Yarkand Sarai: People Pour Silk Route Memories On Social Media

SRINAGAR: Terming in unsafe and invoking the expiry of 12 years lease, the government of Jammu and Kashmir has asked the inmates of the landmark Yarkand Sarai to leave the premises. The age-old building has been a major milestone of Kashmir trade in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was a major crucible of the central Asian cultures.

There are two Sarai’s in the area – the Kak Sarai and the Yarkand Sarai. These rest houses were built by the government to encourage foreign trade in the pre-partition era.

As the political geography changed in 1947, some of the traders were stuck in Srinagar and eventually became natives of Kashmir. Post-partition, the destination of the Silk Route caravans got simply reduced to a refuge house where some of the people associated with the trade were merely living.

The reportage about Sarai’s current crisis has revived old memories of the people. A number of people who have had associations with the Sarai and who lived nearby poured their memories on social media. Here are a few nuggets of information about the landmark in Safakadal.

Irfan Yasin: News about Yarkand Sarai Safakadal brings back those pleasant memories of my childhood. A rectangular structure with a courtyard in the middle it used to be a magnificent building to host the trading caravans from central Asia and had been in its prime an interfacing platform for the caravans from Central Asia and the Kashmiri tradesmen to trade and settle business transactions. The Czarist, Bolsheviks’ takeover of central Asia and Chinese usurpation of the independent Yarkandugy or Xinjiang saw refugees coming to Kashmir from these places or tradesmen getting stuck in the Sarai.

In our childhood many families of Ugyor, Kazakh and Yarkand origin lived in this  Sarai. Most of them were very wealthy traders dealing in silk, parcha, brocade, fur and gold.  It was a real fascination for us to interact with their children.  The food like their very differently made noodles, stuffed nans, keema stuffed samosa and that huge bread were so tempting for your taste buds.

The Safakadal corner pan shop was owned by a Yarkaandi. Hassan made some of the best and most tasty bakeries and the afternoon shout he made to inform the Yarkaandi families living across was unique. He had a worker nicknamed Budda who was very famous for the afternoon dive into Jehlum from Safakadal Bridge in the summers. The event would be a mesmerizing spectacle for us who would gather to watch him dive into the river.

There was Damollah, a wealthy businessman who sold very special silk, brocade and gold and had many wives. One of his wives once eloped with a very handsome Yarkaandi youngster and Damollah came to my uncle Qazi Bashir sahib for resolution of the issue. I remember once a Ladakhi boy Sadiq committed theft in DaMohllahs home.

There was this fellow Ibrahim Khoja who would walk so gracefully with a cigarette permanently dangling from his mouth. Ibrahim Khoja had very good relations with our relative Mirza Saifuddin  Ahmad.

There was another very well to do family living in the portion of the house owned by one Gul Bhat. There was this man from our Mohalla whose widowed mother had married a Yarkaandi and later shifted to Makah. Before her death, she called her Kashmiri son to Makah and the fellow came back wealthier with a complete financial transformation.

Many of them had been our tenets too. I remember an extremely beautiful lady Ayesha Khanumonce came to visit to meet my mother and Aunt. She was on a visit to Kashmir from Germany where she had shifted after her marriage.

Claude Rupert Trench Wilmot clicked this legendry Yarkandi trader in Ladakh in 1931

Abdul Salam Pujj the famous Safakadal corner shop butcher had mastered the Yarkaandi language and he would,  to our bemusement, speak with them in their language with lot of elan and fluency. He once made me memories the numbers in the Yarkaandi language starting with Yakshum. When Yarkaandis bought a lesser quantity of meat and Abdul Salam asked them the reason they would reply Salamapainsayukh.  It was thus an enclave so foreign with these very beautiful people living inside like an Arabian Nights scene.

In the mid-70s the Yarkaandis shifted to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and US. Two families, however, stayed put in Srinagar and continue living here.  Yarkand Sarai had thus been a fascination that gave you a peep into a culture that had been so amalgamated with Kashmir through those caravans that travelled on the Silk route, Himalayas and Bandipora Gilgit route in the past.

Naseem Lanker: Memories revived. One beautiful girl from a rich family living in Safa Kadal saria joined our school and used to get meat stuff bread for us. She got married in a rich Kashmiri family later on. I met some families during Hajj in Makkah. (A coincidence)

Yarkandi Sarai, Safa Kadal, Srinagar

Khurshid Shahdad: My grandfather used to speak fluent Yarkandi language as we were having a robust trade with that region. I remember my grandfather telling me that he had been to Yarkand on horseback these traders that Yasmin speaks of used to visit our Dewankhana at Bulbul Lanker

Shoukat Saleem: Irfan Hussain Haji and Salamatullah was dealing with Parchajath at Zainakadal the husband of Rabia Khan and father of Maryam Khan were our tenants, their mother had a close friendship with our Aunty Akhtar Fazili and Begum Bazaz both of them would speak Yarkandi Those were golden days for us

Er Nazir Ahmad: Yarkindees settled in Ladakh run eateries famous 4 ethnic cuisines like Momo, Pulao and other stuff. They live happily spending mostly on delicious food even though they r not affluent. Besides, they r very hard working and believe in honest earning.

Trek to Yarkand

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