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Flood ravages Srinagar’s British-era buildings
NOOR-UL-QAMRAIN  Srinagar | 27th Sep 2014

he recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir have damaged several important sites from the British era, such as the historic Srinagar bund, colonial-era schools and the Old Court Complex.

The Jhelum river breached the Srinagar bund in several places. The bund was built by the Dogra rulers in the state and was a popular walkway for colonial officials and tourists enjoying a houseboat getaway.

The British influence led to the establishment of hospitals and educational institutions like the Biscoe and Convent schools, both of which were submerged in the floodwaters. The Jhelum's waters breached the Old Court Complex's compound wall, submerging the building and destroying the records of thousands of pending cases. The heritage building has taken considerable damage. A second breach, near Sheikh Bagh bund, inundated the city's iconic Lal Chowk and ravaged the old Christian graveyard and some of the buildings of the Biscoe missionary school. In this graveyard lie people like Robert Thorp, who gave his life fighting against the oppression of Kashmiris under the Dogras, who ruled with British support. A third major breach destroyed the compound wall and some portions of the old Imperial Bank of India building, which was taken over by State Bank of India after Independence.

Experts say the breaches were in part caused by a footbridge over the Jhelum near Lal Chowk, which had stopped the natural flow of water during the floods. An under-construction bridge near Polo View and macadamisation of the bund also contributed, experts say.

The bund was also breached near the GPO building, where an emergency post office was created in 1947. An old British building nearby was washed away. The garden and compound wall of the British-era Loyds Bank building near Polo View were also destroyed.

The building today houses the J&K Bank's Polo View branch. The old Amar Singh club, along with the Doordarshan Kendra compound and Radio Kashmir Srinagar's office, still remain submerged.

The biggest breach was near Abi-Guzar, home to the old toll post that was used when water transport was prevalent in Kashmir. An old temple in the area was submerged and a house boat was tossed over the bund and wrecked. The houseboat, named Wood-Cock, was lifted by the flood waters and pushed over the temple, but its lone inmate managed to survive. According to locals, the survivor, Javed, had refused to leave the Wood Cock. "We were all yelling to him from a nearby roof-top, urging him to come out, but he refused. When we saw the houseboat cracking near the temple, we lost all hope for Javed. Suddenly, we heard him crying for help and rescued him in a shikara," said his relatives.

"Our ancestral home was also washed away. It was one of the few old buildings left on the banks of the Jhelum," said Mohammed Ibrahim, who saved his family by climbing to the top of a nearby building.

"We were trapped for several days," said Ms Oberio, a teacher at Burn Hall missionary school who lives in Lal Chowk said. "Only locals came in boats with water and food items. There was no trace of the government."

Locals say that the police force was the first to flee. "We took a boat to the Maisuma police station, but there was no one left except one CID official who was crying for help," said Mohammed Ayub, a local rescue volunteer. Kothibagh, Kralkhud and Maisuma police stations were deserted and their officials returned only after waters receded, said the locals.

Many treasures of Srinagar's heritage have been washed away by the floods, which also submerged the city's business hub from Polo View to Lal Chowk, inflicting heavy losses.

All along the bund, shops that have been in business for hundreds of years have suffered greatly. These shops deal in Kashmir carpets, papiermachie , pashmina shawls, wood carvings and walnut furniture.

"A whole culture has been submerged," said Mohammed Maqbool, a retired professor. He said that even cyclists were not allowed on the bund during Dogra rule. "We allowed heavy vehicles and started pumping heavy pipes into the bund," he said, "We have destroyed our own culture and civilization."

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