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J&K: Historic exhibition ground reopened

Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar | July 21, 2005 01:43 IST

For locals in their late middle age, the historic exhibition grounds in the heart of Srinagar city is a remarkable memory.

It was here in the late 1950s that Kashmiris saw their first fire jumpers, dare devil motorcycle cage drivers, snake charmers and magicians who would draw rabbits out of their empty hats.

The magic shows in the Kashmir exhibition grounds are still remembered by many locals if not for their horror, then for their hilarity.

With the eruption of militancy this heritage landmark was lost. A conflagration inside the complex destroyed not only the stalls that used to exhibit local handicrafts and willow wicker marvels, but also the only theatre in which cultural shows, musical concerts and folk shows were held.

For 18 long years, this heritage site was converted into makeshift barracks for paramilitary forces who guarded the adjacent Civil Secretariat building and sanitised the roads for the VVIPs' movements in Srinagar.

Once the queues of locals waiting for tickets to get into the exhibition grounds vanished, queues of locals looking for their unfortunate relatives being questioned inside the makeshift camps replaced the joy seekers.

Building on the confidence generated by the peace overtures between India and Pakistan, the coalition government drew ambitious plans to revive this heritage site and restore its lost glory.

Nostalgia might not be fully relivable, but a semblance of the good old days has definitely been brought back to the exhibition grounds in Srinagar.

The makeshift paramilitary barracks in the heart of Srinagar were vacated to make way for the inauguration of the 'Urban Haat' by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

Kashmir now has a central point for exhibition and sale of its handicrafts and industrial products. Such a focal point of business activity has come up after nearly 18 years.

The 'Urban Haat' is situated on a sprawling expanse of land where stalls and a cultural centre have been tastefully put up to attract tourists and other buyers.

It was a long pending demand of the local handicraftsmen and artisans to have a central exhibition location where local crafts like shawls, papier mache products, carpets etc are displayed for the benefit of the buyers.

It must be recalled that local handmade products are believed to be a connoisseur's delight and the setting of the 'Urban Haat' would also prevent the entry of the unscrupulous traders who sell machine made products like shawls and other items masquerading as 'genuine handmade Kashmir crafts'.

"The handicraft exhibition is being held in Srinagar for the first time after 18 years. I have visited this place after a long, long time. Our business was badly hit by the turmoil," said Mushtaq Ahmad, a local shawl dealer.

The band stand in the middle of the grounds has been recreated for holding cultural events. The newly constructed structures exhibit the architectural heritage of the state. The exhibition grounds have been beautifully done and landscaped.

"I still remember the face of the person who torched himself after pouring kerosene all over his clothes and then jumped into a well while onlookers screamed and wept in fear," said Nuzhat, a school teacher.

Completed at a cost of Rs 2.65 crore by Jammu and Kashmir Handicrafts Department with assistance from the Union Ministry of textiles, senior state officials hope that if the 'Urban Haat' concept takes off,  Kashmir would not only have reclaimed a significant heritage site, but it would also open up avenues and opportunities for thousands of locals who earn their livelihood by the manufacture and sale of world famous handicrafts.


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