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Srinagar, The City Of Stories.
Photos & Words by Ruman Hamdani
Sheher-e-Khas, or “the special city”, is where I find inspiration when I am left with none. The old city based on the banks of the Jhelum River is a treasure chest of history, for it has seen rules of quite a few regimes in the past millennium. There are also the people who make it the lively, bustling centre of culture and trade that it is. It is a city which will blow your mind, bewilder you and perhaps make you cry for it is home to people who have seen the highs of prosperity and the lows of slavery, and — in the past century — consistent political unrest. This is where I go to connect with my roots.
I live in the “upper town” or the urban area of Srinagar. This is where people move to when they get rich. Maybe not rich, maybe just because they cannot take the congestion in the old city (social congestion, I mean). In the upper town, you’ll find large houses, separated by considerable distances, and probably home to four or five people — the nuclear family explosion, as one may say. The people mostly keep to themselves and tend to their own families. It is not a bad thing, but it leads to a non-existent sense of community.
The ambience is completely different in the old city. There is a sense of belonging, a feeling of togetherness everywhere. There is noise, there is crowd, it seems alive, it feels like a real city. I usually park my motorbike in the city centre and then head on foot to the old city. What follows is a journey of discovery and enlightenment every time.
The city is mostly filled with old Kashmiri architecture, punctuated with newer concrete buildings (mostly shopping centres, offices and new houses) here and there. The combination of the two creates a beautiful contrast of old and new which is a metaphor for development creating abandonment of heritage or tradition. But mostly, the old city feels like a step into another time. I love the mud-brick-wood structures; their brownish colour schemes look classy. These buildings have stood for so many decades, braving harsh weather in the winter and earthquakes every now and then. Makes me wonder how the engineers made it happen.
As visually enticing as the old city is, what I really love is the human connection. From the way people greet each other and how they converse, the feeling of community becomes apparent. One may chat up a stranger about politics, sports or any other topic, but they speak as if they have known each other for a long time. No one is really a stranger. Almost every home here has witnessed the political turmoil firsthand; people here are connected by the grief.
This story appeared in Inexperienced Issue. To continue reading, you can buy the digital magazine here. Print is sold out.
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