In Kashmiri language, a bridge is called a Kadal while in Tamil, the word ‘Kadal’ means love, and in Srinagar, it is impossible not to feel the Kadal (love) for these Kadals.
Old Zero Bridge
Constructed in 1950s, the bridge is the oldest in Srinagar City.
Initially, known as ‘Zor Bridge’ (Zor means deaf in Kashmiri) as it was constructed by a deaf contractor.
It was closed for vehicles in 1990s after which the bridge was dismantled in 2012, only to be reopened as a heritage walkway in 2016.
The bridge houses kiosks on the deck and a food court nearby built in the shape of traditional Kashmiri houseboat keeping in view the local heritage and architecture.
The 154-metre long bridge has been built with deodar and wooden decks on both sides with people from different walks of life thronging it on a daily basis.
Shakir Ahmad Wani, a resident of the nearby Raj Bagh, quotes his grandfather Abdul Rahim Wani as saying, “Amira Kadal was referred to as the 1st Bridge after its construction even though the present Zero Bridge was built prior to it. For this reason, this bridge was named Zero Bridge.”
Considered to be the main artery connecting uptown Srinagar areas with Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) and business hub, Lal Chowk, the bridge was thrown open in 1980.
Named after National Conference (NC) founder and former Prime Minister of Jammu Kashmir,Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, the bridge has an exquisite Emporium Garden towards its one side which used to house the English residents during the Dogra rule.
The 390-meter long bridge witnesses rush of pedestrians and cars throughout the day while it has staircases on both sides, which act as ramps for the people coming in from the opposite embankments of the River Jhelum.
Abdullah Bridge 2.0
Proposed to be built just a few feet away from the existing Abdullah Bridge, the Abdullah Bridge 2.0 would further eat away the space of the heritage Emporium Garden after the 25-feet-wide and over 300-metre-long stretch of the northern side of the garden was acquired for construction grade-separator near the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC).
Presentation Convent Pedestrian Bridge
Inaugurated in January this year, the 118-meter long bridge is the second pedestrian walkway in less than 500-meter distance on the River Jhelum.
The bridge was first conceived as a motorable bridge in 1970 to ease traffic in the city, but the idea was dropped after stiff opposition by the Institution of Engineers. However, the NC-Congress coalition picked up the project again a few years ago, despite opposition on its skewed design.
However, the construction went ahead until a change-of-heart came about again – not before Rs 8 crore were spent – and the PDP-BJP coalition took a U-turn and decided to place a foot bridge on top of piers built to support a motorable bridge.
Meanwhile, the bridge is now a pedestrian walk connecting the Peerzoo Island and a bunch of cafés and Masjid Bilal on one side with the Presentation Convent School and the adjoining Masjid Rehmat-ul-Aalmeen on the other side.
Lal Mandi Foot Bridge
The 144-meter long Lal Mandi Foot Bridge marks the fourth bridge on River Jhelum within 1.5 km connecting the Lal Mandi with Shiekh Bagh areas.
Inaugurated in 2005, the bridge dons the SPS museum on the Lal Mandi side and the Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson schools on the other side.
Experts have been castigating successive State governments for the flawed city planning as foot bridges have been mushrooming up across the city within a span few kilometres even though the need for motorable bridges has been rising owing to the increase in traffic inflow in the city.
Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, Head of Department, Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir said, "Having so many bridges is a matter of concern but the bridges across River Jhelum in Srinagar have been since ages and the traffic is also huge."
"Bridges are important but what matters is how they are constructed and the flow of water is to be looked after," he said.
"Constructing bridges within few meters definitely affects the retaining capacity of the banks of River Jhelum," he added.
The Seven Bridges
The first bridge across River Jehlum was Aali Kadal, built by Sultan Ali Shah in 1415 CE. Six more bridges were built by later rulers, and by the 19th century, Srinagar came to be known as the 'City of the Seven Bridges'.
The area around Aali Kadal is famous for the winter breakfast delicacy ‘Harrisa’ prepared by mincing the mutton.
The second in line of the seven bridges of Srinagar city is Zaina Kadal built and named after Kashmir’s prominent and longest-serving Shahmiri king Sultan Zain-ul-Aabideen in 1427.
Although a new Zaina Kadal, adjacent to the old one, has come up but still the beautiful view of magnificent wooden marvel, the Khanqah-i-Moulla on one side and the top of a temple on the other side mark the syncretic culture of the Valley since antiquity.
