traders who sell their products to earn their livelihood. However, they sometimes become a hurdle for the passersby’s. Another famous one among the Kashmiri bridges is Habba Kadal. It was built by Habib Shah, the then ruler of Kashmir in 1551. This bridge was affected by the flood of 1893. It is of great historical importance because it was this bridge which provided a platform for Kashmiris to end the Dogra rule. However, the newly constructed bridge is few meters upstream of the old wooden bridge of the same name inaugurated by the then chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah in the year 2001.
Some of these bridges provide a grand view of the old city. One such bridge of its kind is Zaina Kadal. It is the fourth bridge situated across the Jhelum River. This bridge is a great example of old Kashmiri architecture. It was built by the famous Kashmiri ruler Zain-ul-Abidin and is close to his tomb. The new bridge of the same name has been constructed just by the old one. This bridge has been of great importance to the traders. However with the construction of new bridge, local traders say that it has deprived them of a large number of customers.
Named after Zain-ul –Abidin’s son, Aali Kadal is the fifth bridge built by Sultan Ali Shah in 1415. It’s sometimes a treat to watch the water splashing against the facade of the bridge and feel the gentle breeze carried by the river caress your face, but now the river has been polluted to a great extent and is usually full of dirt. The mosque of Roengton (also called as Rinchan Shah by some people) is located to the north of Aali Kadal. The famous Jama Masjid and Aastan-i-aali Shah of Woosi Sahib (r.a) lie close. The ghat of Aali kadal is the spot where washer men are found washing and smashing clothes against the stairs. “This is not the real Aali Kadal that used to be, but it was built in these 22 years of armed struggle. This is the new Aali Kadal, the previous was burnt down by militants during the struggle” said an elderly shopkeeper, at Aali Kadal, in old city.”
Some bridges have been the witness of Kashmir’s struggle for freedom. Some have even been burnt down by the people in agitations and protests. One such bridge is the ‘Nawakadal’ which connects to the famous women’s degree college, Nawakadal. “This Nawakadal Bridge was actually built in 1953 during the regime of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, but soon after his arrest the bridge was completed under the rule of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad” recalls an elderly man, who sells fritters at Nawa Kadal chowk. “But in 1981, the bridge was burnt down and was destroyed. Then the Farooq Abdullah led NC (national conference) government during that period built the new one which stands today,” he adds.
The valley of Kashmir is not only famous for its monuments, but also sufis, saints and even renowned poets. The famous Sufi, Shah Hamdan’s (r.a) mosque is situated between Habba Kadal and Fateh Kadal. Fateh Kadal is a wooden bridge and is the oldest one at present but too dilapidated for actual use. A new bridge has been constructed just upstream from it. One of the greatest examples of old Kashmiri architecture is the famous Safa Kadal. This is the seventh bridge constructed among the nine. Though the old one still exits to represent the old Kashmiri architecture, a new concrete bridge has also been constructed.
These bridges are the very epitome of Kashmiri art and quintessential to the ascetic nature of the valley. The bridges have and will continue to serve as historical connectors for the people of Kashmir.