Fallen by the Wayside

  • Showkat Dar
  • Publish Date: Mar 11 2016 1:02PM
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  • Updated Date: Mar 11 2016 1:02PM
Fallen by the Wayside

The grandeur is long gone, the royal dwellers a faded memory. All that's left are decrepit buildings – monuments to an apathetic J&K government.
Once the temporary residences of emperors, the five-century-old Mughal sarais dotting Pulwama, Shopian, Budgam and Rajouri are in a dilapidated condition. Many have even been turned into toilets and cowsheds.
“Most of these sarais were built by Ali Mardhan Khan, the engineer and minister of Emperor Jehangir,” says the historian Mohammad Yusuf Teng, adding that the Mughal would stay in them during their visits to Kashmir.
Among the major sarais the Mughals built, two are in Srinagar and one each in Khampora, Mitrigaam, Shadimarg, Shopian, Hurpora, Ali Abad, Chingus Sarai, Rajouri and Thanna.
But despite their historical, cultural and architectural significance, they lie neglected. “They should have been recognised as heritage sites, conserved and preserved from encroachments,” says Teng. “It is unfortunate that they are in such a poor condition.”
Although many of the sarais, such as those in Mitrigaam and Shopian, are practically beyond repair, some can be restored to their former glory, Teng insists. The Chingus sarai, for one, is in decent condition.

Chingus sarai
Chingus is Turkish for intestines. The sarai got its name after Noor Jahan buried Jehangir’s intestines there. According to Iqbal Nama Akbri, Jahangir visited Kashmir over a dozen times between 1605 and 1627, and each time, he spent a few days at this sarai. In the autumn of 1627, while travelling back from the valley, he took ill at Behramgala in Poonch, where his physicians advised him to halt his caravan and rest for a few days. The emperor began recovering and a few days later, he decided to go hunting. He sat with Noor Jahan near the Noori Chambwater fall, while his servant stood on a hill across from them, holding a deer for the emperor to shoot. As Jehangir took aim, the servant slipped, fell and died. The incident is said to have shaken the emperor so deeply that his health began to deteriorate. Noor Jahan decided to rush him to Lahore, but he died on the way, at Bahraam Gala in Rajouri, on 8 November 1627.
“When the king died on his way from Srinagar to Lahore, the queen kept his death a secret from the people and the caravan in order to avoid a succession war among the princes. She buried Jehangir’s entrails at Chingus sarai so that his body wouldn't decompose while the rest of his body was taken to Lahore, where it was buried at Shahadara, on the banks of the Ravi,” says Teng.
Chingus sarai is a spacious compound with 44 residential quarters, three dalaans and a mosque. Jehangir's entrails are buried in a corner of the mosque's compound. The outer walls, whose surface is a series of large hollow rectangular panels and arches, are plastered white now. It's believed that the southern quarters were used by the emperor and his family. A dalaan near the southern quarters was used by queens and their attendants, while another in the middle of the north wall is believed to be have been for the emperor.
The imposing main gate, or Deodi, on the western side was used by the royals and their caravans. There are two smaller entrances to the north and the south; the northern gate was used to reach the Sukh Tao River.

Khampora sarai
It's situated in Khampora village, just south of Budgam. This walled sarai, unlike many others, has been spared from encroachments but it is still lying in utter neglect.

Shadimarg Sarai
Once a thick forest, Shadimarg is now a large, prosperous village on one of the key offshoots of the historical Mughal Road, about nine kilometres from Shopian town. According to local legend, the village was given its name by Jehangir himself. “His wife Noor Jahan gave birth to a son here. The king was very happy but the child died within two days. So he named this place Shadimarg, Shadi means happiness, marg death,” says Ghulam Muhammad, an elderly villager. “Sadly, our own people have destroyed the sarai which had given us our identity.”
The sarai encloses a mosque and an Eidgah. It's believed to have been built by Jehangir and later expanded by the sixth Sikh Guru Hardobind (They couldn't have built it together; they were enemies. But please doublecheck this). The sarai was apparently a personal favorite of Jehangir and Noor Jahan.
Today, the sarai lies in disrepair, its rooms being used as toilets. Some of the halls are also being used as cowsheds, and heaps of cow dung are everywhere in the compound.
Adjacent to the main inn is a small mosque, which is barely visible through overgrown grasses and trees. The roof leaks, letting the water seep into inside walls. The structure is badly damaged but the villagers still prayer in it. The sarai also has an Eidgah, which has been encroached upon. “This is the land of our ancestors. We bought this land from a villager some years back,” claims one of the encroachers.
The villagers, in fact, have occupied, illegally, much of the sarai's land and built houses and cowsheds on it. “The sarai has 83 kanals of land registered in the records, but it's hardly 3-4 kanals now. The rest has been taken over by locals, either to build houses or plant orchards,” says Altaf Ahmad, a local trader.
The state government has not done anything to preserve the monument. It's not even in the state's list of protected monuments.
“If we look at history, this road from Rohmu to Shadimarg was the primary road used by the Mughals. If the Mughal Road has been revived, though now diverted from Hurpora to Shopian rather than Shadimarg, why haven't these sites been revived?” asks Ghulam Muhammad.

Hurpora sarai
On the orders of Noor Jahan's another sarai was built at Hurpora, 10 km from Shopian. A few years ago, the army occupied the area and tore down the structures.

Sukh sarai
This sarai is some 25 km from Shopian, near Dhobijan village. It's all but lost, with only traces of a few structures left.

Aliabad sarai
Nestled in the Lal Gulam curve on the original Mughal Road, this sarai is 35 km from Shopian towards Poonch, near Peer ki Gali. Named after its builder Ali Mardhan Khan, the square-shaped sarai is a mud-and-stone structure, and consists of at least 30 small rooms around a large hall that opens out on a courtyard.
Though damaged, the sarai has been spared from encroachments and is visibly salvageable. It's used as a resting place by Gujjars and Bakarwals travelling between Rajouri and Shopian. The dung, and even carcasses, of animals in the courtyard and rooms proof of their presence.
Rotten State
But why has the government left this cultural heritage to decay? Kashmir's Director of Archives and Archeology Mohammad Shafi Zahid agrees that the sarais are historical monuments that must be preserved.
Why aren't they being preserved then? “The state government is going to take some steps to preserve these sites under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act,” he adds.
Zahid says his department has conducted surveys of these sites and “found many encroachments, which need to be dealt with”. “Most of the Shadimarg sarai has been encroached upon, which is alarming. All the respective deputy commissioners have been asked to remove encroachments from these sites.”
“We are also working on renovating the Shadimarg sarai mosque. We will start work soon.”
Will they?