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TIME WARP IN THE HIMALAYAS | Kargil’s heritage market defies modernity

Facelift or Fade Away: Locals seek balance for Silk Route jewel
12:44 AM Jan 04, 2024 IST | Irfan Raina
time warp in the himalayas   kargil’s heritage market defies modernity
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Kargil, Jan 03: Kargil Bazaar, a timeworn marketplace, nestled in the heart of Kargil town in the cold desert Ladakh, transcends the bounds of mere commerce.

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Echoing the clatter of hooves on cobblestone streets and the vibrant hum of haggling merchants this old market in the heart of Kargil town attracts a good number of customers.

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Once a vibrant artery of the Silk Road, Kargil Bazaar witnessed the ebb and flow of caravans laden with exotic treasures – silken fabrics shimmering like desert mirages, precious stones glinting like fallen stars, and spices that filled the air with intoxicating aromas.

The travellers and traders would stop here to rest, buy, and sell.

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Even today, remnants of this rich past linger in the weathered facades and reflect the rich Central-Asian influence in its architectural character.

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Step into Balti Bazaar, and one is transported to a bygone era.

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The mud and wood architectural style associated with Ladakh in the Western Himalayas greet a visitor as the air resonates with the gentle chime of prayer flags fluttering in the breeze, a testament to the region’s unique blend of Buddhist and Islamic influences.

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But the whispers of change are also upon Kargil Bazaar.

Modernity’s relentless march threatens to erase the intricate details of its past.

Haphazard construction and encroaching developments cast a shadow of uncertainty over the bazaar’s future.

However, a glimmer of hope shines through the dust.

Local voices, amplified by cultural activists like Sonam Wangchok, are rising in defence of their heritage.

Talking to Greater Kashmir, Wangchok said that there are fascinating stories about the Balti Bazaar in Kargil and the Silk Route trade.

“Hope these old buildings do not disappear in the name of development and modernisation,” he said.

Others plead for a conservation plan that would not only safeguard the bazaar’s historical significance but also breathe new life into its ageing bones.

Muhammad Jaffer, an elderly man, who runs a provisional store, says that the market was one of the oldest in the town and had a great significance.

Located on Leh-Srinagar National Highway, 220 km from Leh and 210 km from Srinagar, Kargil is one of the two districts of Ladakh and a major town of the cold desert region.

The town is situated on the bank of Suru, a tributary of the River Indus.

An important halt point between Srinagar and Leh, a large number of tourists visit Kargil to see how and where the India-Pakistan War of 1999 was fought.

The Kargil Development Authority (KDA), in collaboration with the Tourism Department, has heeded the call for the preservation of the Kargil Bazaar.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kargil Development Authority (KDA) Abdul Gaffar Zargar told Greater Kashmir a comprehensive plan was in the works, aiming to not just preserve the market’s architectural integrity but also revitalise it as a vibrant cultural hub.

The proposal envisions the functional restoration of key structures, transforming them into spaces that showcase the region’s rich socio-cultural history.

Kargil Bazaar is more than just a marketplace.

It is a living museum, a pulsating heart of the community.

Preserving its legacy is not just about protecting bricks and mortar.

It is about safeguarding the stories etched in every weathered stone, the melodies carried on the wind, and the spirit of a people who have thrived for centuries amidst the harsh beauty of the Himalayas.

The future of Kargil Bazaar hangs in the balance, but a chorus of hope is rising.

Caught in a time warp in the Himalayas, will Kargil bazaar continue to weave its magic for generations to come? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain – the echoes of the Silk Road still resonate in the heart of Kargil, and the fight to preserve its legacy has just begun.

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