Zainakote Conversion

Budshah found the karewa an ideal spot to oversee a bird abundant wetland, hunt and rest. Shahmiris gone, the garden became a habitation and gradually an industrial area that in last thirty years is the most vibrant garrison outside Batwara, reports Zubair Sofi

A view of Hokersar, destination of migratory birds (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Fascinated by the serenity of Hokersar, a wetland on the fringes of the Srinagar city, the capital of his Sultanate, Zainulabideen laid a befitting garden, Bagh-e-Zainakut.

The greenery on the high ground around the wetland and the chirping of the birds gave it a distinct location. More than five centuries later, this garden is the Zainakote locality.

Sultan’s idea of laying the garden was not to add a habitation. The idea was to create a hunting point for the king and his entourage. The wetland for centuries has remained and continues to be the abode of migratory birds, mostly from Central Asia. That was the key attraction for the king to invest in a garden.

Legends and the history books suggest that Budshah decorated the garden with different varieties of flowers: roses, jasmine, lily, iris hyacinth and shamrocks.

On one side of the garden, Sultan built seventeen houses for his aides and officials. He built a mosque too. These officials were helping him during hunting and in the official work.

There are not many things that exist now. Residents do not know the happenings of the past but they say the peace of the village was disturbed in 1947 during tribal raids. The entire village went up in smoke when Indian army arrived in October 1947, and clashed with tribals. Nearly eighty villagers were killed in the gun-battles.

Legends and the history books suggest that Budshah decorated the garden with different varieties of flowers: roses, jasmine, lily, iris hyacinth and shamrocks.

“All the roads were blocked and villagers managed to escape in boats via Hokersar to another side of the wetland to find a safe place,” resident Abdul Gani Sofi said. Sofi is a retired forest officer and was witness to 1947 clashes. “It was due to Hokarser that maximum number of people saved their lives. Almost one hundred houses in Zainakut were destroyed.”

Sofi vividly remembers his escape through Hokarser. “In the boat in which we were running away, one boy received a bullet in his head and died instantly,” Sofi said. “His father left the slain son on a small island and we all moved ahead. I cannot forget that sight ever”.

Budshah’s colony survived Chaks, Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras for around 500 years. But when a new political situation took over in 1947, it went up in smoke. “It was a major loss to the history of Kashmir,” Sofi said. “Tragically this loss was not mentioned by any historian and has not been documented.” He said the fact is that the destruction of this historic habitation marked the end of tribal wars.

Cave built by Budshah, yet not identified by archaeologists

The only remains that somehow still exist is a cave. Residents say the local legend is that the cave was created under the orders of the Sultan. It still has three rooms, a shelf, apparently for placing candles and two pass ways. Passways are deep and dark so no one knows where they lead or end. Most of the Shahmiri era, it is worth mentioning here, was dominated by the frequent arrivals of the Muslim preachers from Central Asia as sections of pious and devout would detach themselves from the larger society and get into prayers far away in cave and forests.

The upper part of the cave is plain. Local legend is that Budshah used to rest there after returning from the hunt. Now the same resting place has been converted into a graveyard.

Sofi believes that Budshah has contributed immensely in the spread of Islam and was personally responsible for introducing the long, large-sleeved tunic, the Pheran in Kashmir. However, a general belief attributes the long loose Kashmiri gown to the Mughal era.

With the king gone and Shamiris replaced by the jingoistic Chaks – who eventuly failed to retain the state, Zainakut did not lose its significance. Gradually, the people started migrating and living there.

Settlers in Zainakote had an ideal economy. The vast land resources available on the sprawling karewa offered people enough space for agriculture, especially for paddy, wheat, zeera and vegetables. The w etland on the foothill provided thembasic resource to weave straw mats, always in demand for home flooring.

Local legend is that Budshah had experimented with the cultivation of sugarcane but it failed.

“My forefathers were farmers, managing their lives by farming and working in the wetland for the time they saved in their fields,” Sofi said.

The flow of tourists to the wetland would keep most of the population of Zainakote at work. They would help visitors in duck hunting or taking them in boats around.

When there were not many tourists around, people would go for fishing, or extraction of

chestnuts and Nadru (Lotus stem) which the wetaland produced in abundance. The high quality grass would feed the cattle, especially cows and sheep, thus making the village a major milk producer in city periphery.

Nothing that wetland would produce would get waste and it was directly linked to the self-sufficiency of the village.

Abdul Gani Sofi

 

Settlers in Zainakote had an ideal economy. The vast land resources available on the sprawling karewa offered people enough space for agriculture, especially for paddy, wheat, zeera and vegetables.

Things changed greatly in last many decades. The Hokersar wetland is greatly reduced. While encroachers have taken over wetland, the massive silt has made it shallow. The number of migratory birds, the main attraction, has been fluctuating. The tradition of the village of welcoming the tourist-hunters on Sunday mornings has ended as the duck hunting stands banned.

But the change of Zainakote started soon after it was devastated by the 1947 gun battles. Sofi said the village took a long time to recover from the unprecedented crisis.

It was in the aftermath of the 1947 devastation that a resident named

Aziz Din, feeling insecure, migrated to Pakistan and left his entire property behind. Within days, his immovable property was taken by the government and became the Evacuees Property.

After 1972, the government transferred this land for setting up of the industrial area.

“Delhi took around 800 Kanals for setting up Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) watch factory on lease for ninety years. For many years this factory was making good expensive watches,” Sofi said. “But once the quartz took over, it became unviable and was closed down in 1998.”

Now this abandoned factory is part of an extended garisson. In last thirty years, the karewa is home to a division strength army, lot of BSF and CRPF. There are many industrial houses around but most of them are being served by the skilled labour force from outside the state.

By now, Zainakote has chnaged its charcater. It has sold most of its agriculure fields to developers for converting it into posh residential structures. It is now as urban as uptown Rajbagh.

 

 


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