SRINAGAR: Boulevard: ‘a wide road in a city, typically one lined with trees. This definition is an understatement when compared with the Boulevard Road of Srinagar – the scenic thoroughfare from Dal Gate to Nishat Garden.
What sets Srinagar’s Boulevard apart from other, similarly named ones around the world is that it runs by the edge of Dal Lake and has the Zaberwan mountains for its backdrop. Grass-topped walkways run on both sides, beyond which is a bund along the lake with occasional ghats and lamp posts all down the stretch. The opposite side is lined with poplar trees, making it all the more beautiful.
Built in the 1930s by the erstwhile Maharaja of Kashmir, Boulevard has been used since as the gateway to the eastern Civil Lines areas, which include the majority of the Mughal Gardens, the National Park, hotels and Asia’s largest tulip garden. It also leads to residential towns like Brein, Nishat, Shalimar and Harwan as well as many small Mohallas.
Now a major tourist and local attraction, Boulevard is thronged by hundreds for the picture-perfect frames it provides photographers, its relaxation outings, driving pleasures, jogging and snacks. It is most sought out in the evenings, when it offers cool breezes with magical sunsets. Even after sunset, people can be seen hanging out till late night here, with the lamp posts dotting the bund providing the necessary light and aesthetics in the dark.
Made from cement and engraved with the state insignia, the lamp posts are the only thing that connects Boulevard with its past. For many, including Bhat Basharat, 25, a computer science student and a regular visitor, the lamp posts are the “identification and essence of Boulevard”.
“They have been always there since my birth and before that. Since my childhood, I visit here in the evening with my friends and sit under one of the lamp posts. We sit for the whole evening, talking. You never get bored here. It is divine.” says Basharat.
“Things have changed and people have changed with time, but these lamp posts are the same. Believe me, they connect me with my childhood. I have memories attached to them,” Basharat says in a nostalgic tone.
But it seems that these lamp posts could soon be a thing of the past. The government in the year 2017 started to erect new black-coloured, cast-iron poles on the whole road, alongside the old posts. The new poles are meant to enhance illumination, but for some reason, the lights on these poles are installed unevenly.
From Dal Gate to Hotel Heemal, the new poles are without lights, but from Hotel Heemal to Passport Office, the lights have been installed, thereby ignoring the famous tourist spot, Nehru Park. Similarly, from Nehru Park to Lalit Grand Palace, though the new poles have been erected, the lights are yet to be installed. The one stretch where the new lamp posts are fully operational is the VIP corridor from Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) to Cheshmashahi turn, which leads to Raj Bhawan and Tulip Garden.
From Cheshmashahi to Nishat Garden – that hosts the famous Shikara Ghat, which provides the shortest rowing distance across the lake to Char Chinar Island, and the favourite food spot, Makai Park, famous for its roasted corn and delicious barbeque – the road is totally dark in the evening. Neither have the old lights been repaired nor have the new ones been installed along this stretch.
Though the old lamp posts are still standing, there are apprehensions among heritage lovers that they will be demolished once the new posts are fully operational.
One such person is Haji Wali Mohammad Bhat, president of the All J&K Taxi Shikara Owners Association and the All J&K Shikara Workers Union, who considers the old lamp posts as “heritage” and “historically important”.
“I don’t think that installing new poles was a good idea. They have very low light. The old ones were fine and had a history. They were the heritage of this road. The government could have utilised its funds in some other places. Only repair work was needed to be done on some of the old lamp posts,” Haji said.
Work on this project was started last year by the Power Development Department (PDD) which, after erecting the poles, digging up the walkways for underground wiring and removing the tiles from the footpaths, has suddenly stopped all the work. Near every newly erected pole there are tiles piled on the sides of the footpath and the leftovers of construction material used to erect the poles.
“The tourist season is at its peak, and look at the mess everywhere,” Haji complained while pointing towards a pile of tiles obstructing the way of paedestrians.
PDD officials confirmed that the work had been left “mid-way” and cited “shortage of funds” as the reason for “stopping” the work.
“We started the work last year and erected the poles and installed a few lights as sample, but after that funds were not released, and we had to stop the work. We have no funds at all for the project. Once the funds would be released, only then can we continue the work,” said Farooq Ahmad, Assistant Executive Engineer at PDD.
Summarizing their desperation, officials remarked, “Even Taj Mahal can be built, if funds are available.”
“As for as the choice of poles is concerned, whether the old ones were good or the new ones, that depends on the taste and likings of people, and there would be always differences on that issue. The old poles will be relocated accordingly, but we have to remove them from here because their foundation is not strong. We have erected the poles, but the selection has been done by the higher-ups,” Farooq said.
Meanwhile, officials at the Tourist Reception Centre, Nowgam, where the office of the Maintenance and Works section operates, said that they have “nothing to do with it” when asked about the work on Boulevard.
“We have handed over these types of works to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and PDD because we do not have the infrastructure for such huge projects. Moreover, street lights have separate funds, and if we start to utilize our funds for such works, we would be in loss,” an official said.
“This project is too big for us. PDD is the right department for its execution. But I agree: if the work was done by the Tourism department, we would have kept in mind its aesthetics as well,” he added.
Now, between the rhetoric of “Not my baby” and “No funds”, would Boulevard be restored to its past glory?