Bla Town: Commercial Hub Of Past Faces Neglect From Successive Regimes

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Baramulla located in the north of Kashmir is one of the oldest towns of the Valley; serpentine river Jehlum bisects this Valley shaped town into new and old Baramulla. With a population of over one lakh souls, the history of this town dates back to hundreds of centuries and its record is even penned in the old historical chronicles.  After its glorious past, now this town is even struggling for basic amenities as it has been ignored by the successive governments that came to power in the Jammu and Kashmir after the partition in 1947.

Some historians believe the town’s history is more than three thousand years old and some experts even claim that famous Buddhist conclave was held in the town either at Kanispora then known as Kanshikpora or Ushkara, both these place hold very important place in the Buddhist history. These places where considered the highest seats of learning when Buddhist Kings ruled major parts of sub continent.  At both these places ruins of old inhabitations could be traced even today which is testimony of its glorious past. Before partition was also known as Gate way of Kashmir, however, now it has been turned into a tail of Kashmir, in the local parlance since it was overlooked by all the successive regimes till this day.

Two decades ago, Archaeology Survey of India (ASI) had conducted some research work and digging on the meadows of Kanispora to trace the ancient routes of the history. However, due to current situation, the project was left half way and later shelved, ruins of past remained buried under the mounds of soil.

Such was the beauty of this place that it drew nobles, poets, historians and top leaders from all the hues and colours that included noted historian – Tuesian Tseng who according to some historians had even stayed in the town during his stay in the Valley. Famous Sufi saint Syed Janbaz- e- Wali came all the way from Ishfaan (Iran) and is buried at Khanpora on the Baramulla – Uri national highway. His shrine even today attracts large number of devotees and people come to this place for solace.

The famous poet, Allama Iqbal, Shubli Noumani, also stayed in this town. Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Qaid- e- Azam Ali Mohammad Jinnah, Pandit Jawhar Lal Nehru, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Maulana Abu Kalam Azad also visited this place. Jinnah spoke to a massive gathering at a beautiful orchard which is now- a- days – Azad Ganj before partition. The visits of these famous legends and dignitaries portray the significance of the town even decades ago. Even Shubli Noumani has written his famous book – Al Farooq in this town while being guest of one of the famous personality of past – Khawja Abdul Samad Kakroo, who then owned a palatial house at Banglow Bagh.

However, after the partition in 1947, the town not only lost its sheen but also its business prominence. From a major trade centre this town has been reduced into a sleepy town after the Jehlum Valley cart road was closed and India and Pakistan became two separate countries.

Partition meant the old road links were cut off and this place lost its significance in the trade route.

“Baramulla used to be the main town of Jammu and Kashmir,” says Abdul Khaliq Mir, former secretary Traders Federation Baramulla. Explaining the significance of the town and its adjoining areas, he says that where you have the civil lines today, there were large houses and hotels. ‘’The Rawalpindi road of JV road was open 24×7. All the nawabs and dignitaries had their houses there. Before Partition, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, all lived here. This was a place where everyone cherished to live”

He says that Baramulla was a trading hub linked by road to cities and cultures farther west. ‘’This place was a major transit point for goods travelling east.  People here remember it as the main thoroughfare in the Valley.’’

He says that then people could go to Tashkent, Bukhara and didn’t need a passport. ‘’ Even ordinary people used to travel up to Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore through this place only. The traders used to stay and do business activity at this place,” he says and adds that with every passing decade this place is losing its importance and prominence.

Even after six decades of partition no efforts are being made to revive the glorious past of this town.

“This town has an old history from ancient times; it dates back to thousands of years. Even today ruins of Uskhara, Kanlibagh and Kanispora are portraying towards the historic importance of this place,’’ says Ghulam Mohammad Aajir, one of the noted academicians of north Kashmir. Ajar who is also a JNU pass out says the history is ingrained in the culture, style and food habits of this place especially the town.   ‘The town was also known for its multicultural society. Even today its cultural traces are quite visible.’’

Despite migration after the start of militancy by Pandits who used to live in Khawajabagh, Kantbagh, Deewan Bagh, Kanlibagh, Jadeed and Syed Karim Sahib localities of this town, still this time few Hindu families most of them businessmen live at Jadeed mohallah locality in the family quarters of one of the oldest temples in the main chowk. ‘After migration, we again came back as we missed this place and due to our business,’’ says Hardev Nath Ganjoo, who owns two prominent cloth shops in the town and was former vice president, Beapor Mandal Baramulla. He says that majority of families will come back once peace will return to Kashmir.

“We live in Jammu and also in Baramulla. Here we live in one room of a local temple.  When we came back in 1996, the government had made many promises to us, but not a single of the promise was fulfilled and many families again returned to Jammu.’’

The town has a population of around one lakh souls and has a potential to become a very beautiful city, however, neglect from the government is proving a biggest hurdle in the growth of this historical town. Though, J&K government under the guidance of former deputy chief minister and then legislator from Baramulla, Muzaffar Husain Baig had envisaged a program of Greater Baramulla and even had got assurance of money from Asian Development Bank (ADB), however, after the PDP and the Baig lost power, neither NC – Congress coalition government nor the PDP government in its second tenure tried to do some major developmental projects in the town despite the assembly segment voted PDP legislator to assembly. After Muzuffar Baig got elected to Lok Sabha, he too developed cold feet towards the town that gave him political identity.

Even though, a forum comprising members of civil society and retired government employees and businessmen came into existence to help to realize the dream of Greater Baramulla but all in vein.

“The town has all the potential to become a vibrant city; unfortunately, it is being not given its credit. Over the last many years our forum has tried to get some projects for the town,’’ said Shamas-ud-din Maknoo, who is the brain behind the Greater Baramulla Forum. ‘We are trying with small steps and hopefully will try to get many big projects for the town. This town is need of many developmental projects,’’ he says and adds that their biggest strength is positivity. ’’In our lexicon there is no word like negative politics.’’

Present Legislator, Javid Hassan Baig says that knowing the importance of the town, the government has initiated several big projects in the town and will be completed in his tenure. ‘We are working on many projects, especially the decongestion of old town and creation of new town hall and shopping complexes, besides new water schemes.’’

He says that government has some  ‘big plans’ for the Eco Park and there is every likelihood that the park will be connected with ropeway with Hajibal and Bosian heights to make it as one of the beautiful tourist resorts.  Contrary to these claims, the people of this town are still waiting for the day when it be put on the Tourism Map.

“This place has lot of potential for the Tourism. Unfortunately on the name of tourism we have just got two parks – Eco Park and Gul Nar Park and both parks were given by former J&K deputy chief minister during his tenure,” says Abdul Rashid who lives in old town.

The Baramulla town is also known as the Garrison town due to presence of army’s 19 divisional headquarter that looks after the entire Line of Control from Gulmarg to Nowgam and top army officers have residences in this town on the banks of river Jehlum in the civil lines. However, any confrontation between India and Pakistan could be disastrous for the citizens of the town. So far, Baramulla has remained unaffected by the confrontation on the LoC and locals wish it should remain same otherwise in case of any war this beautiful town will become first causality as it is barely 60 kilometers from the Line of Control. ‘’We always wish for peace between India and Pakistan. God forbid, if there will be a war, this town will face the huge devastation,’’ says one of the old citizen who claim to have witnessed partition.

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