Trial run of ‘water bus’ rekindles hope to reconnect with Srinagar’s past

The first-ever trial run of an air-conditioned water bus on the Jhelum river, which runs through the Kashmir Valley from south to north Kashmir, on Thursday rekindled the hope of reconnecting with the dying past and providing possible alternate mode of transportation of the once buzzing nerve centre of business here.

The state-of-the-art vessel has been shipped from New Zealand and was put to trial by the J&K Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC) on a 9-km stretch from Lasjan in south Kashmir to Peerzoo in Srinagar in central Kashmir.

“The water bus is a 35-seater covered boat. Trial runs are going on. We have come across a few minor difficulties and the same will be conveyed to the authorities. This will for sure give boost to tourism in the Valley,” Sukhnag Enterprises official Abdul Hanan told The Hindu.

For centuries, the Jhelum river was the most active mode of transportation and would ferry fruits, grains and timber from one end of the Valley to another.

Srinagar to Sopore

In the first part of this century, it slowly got reduced to ceremonial processions by the Dogra rulers. In 1945, Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad also took part in a boat procession from Srinagar to Sopore in north Kashmir.

“In fact, the historic memorandum was presented by the Muslim elite to viceroy Lord Reading on the banks of the river near Khanqah in 1924. A river, which as a whole, is a historic unit has become the backyard of the city,” Hakim Sameer Hamdani, Design Director with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Kashmir Chapter, said.

Over the period of time, the river fronts have grown shabby, with dumping sites coming up around it burying in many ghats. Navigation on the river is defunct now.

“The movement of motorable boats will help put a focus on the city and infuse a fresh lease of life,” Hamdani, also author of the book ‘The Syncretic Traditions of Islamic Religious Architecture of Kashmir (Early 14th –18th Century)’ said.

The vessel, Mr. Hamdani said, if it becomes a permanent feature will be able to rejuvenate the old city. Tourist as well as locals can relive and reimagine the past, as it was a centuries ago, he added.

“Most of the historic landmarks, medieval to early modern, are housed on the banks of the river. From historic shrines to temples, from colonial structures to Dogra palace, the river opens up real Srinagar,” Mr. Hamdani said.

The Jhelum river is 170 km long in the valley and enters into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir at Uri. At least 13 temples, 13 shrines and mosques and a gurudwara sets a rare timeline on its river front.

Under the Smart City Mission, the first phase of the beautification of the Jhelum River Front is likely to be completed by September 30, 2021.

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