Nearly 1100 years ago, when the Utpala King Avantivarman ruled Kashmir, an unprecedented flood crisis arrived. Historians say, somewhere in north Kashmir, the Jhelum flew off banks as stones obstructed its gushing water.
No person would dare to remove the rocks only before Avantivarman’s Irrigation Minister, Suyya dashed a pot of gold coins near the stone wall. The people plunged in to fetch them and, in the process, the stone wall was razed down. The place was thus named Suyya-pur after the witty ally of the king.
This lately became Sopore. 48 kilometres north of Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, Sopore is the “apple town” of Kashmir where horticulture is an important economic contributor.
Going by the hefty economy that few of its villages sustain in otherwise economically mediocre Kashmir, Chota or Mini London is what this place was famously called. Like the Thames that bisects London, Jhelum bisects Sopore. Some imply this is yet another reason to call Sopore so.
Stationing Asia’s second-largest fruit market, Sopore found itself at the Centre of Kashmir before a part of it was carved out in the tribal invasion of 1947. Despite, it getting sidelined, the quality of apples that its soil produced, didn’t let down the fruit trade from the region, thus the economy of the town has been evergreen forever.
“The apples of Sopore are regarded the best, not just in the country, but in the entire continent,” remarked General secretary Fruit mandi, Zahoor Ahmad Tantray.
Even amid the crisis that engulfed the valley since 1990’s, the Mandi or the local fruit trade collective of Sopore has been exporting apples to the country and even outside in quantities outnumbering every else fruit market of the country.
The Jammu and Kashmir government marked a total trade of apples from Sopore Mandi alone worth 1500 crore rupees," he said.
Hilal Ahmed Bhat, HOD History GDC Sopore said that the area is worldwide known for apple production and Asia’s second-largest fruit market so was named apple town. There is as such no history available why it was called Chota London but locals believe that Sopore was called “Chota” (small) London because of the luxurious lifestyle of the people living there.
Some villages like Achabal, Nowpora were listed as the richest areas of the town, the two-thirds of the apples consumed in India come from Kashmir and in all this Sopore contributes half of the total consumption.
The town also has a pluralistic ethos. While there are many Sufi shrines including Khanqah-i- Maula and the famous Ziyarat Lal Baba Sahib, Hindu Temples like Rishpeer, Bhairav Mandir Kalighat and Shiv Mandir also find a shelter here. The Sufi Kashmir’s most revered saint, Sheikh Hamza Makhdoomi whose shrine overlooks Srinagar from Hari Parbat hilltop was born in Sopore.
Not just apples, the town has been a centre of fish trade in the region too. While Jhelum, one of the biggest rivers, is perennial to Kashmir and thus to Sopore, the area also marks the presence of a giant freshwater lake, the Wular. Over rupees, 40 lac worth of fish trade takes place from Sopore. The town has a whopping 5,000 license holding?Mahageers?(fisherman). This is followed by the nearby Bandipora district which has close to 3,000 license holders.
Wular is the main source for fishing in the area, though regular encroachments of the area have led to crisis for these Mahageers.
Even today, when in Sopore, one may find deserted horse carts by roads in Sopore.
“We Soporians have historically been identified with three ‘Rs’ - Rab (mud), Reda (a cart) and Ropai (money). These are allegories to simplicity, culture and economy of the place,” said Syed Masoodi, Retired lecturer of Higher secondary school Sopore
“The people here are generous and grounded,” Masoodi added while remarking that generosity was intrinsic to them since times immemorial.
However, given the conflict and its placement right near the international border of India with Pakistan, which is accused of fuelling unrest in Kashmir, Sopore has been a hotbed of political unrest and armed insurgency.
Dr Parveen (Second name), a social worker based in Sopore, remarks that the peace instability in the area has led to inattention towards the developmental works. “Despite a thriving economy, the place hardly has any well-built roads. Though the Jhelum flows well through the public vicinity, the river has become a garbage dumping site for all the locals,” he said appealing to the people to restore the legacy of the place while urging the administration to come up with effective means to tackle such misdeeds,
“Now Sopore is hub of problems, Sopore town is not too far from Srinagar and should have been equipped with all modern facilities due to its proximity, however it has been neglected by government authorities,” he said