Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Ht Think! -

Mun­shi Aziz Bhat joined the Silk Route trade in 1915. Af­ter a few years, he di­ver­si­fied his busi­ness by build­ing a sarai (inn) for mer­chants at Kargil’s Car­a­van Bazaar. The trade col­lapsed af­ter the Par­ti­tion of In­dia and the clos­ing down of bor­ders in 1947, forc­ing the busi­ness­man to shut the sarai in 1948. It re­mained so for al­most half a cen­tury. As his grand­sons – Gulzar Hus­sain Mun­shi and Ajaz Hus­sain Mun­shi – toyed with the idea of de­mol­ish­ing th e derelict sarai, they chanced upon a trea­sure trove of ar­ti­facts and mer­can­tile items that were traded along the Silk Route.

“We had no clue that th­ese things were ly­ing in­side. More im­por­tantly, we did not re­alise their value,” says Ajaz Hus­sain Mun­shi. Luck­ily for them, the broth­ers met Jacqueline H Fewkes, a cul­tural an­thro­pol­o­gist. She recog­nised the value of the con­tents and con­vinced them to set up a mu­seum.

The mu­seum has three rooms and sev­eral

sec­tions that give a vis­i­tor an idea about the im­por­tance of Kargil, the car­a­van routes, and the lives and cul­ture of the mer­chants, horse­men, herders, pil­grims, ar­ti­sans, no­mads and farm­ers who tra­versed the Silk Road.

The ar­ti­facts on dis­play in­clude exquisitely de­signed horse and camel trap­pings, bells, straps and sad­dles, the cos­tumes of dif­fer­ent kinds of travellers: richly em­broi­dered hand­made caps from Cen­tral Asia, lux­u­ri­ous silk and muslin from the east. The ex­hibits also in­clude rare tele­graphs, rev­enue records, manuscripts, in­clud­ing one of old­est hand­writ­ten Ko­rans, a Bible in Purgi that was printed in Eng­land in 1938, a rev­enue record with Shah Ja­han’s stamp. An­other in­ter­est­ing item is the trader ac­count book — Bahi Khata — writ­ten in Landa script, a se­cret lan­guage that is mix­ture of Gur­mukhi, Hindi and Urdu. “We can’t read the script…it’s still a mys­tery but can tell us a lot about the barter trad­ing sys­tem that was preva­lent then,” says Muza­m­mil Hus­sain, head of out­reach.

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