Over 100-year-old double-storey Lal Ded School building, witness to both tumultuous and peaceful eras of Kashmir, was thrown open as museum in Srinagar's old city on Tuesday.
The museum-cum-heritage centre, which will also serve as the valley's first art gallery, has come up in the school at Ganpatyar in Habba Kadal area, volatile and politically sensitive interiors of Srinagar's old city. The area was once hub of Kashmiri Pandits, who left the valley in 1990 in the wake of militant upsurge.
"This will be a gateway to cultural heritage of Srinagar showcasing spiritual, architectural and craft traditions, which evolved over centuries in the city," said Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) head Saleem Beg.
The museum was thrown open by state tourism minister Nawang Rigzin Jora and state home minister Nasir Aslam Wani.
"Our endeavour is to upgrade tourist infrastructure and conserve the city’s heritage places. A heritage tourist circuit Naagar-Nagar-Watlab is being developed at a cost of Rs. 38 crore under which the heritage sites of Srinagar city are being developed," said Jora.
Locals, who have never seen tourism activity in the area, pins hopes on the museum. "Now people from across the valley and tourists will come here. The museum will preserve our past from the onslaught of modernity. This is the best thing to happen in the old city for decades now," said Mehbooba Jan, a local school teacher.
Built in 1911 during the Maharaja Hari Singh's rule, the building epitomises classical Western European architecture. It was converted into a school by a renowned poet Pandit Deena Nath Nadim in 1947.
During the militancy period, the school witnessed a decline with lesser number of students registering themselves. It was after a campaign launched by the INTACH that it caught attention of the tourism department. "Some walls of the building were dismantled during the curfew period in 2008. Thankfully, our campaign saved the rest of the structure," said Beg.
In 2010, the building was declared unsafe by the authorities and the owner had even decided to demolish it to construct a shopping mall.
But once precariously-placed walls of the dilapidated building is now adorned with the first map of Jammu an Kashmir drawn by German native Weimer in 1829, intricate details of the pashmina shawl that Queen Elizabeth gifted to London's Victoria and Albert Museum in 17th Century. For visitors, a detailed introduction to the local handicrafts like paper machie, copper work etc has been put up.
This is also first attempt to integrate the old city, otherwise a city of protests and political agitation, into the tourism circuit of Kashmir. “The main entry of the building is from the riverside. The building’s facade is dominated by an impressive arcade of window openings surrounded by triangular and circular pediments and pilasters, reminiscent of the prevailing colonial influences of the 19th Century. The cruise service started this year on river Jhelum can bring visitors to this museum to understand our art and culture," said Beg.