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Boat down the Jhelum

- Valley revives river transport to link old city to tourism

Srinagar, May 6: For Kashmir’s once-famed lifeline, it’s time for a fresh beginning.

River Jehlum, commonly known as the Jhelum, is set to regain a bit of its old charm thanks to the revival of water transport in the tourist’s paradise after ages.

On Saturday, a couple of boats zipped down the river, starting from Poloview in the city-centre and sailing past the old city towards Chattabal Weir in the northern outskirts.

For centuries, the river had buzzed with activity, serving as a major transport link for visitors and locals alike. But when road transport got easier some decades ago, it was overlooked and virtually forgotten.

Kashmir divisional commissioner Asgar Hassan Samoon said the boats would be opened to commuters from May-end. “Inland river transport was started on a trial basis (on Saturday). The boats will ferry commuters daily from 9am to 6pm,” he said.

“We have identified several ghats on this route where the boats will halt to pick up commuters. The next step would be to extend it to Panthachowk (in the south of the city) and later from Khanabal (in south Kashmir) to Khadniyaar (north Kashmir).”

The initiative will bring Srinagar’s old city, the nerve-centre of the separatist struggle, on the tourist map and provide respite to lakhs of commuters who get stuck in snarls on the city’s narrow roads for hours.

Khalid Bashir, the author of Jehlum, the river through my backyard, said the river had been the only source of easy transportation in Kashmir in ancient times.

“Even Rajtarangini (a historical chronicle written by Kalhana in 12th century AD) mentions that it was used since ages to ferry commuters. He claims ships sailed down it but I think he was referring to big boats,” he said.

“Water transport is the remedy for many problems ailing our transport system. It will also give a definite boost to our tourism.”

A ride down the Jehlum would give tourists easy access to the old city and its many majestic monuments, such as the shrine of Shah Hamdan, Pather Masjid and Raghunath Mandir.

The move to revive transport on the Jehlum follows efforts to beautify its banks and the historic Bund, a pathway running parallel to the river in the city-centre. The Bund is dotted with structures such as the Jammu & Kashmir Arts Emporium and various banks.

Farooq Ahmad Shah, the tourism department director, said work was on to preserve 50 heritage sites across the Valley, many in Srinagar and on the banks of the Dal lake. The idea was to promote heritage tourism, he said.