The massive wall, Kalai built around a hill in the middle of Downtown during Emperor Akbar’s reign has survived vagaries of centuries, but parts of this marvelous enclosure are crumbling amid neglect and encroachment.
Building the ‘Kalai’ started on Akbar’s third visit to Kashmir in 1589 AD following the Mughal invasion of the region in 1585-86.
Various historical accounts reveal construction of ‘Kalai’ was completed in early 17th century. Mir Mohammad Hussain Kanth, a Kashmiri, was appointed by the Mughals to supervise its construction.
Over the centuries the massive stone and mortar enclosure protected many of Kashmir’s foreign kings who ruled from the fort atop the hill known both as Hari Parbhat and Koh-e-Maran. But now it is a crumbling structure shadowing shanties that have come up along its interior side right from Sangeen Darwaza and Kathi Darwaza, erstwhile gates to the ruling quarters inside the wall.
Successive governments and authorities have failed to check the encroachment which has at places completely obliterated the heritage enclosure from view.
The two main gates guiding visitors inside the Kalai area, Kathi Darwaza from Rainawari side and Sangin Darwaza from Hawal, still retain some of their old grandeur. Another gate, the Bachhee Darwaza towards the shrine of Hazrat Makhdoom sahib (RA) was reconstructed in late 90’s. Visitors can still see remnants of an entire city inside the Mughal enclosure.
Mulla Akhoond Sahab Masjid or Mallashah Masjid and adjacent Hamam built by Dara Shikoh, the fort atop Koh-e-Maran hillock built by Pathan governor Atta Muhammad Khan adds to the historicity of the wall.The boundary of Kalai also overlooks Pokhribal lake on its eastern side and Waris Khan chah (well) on Badamwari side holding some important glimpses of Kashmir history under foreign rule.
The Mallashah Masjid, Kathi Darwaza and Sangin Darwaza are officially under the protection and care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), while Kalai rampart itself and the fort come under the domain of Department of Archives and Archaeology.
Convener of the Kashmir chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Muhammad Saleem Beg, who has carried out extensive research on the ‘Kalai’ said the whole structure of the enclosure more than three kilometers long and its texture comprises of stone fitted with lime mortar as binding material.
Historians say, Akbar realizing the strategic importance of the hillock in the middle of the city, erected the massive wall around it and then built a city complex Nagar Nagar inside.
Some historians are also of the view that the Mughal emperor undertook building the Kalai to “alleviated the distress of the people during famine” by engaging them as labour, and built the city inside “with the view of attracting Kashmiris back to Kashmir, who had fled in the troublous times of the Chaks. High wages were given to men and women.”
“The city complex was built by Akbar. He realised importance of the hill from a military standpoint. That is why he constructed a military cantonment here, which also served as sort of secretariat for his bureaucracy,” said assistant professor of History at Kashmir University, Sajjad Ahmad Darzi.
“Since there was famine in the city, he (Akbar) sanctioned two crore rupees and sent off the money along with 200 artisans and 200 servants to built the city.”
Other historians say Akbar build the insurmountable wall around the hill purely for military purposes as Kashmiri people had given a tough time to his forces resisting their occupation of the land.
Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a prominent writer who lives in the vicinity of Kalai, said Kashmiris disliked the Mughal army, since it had invaded their land through deception, after it was defeated two times by them.
“Kashmiris, particularly young men had launched a guerilla war for several years against Mughals. They were known as Dilawars. These Dilawars were persecuted by Mughals. Some hardened Dilawars were even taken to jail built by Mughals on islands inside Dal lake including Ropelank and Sonelank where they were tortured to death and discreetly drowned,” said Zareef.
Zareef said resistance against Mughal army later became subtle and got reduced to Kashmiris name calling Mughals as ‘Shikas Mogul’ and ‘Poge Mogul’ to vent their anger and in a way console themselves.
Union government in 2009 sanctioned a Nagar Nagar project for restoration of the Kalai, however it failed to achieve its aim owing to official apathy. In 2013 repair work of the wall was started, but it was stopped midway after it started crumbling down.
Director, Archives and Archaeology, Muneer-ul-Islam said his department does not have adequate funds to carry out repair work of the Kalai.An official of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, wishing anonymity, said that “we are helpless to take action against encroachers, as it will hit the vote bank of some politicians.”
“It is a huge task to remove existing encroachments from Kalai, while at the same time if government is serious to remove these it can do so easily. There are lot pressures from various quarters,” he said.