More than 300 people have died and thousands rendered homeless by the rampaging floods that hit Jammu and Kashmir earlier this month. Srinagar was especially affected. But the floods have also left in ruins the places and things that mark the city's long history.

Along the Bund

The Bund, a famous walkway along the Jhelum river that for centuries has been dotted with little shops, now lies devastated all the way from Zero Bridge till Amira Kadal. Floodwater cut through the Bund at several places, creating deep craters. The lawn of Tao café, which used to be filled with visitors, is now remarkable for the upside-down auto-rickshaw on it. The cafe looks abandoned. This whole area was submerged, including, next door, the iconic Kashmiri handicrafts store called Suffering Moses, established by the current owner Sadiq Wani’s great-grandfather in 1840.

The Bund is one of the most historic sites in Srinagar. The walkway, and most of the surrounding buildings, were built during the Dogra period, under the influence of the British. It is famous for structures such as the erstwhile Grindlays bank building.

Now the macadamised walkway has between 10 and 15 deep craters that cannot be crossed. The entrance to Grindlays bank building has been swept away by floodwater. Other historical buildings, such as the Piston-ji building, Mahatta Photo studio, general post office have all been affected as well. Lal Chowk smells of contaminated water and garbage. The markets used to be filled with shoppers. Now one only sees shop owners wearing gloves and masks, clearing buckets of mud and silt carefully so that the shop does not collapse in the process.

Repositories of culture

On the other side of the Bund stand two important structures. Both buildings – the Sri Pratap Singh museum and the Academy of Art Culture and Language – are situated several feet below road height, leaving them vulnerable to floods. The floodwater did not spare these two structures. The entire ground floor of the museum was under water: several rare artifacts, ancient texts, manuscripts and pieces of art have remained submerged for days. The museum has sludge on the tables, artifacts and many other items. A few of the academy buildings were also under water. Officials say the conservation laboratory of the academy is still submerged.

“As the floods submerged the buildings, the watchman tried to save the records,” said the secretary of the Academy, Haroon Rashid. “We managed to shift the service book records to first floor. Several manuscripts, however, were submerged. I can’t give the exact worth of the losses as some items, like MF Husain’s painting, has no price. So far I can say 10% of the items are confirmed as damaged. But we don’t yet know the fate of much else. In one of the buildings, 25,000 books are under water.”

Rare manuscripts, such as a Persian rendition of the Bhagvad Gita and some old copies of the Koran, are lying submerged.

As much as 90% of the Museum’s artifacts have reportedly been damaged. The director of archives, archeology, and museums, Muhammed Shafi Zahid, told a local newspaper that the loss is beyond repair. “Going by the records, never has the museum in its more than 100 years of existence suffered such damage; not even during the great floods of 1902, 1957 and 1959,” he said. “We have around 18,000 artifacts. You do the math.”

Personal collections

The floods have also affected personal libraries and collections. Masood Hussain, an artist who rescued many stranded people during the floods, was able to save only seven paintings based on poet Agha Shahid Ali’s unpublished couplets, all of which had been given to him by the poet himself 15 years ago.

Academic and novelist Shahnaz Bashir lost the newspaper and magazine archives he had collected since the 1990s. Only a few remained, all of which were drying in his courtyard.

“Personal objects at home are source of memory and history,” said Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, another artist. “We grow up with them around us. People are discarding that and the Srinagar Municipal Corporation is dumping truckloads every day.”