The nearby Budshah Tomb where Zain-ul-Aabideen and his mother lay buried marks the completion of life cycle for the Shahmiri king.
And in the same Zaina Kadal area, Kashmir’s first police station was also set up, at S R Gunj.
The erstwhile Nalai Maer, the stream across the old city, also started from Zaina Kadal.
Fateh Kadal built in 1500 CE by Sultan Fateh Shah is also called the third bridge. The bridge is now in dilapidated condition. A new concrete bridge has been built instead.
Built in 1573 CE by Sultan Habib Shah, the adjoining area of the Habba Kadal is famous for the houses of Kashmiri Pandits along and traditional Kashmiri architecture.
Between the old bridge of Habba Kadal and the new one, a Ghat, a rusty dome of an old temple, and another old temple at a distance, new mobile towers have risen adding ugliness.
The New Bridges
Interestingly, Zaina Kadal, Fateh Kadal and Habba Kadal, all have new versions built some years back.
Nawa Kadal and Safa Kadal
The other two bridges in the order of the seven bridges are Nawa Kadal Bridge built in 1666 CE by Noor-ud-Din Khan Bamzai and Safa Kadal built in 1671 CE by Saif-ud-Din Khan.
Interestingly, the view from any of the old city's bridges is wholly and unmistakably Kashmiri because old brick buildings line the banks with distinctive roof of a Masjid or a shrine or a temple brightening the horizon.
Among all the seven historical bridges of Srinagar, Amira Kadal Bridge also referred to as the “First Bridge” is a relatively newer one compared to the remaining six bridges.
Built in 1774 CE by the Afghan Governor Amir Khan Sher Jawan, the bridge is busiest in Srinagar and sometimes referred to as ‘The Bridge of the Commons’.
The bridge is unique in many ways for its humped design and also the endlessly cramped street vendors occupying the bridge like bees.
With the common populace of the city crossing between the Maharaja Bazaar on one side and Ghanta Ghar on the other side, the bridge also witnesses snail-paced vehicular movement as footpaths on the bridge are occupied by vendors while motorable road is occupied by the people.
The syncretism of various religions thrives side-by-side in the Muslim-majority state and Amira Kadal is witness to it with the adjoining Gurdwara of Sikhs towards Lal Chowk and Hanuman temple of Hindus toward the Hari Singh High Street while the shrine of 11th century Sufi saint, Shaikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani housed in a lane of the contiguous Sarai Bala.
Built in 1957 during Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad’s government, the bridge connects the Maulana Azad Road to the Civil Secretariat and is named after Zain-ul-Aabideen popular as ‘Budshah’.
The bridge sometimes also referred to as ‘The Bridge of Lords’ is just 100 meters from Amira Kadal.
The government does not allow any vendors to occupy this bridge due to the passage of politicians through M.A. Road.
A stark difference in the two bridges over the River Jhelum also showcases the difference between the common populace walking one bridge while the elite zipping hassle-free in cars on the other.
Soon Budshah Bridge is expected to be connected to the 2.4-km flyover from Jehangir Chowk to Ram Bagh.
Downstream from the bridge, one can see Shergadi Palace along with Shiv Mandir and the Gadadhar Temple. Also the Lala Ded Memorial is some 200 meters from the bridge.
The Lost ‘Venice of the East’
Once known as ‘Venice of the East’, Srinagar had a number of streams that crisscrossed the city and Nalai Maer was the most important one.
A major road in Srinagar downtown was constructed by filling up Nalai Maer leading to stagnation of Brari Nambal lagoon and choking Dal Lake.
Nalai Maer started from Brari Nambal lagoon and had two diversions, one passing through Eidgah into Khushalsar, Gilsar and finally emptying into Anchar Lake and, the other through Noor Bagh into River Jhelum.
Nalai Maer, in earlier times, always used to be busy with activities.
The stream was built during the reign of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin in the 14th century.
The bridges laid on the canal include Nowpora Kadal, Naid Kadal, Bohri Kadal, Saraf Kadal, Kaid Kadal, Rajouri Kadal, Kawdaer Kadal, Taribal and Narwar Kadal.
The US city of Pittsburgh claims to have more bridges, 446, which is more than any other place in the world. Dotted with bridges, the city of Srinagar is Kashmir’s Pittsburgh.