Story of this hotel synonymous with history of Sopore
Sopore: Arguably the most famous landmark of Sopore, New Light Hotel and Bakery has a long and chequered history that almost mirrors the history of the town, renowned for its entrepreneurial spirit and resilience.
Established in 1948 by Haji Ghulam Rasool Lone, a noted businessman of Sopore, the hotel has witnessed three large-scale mishaps – including a major encounter in which two foreign fidayeens were killed – but continues to be a major name in hospitality in North Kashmir till date.
In a chat with Kashmir Reader, the current proprietor of the hotel, Muhammad Shaban Lone, an adventure freak and a second-generation hotelier, recounted the history of the legendary hotel and how it has undergone a huge transformation over the years, shaping up as district Baramulla’s foremost bakery and restaurant. The current bakery is situated on the same spot where the original hotel once stood, while as the restaurant and café, a big hit with locals and travellers alike, are located just on the periphery of the town, against a picturesque backdrop of orchards.
When established in 1948 as a restaurant, the location of the hotel was not in a very reputable neighbourhood being known, in fact, as Sopore’s red light area. It was Lone senior and other notable people of the town who founded a community which decided to establish a school and mosque in the area. This proved to be a great step towards reforming the locality.
After the restaurant came up, the hotel followed over the years and became one of North Kashmir’s top properties to offer lodgings to travellers. Twice over, the hotel suffered fires, reducing it to ashes. Lone, the orchardist-hotelier, restarted the venture each time.
The hotel witnessed one of the bloodiest massacres in Kashmir history, headlined ‘Blood Tide Rising’ in Time magazine . Known as the Sopore Massacre of 1992, it left 57 dead and scores injured, a carnage that saw Lone’s son-in-law, Ghulam Nabi Bhat, shot dead just outside the hotel. He was in the process of carrying dead bodies when he was hit by a volley of bullets.
New Light Hotel didn’t let the tragedies overcome its reputation. It has always remained the main symbol of the Sopore business sector. After it was gutted in a fire, the hotel was rebuilt as a grand structure with a four-storey building.
Just when business was back and things seemed to be looking up for the hotel, a firefight between security agencies and two fidayeen militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, holed up in the hotel, led to its destruction in November 2007. It was the same mindset that motivated Lone junior to restart the New Light Restaurant and Café at the periphery of the town and the bakery at the place where the grand hotel once stood.
Sadly, Sopore has now lost its biggest hotel because of the volatile situation prevailing in the town, but the building has been reconstructed again as the New Light Shopping Complex and Baker. According to Mohammed Shaban Lone, it was his father who brought the bakery concept to Sopore, giving it a lead it continues to hold in the town.
The restaurant and café named as “Renaissance” is a big hit among locals and travellers alike. It has become the point where people relax over various kinds of fast food and coffee. However, keeping in mind the circumstances, most restaurants don’t retain night rush in small towns– a setback to the hospitality sector.
“I could have moved my business to another place from Sopore to earn more profit, but I have inherited this business from my father who has loved this town and has done so many good things for its people. My father’s love for the people of Sopore runs in my veins, and I am going to continue my efforts to make this place the same as it was before, when people used to come here in abundance just to enjoy our hospitality,” Mohammad Shaban Lone concludes, wistful yet determined.