Srinagar set for a ₹980-crore makeover

Cycling tracks, pedestrian-friendly pathways and markets, streamlined traffic system will be in place in six months under the Smart City Project

Updated - November 20, 2022 10:56 am IST

Published - November 19, 2022 11:39 pm IST - SRINAGAR

 Srinagar’s Polo View market will get a colonial-era look with snow white paint and Dhajji Diwari timber planks of black colour. It will be the Valley’s first well-equipped pedestrian-friendly market. 

 Srinagar’s Polo View market will get a colonial-era look with snow white paint and Dhajji Diwari timber planks of black colour. It will be the Valley’s first well-equipped pedestrian-friendly market.  | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

The historical and cultural character of Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir’s summer capital with around 4,000 years of written history, is set for a revamp. Under the ₹980 crore Srinagar Smart City Project, the ‘Venice of the East’ with its water bodies, Mughal-era gardens and British-era boulevards and bungalows, will achieve many firsts over the next six months, including better urban mobility and water transport, conservation of heritage sites, development of pedestrian-friendly pathways and markets, and an intelligent traffic management system.

By March next year, Srinagar’s Polo View market, situated under the shade of mighty chinar trees, will display a new yet colonial-era look. Established in 1954 by former Prime Minister of J&K, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the Polo View market will be Valley’s first well-equipped pedestrian-friendly market, designed especially to improve tourists’ buying experience.

The Jhelum riverfront is getting a facelift with a cycling track and more. 

The Jhelum riverfront is getting a facelift with a cycling track and more.  | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

“Polo View will emerge as a unique showpiece market. We expect a more European look to this high-end market. The Smart City project will restore the market’s old foreign tourist-friendly charm. It will be calmer and cleaner,” Haji Ismail Bhat, 75, president of the Polo View Market Association, told The Hindu.

One hitherto shabby façade of the market already sports a snow white colour with carved fascia planks for roofing. This will be followed by a cladding of ornamental, black dhajji dewari (timber planks) on the 450-feet-long double-rowed stretch of the market.

“It will bring old charm to the market. Tourists will have a better shopping experience than in the past,” Mr. Bhat, who owns the market’s oldest shawl shop, Butterfly, set up by his ancestors in 1901, said. His shop once catered to the needs of English Viceroys, their staff, and the Dogra Maharajas. Mr. Bhat said the market was also a hit with Bollywood stars like Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand in the 1950s and 60s.

Just metres away from Polo View, by the bank of the Jhelum river, are the Valley’s oldest craft and tailoring shops. Coming up here soon is a four-kilometre-long cycling track, running parallel to Srinagar’s commercial nerve centre, Lal Chowk.

“During the British period, Kashmiris were barred from using the Jhelum riverfront for not being worthy enough. Even cycling was taxed on the riverbank. With the new cycling track, history takes a new turn,” Afzal Dar, a resident of the riverbank and a teacher by profession, said.

Iftikhar Ahmad Kakroo, Chief Engineer, Srinagar Smart City Limited, told The Hindu that the city’s Jhelum riverfront will see a phased uplift, making water transport up to the old city “an experience for travellers”.

The Dal Lake will have a five kilometre cycling track from Nishat up to Habbak. An outer circle of Lal Chowk will have a over 15 km of cycling track.

“We are buying 2,000 cycles and the first batch will arrive this year to start the rent-a-cycle system,” Mr. Kakroo said. “Most historical cities in the world are pedestrian friendly. Srinagar will be competing with the best historical cities with new infrastructure. There will be Wi-Fi centres, and charging points for e-rickshaws already launched in the city,” he added.

Srinagar’s traffic regulation will also ease up with the introduction of online parking, Internet-enabled lighting at intersections, on-camera challans for violators, and a centralised data system. “We have created a centralised system with exclusive Internet supply that won’t get affected by any Internet shutdown,” Mr. Kakroo said. About 200 km of optic fibre cabling has been laid in the city for this.

The Shalimar Bagh canal, believed to have been used by 17th century Mughal empress Nur Jahan to reach the Shalimar Mughal garden, is also getting a facelift.

This week, in a unique exercise, Srinagar Smart City project Chief Executive Officer Athar Aamir Khan took feedback from locals on the ongoing projects, a process that will continue till December 23 this year. “All stakeholders are working in tandem to make Srinagar city the best example in the Smart City movement in the country,” Mr. Khan said. He pledged that the Smart City will transform Srinagar into an eco-friendly, resilient and socio-economically vibrant city, “celebrating its natural and cultural heritage, creating harmony and opportunities for all”.

Officials said most ongoing projects under the Srinagar Smart City initiative are either 50-60% completed, or in their last leg to the finish line.

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