AZIZ BHAT MUSEUM: LOST & FOUND
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.