Crumbling Nagar 

After conquering Srinagar Mughal Emperor Akbar laid the foundation of walled city Naagar Nagar to keep his men safe. Six centuries later Mohammad Raafi visits the famous Kalai to know how time, official neglect, and local’s indifference are erasing its signs

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KL Images: Bilal Bahadur

Almost six centuries after Mughal Emperor Akbar travelled from Lahore to Srinagar (June 1589) to witness the surrender of Yaqub Shah of Chak dynasty and his rebels, the city he built afterwards lies in ruins.

Located at the foothills of Koh-e-Maraan hills Akbar built Naagar Nagar (city) surrounded by an impregnable strong wall or Kalai that cannot be scaled or pierced. The wall or Kalai was built to secure Mughal coterie and troops from rebellious forces.

“After the conquest of Kashmir Akbar settled his soldiers behind the Kalai to prevent skirmishes with the local population who were against the Mughal rule,” says historian Prof Fida Hasnain.

“The long fight against Mughal invasion affected agriculture activities of Kashmiris. On top of that draught and paucity of food worsened the economic conditions of the Kashmiris.”

“Akbar wanted Kashmiris to concentrate on economic activities instead. So he built a walled city and named this settlement as Naagar Nagar,” claims Hasnain.

Dr-Sheikh-Showkat-Hussain
Dr S S Hussain

However, Dr Shiekh Showkat Hussain, who teaches Law at the Central University of Kashmir, claims that Naagar Nagar was built by Akbar to ensure the livelihood of locals prosecuted by Chak rulers.

“Kashmiris facing Chak dynasty’s wrath were welcomed inside the walled city by Akbar. And then Mughal’s made them ‘work for food’,” claims Showkat.

Though the exact purpose of such a strong fortification is a matter of debate for historians, its historic value is not.

A walk around the present-day Kalai and you will see how ruthlessly history is being erased, rather plundered.

According to historians’ encroachment of Naagar Nagar and Kalai started after Muslim majority Xinjiang region in China rebelled against its government for adopting Communism. In retaliation, the Chinese regime came down heavily on its Muslim subjects killing thousands and forcing a large number to migrate. A large number of migrated Muslims from China reached Kashmir via Tibet and Ladakh. “The then CM Sheikh Abdullah formed a committee headed by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad to ensure proper rehabilitation of these Chinese Muslims. He (Bakshi) chose interiors of Kalai to settle them,” claims Hasnain.

The State government later relocated them inside Sangeen Darwaza – one of the three doors of Naagar Nagar – which is now called Tibetan colony.

That was the first encroachment that happened in Kalai, but not the last one. Taking cue from state government’s ill-conceived settlement plan, locals encroached Kalai without care for its historic importance. “The place is now a mess of haphazard concrete construction, all illegal and done without any permission,” says Abdul Rouf Bhat, a local resident.

What pains the likes of Bhat is the fact that people extract stones from this 16th-century wall and use it as a construction material. “People have constructed houses on the wall itself,” says Bhat. “You can see how bathrooms and latrines are constructed on the historic wall. It seems nobody cares about history.”

Over the years both height and length of the Kalai has shrunk considerably. The wall encircling the Naagar Nagar, when built by Akbar was nearly 4.8 km long and 9 meters high.

But presently only 3.3 km of it is left, rest 0.8 Kms is completely missing, while 0.7 km is damaged.

“The height is now just around 4 meters. Rest is all gone,” says Bhat.

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A hole in the historic wall is now a metallic road. KL Image: Bila Bahadur

Kalai has three entrances – Sangeen Darwaza, Bachi Darwaza and Kathi Darwaza. “Sadly only Kathi Darwaza has survived the vagaries of time and human interference,” says Zareef Ahmad Zareef, local historian and poet who lives inside the walled city.

“But Sangeen Darwaza – an exquisite piece of architecture used by the royals – is in shambles because of official neglect.”

