Once hub of authentic handicrafts, 'Kashmir Haat', now in ruins
The decline of Kashmir Haat was due to many reasons including new markets coming up in other places of the city and elsewhere in the Valley.
Kashmir Haat, which was built here nearly six decades ago to provide a marketing platform to the people associated with handicrafts including artisans today lies in shambles with most of the shopkeepers ruing lack of customer footfall. The shopkeepers claim the all-time high number of tourists that visited Kashmir last year did not benefit them as Kashmir Haat is not being promoted by the government on the tourist circuit as was done before the eruption of militancy.
“This market was established by the then chief minister to provide a platform for the Kashmiri handicraft artisans and people associated with handicrafts. Tourists across the country visited here as they used to get original handmade products without any fear of cheating and at fixed prices,” Nisar Ahmad Kitab, president of Government Central Market at Kashmir Haat, told. (Also read: Discovering Namda: A timeless tradition of Kashmir's exquisite woollen carpets )
Kitab said the government would extend support to the market in terms of advertisements which ensure good footfall of tourists. “But the eruption of insurgency adversely impacted this market. Our livelihood was also hit because tourists stopped visiting Kashmir. Most of the shop owners left the place and established their businesses outside the valley,” he added.
The shops reopened with the return of tourists in 1999 but the support was missing, he said. “Government is not paying any attention towards this market. Last year, Kashmir witnessed a huge footfall of tourists but unfortunately that didn't benefit us at all. Now we have requested the handicrafts department to include this market in the tourist map, which can bring in tourists again,” Kitab said.
Nazir Hussian, one of the shop owners, recalls the good days witnessed at this market when the hustle and bustle would go on till midnight. “This market used to open at 8 am and remain open till late night 10 pm to midnight. This market was the backbone of handicrafts,” he said. Hussain said the market was famous for Kashmiri handmade products.
“We would sell shawls, paper machie, jewellery, namda, carpets, etc here at a fixed price. The garden of Kashmir Haat was more famous than Mughal gardens, but this is now devastated. Only stray dogs can be seen here now,” he said. Jalal ud Din said he owns three shops at the Kashmir Haat but has not sold anything in the past six months.
“Not a single tourist is turning towards this market. No one is paying any attention towards us and we are suffering since years now. Sometimes flood hit us and sometimes this market was devastated in fire. I am myself an artisan and sell my own products here but machine-made products have hit us badly,” he added.
Director, Handicrafts Kashmir, Mahmood Shah said the decline of Kashmir Haat was due to many reasons including new markets coming up in other places of the city and elsewhere in the Valley. “Kashmir Haat was established 50 years ago. At that time it used to be the only handicraft shopping place. Over period of time, various tourist areas have developed and the handicraft spaces have also come up,” he said.
Shah said the department has been making efforts every year to revive the market through various measures. “We are mandated to revive the Kashmir Haat…Every year, we hold events for three months at Kashmir Haat. We mix it with culture and cuisine as well to make it more attractive. And this year from mid of Ramzan onwards, you will find the place very festive for three months to make it more attractive,” he said.
Shah said the department has been in consultations with other states and Union territories for holding a fair where handicrafts from these regions can be exhibited here. “We want them to exhibit their handicrafts here and we want to make it a mix basket -- a fusion kind of thing between the artisans of this place and artisans of the rest of the country,” he said.