In 2010 J&K government declared Kalai a protected monument. Before that the Kalai was protected under a Central Act, which provided legal protection to only two gates of Kalai (Mughal Rampart) – Sangeen Darwaza and Kathi Darwaza – besides barring any construction within 100 meters and regulating constructions in the next 100 meters.

However, historians believe that over the centuries Kalai has lost its original glory beyond repair.

“The topography of the Kalai has completely changed because of neglect and vandalism. There is not even a trace of gardens built by Mughals near Kathi Darwaza left now,” claims Zareef. “Watchtowers built to protect the city are completely missing.”

Zareef, who is also president of Koh-e-Maran Coordination Committee – a local body comprising social activities who work for the restoration of Kalai’s lost glory, blames local politics and politicians for this walled city’s fall. “In 1975 the then CM of Kashmir (Sheikh Abdullah) settled some homeless people near Kathi Darwaza. He didn’t think even once about Kalia’s historic value. Over the years their numbers multiplied to 3600 families,” claims Zareef. “Ever since these people vote for his party, so nobody takes any action against them. Instead, they were provided with electricity, water, drainage etc. to keep this illegal settlement in good humour for votes. They have slowly encroached upon Kalai completely,” rues Zareef.

In October 2011, eighteen months after JK Ancient Monument Protection Act was passed, the state tourism department initiated the process of repairing the damaged part of Kalai. Same year GoI sanctioned Rs 50 crore for its restoration. However nothing much happened on the ground, instead, the encroachment of Kalai continued hassle-free.

“Only a part of the funds was received after which the funding stopped. The department has no funds to start the restoration of the wall,” says Mehmood Shah, director tourism J&K. “It is SMC or revenue department’s job to remove encroachments.”

Interestingly state’s Archives and Archeological Department has not been made part of the restoration process.

Finally, in 2012, tourism department started the renovation of Kalai, but half-heartedly, alleges Ghulam Jeelani Hafiz, a local. “They simply put layers of stones on the wall and left. How can stones stay together without limestone or cement?”

Locals like Hafiz, who have been living inside the wall since centuries, blame authorities for deliberately bringing down the wall to make way for vehicles, or to avoid any threat to pedestrians!

“What is the fun of repairing Kalai when encroachments are not removed,” asks Hafiz. “After every rainfall stones come down out of the wall.”

Hafiz says that these stones are then sold to locals by the land mafia for construction purpose.

Hafiz recalls that not so long ago Naagar Nagar and its surroundings were a beautiful mélange of gardens, parks, places of worships representing all religions, urban centres etc.

“This could have been a major tourist attraction in Kashmir, but our authorities fail to see that way,” says Hafiz.

Instead, the wall has come down crumbling at those points where some renovation work was done. The caved-in portion now serves as a garbage dumping yard for locals. “I filed several RTI’s regarding the matter but all in vain,” says Hafiz.

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Now the historic wall is caught between the cemetery and the haphazard housing that has been literally raised on the wall. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Interestingly, walled city also houses Koh-e-Maraan fort, the shrine of Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom – one of the most revered saints in Kashmir – and a stone mosque built by Shah Jehan’s son Dara Shikoh for his tutor Akhun Mulla Shah in 1649 A.D.

The neglect by authorities has tuned this walled city into a safe haven for all sorts of bad activities, alleges Bhat. “Those who have encroached Kalai from Bachi Darwaza and Kathi Darwaza side have wreaked havoc on the local populace,” says Bhat. “Shielded by the wall youngsters use this place to take drugs, gamble and do all sort of illegal activities. It has become a menace for locals.”

So what is the solution to save this heritage city and its wall from further vandalism? “All constructions within 100 meter of the Kalai must be removed to save the heritage site,” believes Hafiz. “People who constructed houses inside/on the Kalai before 1992 should be relocated and their houses demolished,” says Hafiz.

“This wall is part of our political history. It will remind the coming generations of our great workmanship skills. But if immediate measures are not taken we will lose a very important part of our heritage and history,” says Zareef.

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