On a recent trip to Srinagar, Kashmir, like most people, I spent my time driving around Srinagar city visiting the usual tourist spots – the Pari Mahal, the Chashmeshahi, the Nishat Garden, the Shalimar Garden, the Badam Wari, etc. The next day I drove up to Pahalgam – the valley of the shepherds, and from there on to Chandanwari – the last drive-able spot on the Amarnath pilgrimage, the pictursque Aru Valley – a hotspot for movie shoots, and Betaab Valley – where the very famous iconic movie – Betaab starring Amrita Singh and Sunny Deol, the debut movie for both, was shot. But like I always do on every trip, I needed some time to explore the city in my way, on foot, just wandering around without any particular aim. The only aim is to soak in the city, experience what the city is all about. To me, walking around is the best way to experience the city, something that cannot, in my opinion, be accomplished while driving around or taking a public transport like a bus or a cab or a subway, which will conveniently take you from point A to point B, but miss out on everything in between.
So, while walking around the city, I walked over to the old city area of Srinagar, where I walked over to one of the most renowned landmarks of the city – the Zero Bridge. You would have seen it in movies, you might have heard about it, but I assure you, walking on the bridge yourself, is a whole other experience.
What is the Zero Bridge?
The Zero Bridge is an old wooden arch bridge in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. It stands over the Jhelum river in the north-south direction connecting the Sonwar area of Srinagar city in the north to the Rajbagh area in the south. The original Zero bridge was constructed in the 1950s under the the then “prime minister of Jammu & Kashmir” – Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. In the late 1980s, the bridge was shut down for vehicular traffic as the wooden structure began weakening. Zero bridge is only about two kilometers from the city center of Srinagar – Lal Chowk, a place that very often comes up in our news and media, not always for the brightest reasons, but as everything in Srinagar, it does have its own charm.
The Zero Bridge is located very close to the Church Lane that houses the prime minister’s private office, state circuit house, and the official residences of many other ministers.
Why is the Zero Bridge called the Zero Bridge?
There are multiple stories around why this bridge came to be called the Zero Bridge. But before I tell you the different stories I have heard, let me tell you about the historic bridges of Srinagar.
The Historic Bridges of Srinagar
Originally, Srinagar had seven wooden bridges standing across the Jhelum river. In Kashmiri language, bridges are called ‘Kadal’. So, the name of the bridge is suffixed with ‘kadal’. These seven historic wooden bridges of Srinagar are:
- Amira kadal – originally built in 1773
- Habba kadal – originally built in 1550
- Fateh kadal – originally built in 1499
- Zaina kadal – originally built in 1426
- Aali kadal – originally built in 1417
- Nawa kadal – originally built in 1666
- Safa kadal – originally built in 1670
So, you can see that these historic bridges are centuries old. Sadly, habba, fateh, zaina, aali, nawa, and safa got washed away in the second half of the 1800s. Coming down the timeline, new bridges got built in Srinagar –
- Zero bridge – built in the 1950s
- Abdullah bridge – built in the 1990s
- Lal Mandi foot bridge – built in 2005
- Budshah bridge – built in 1950, also called the Alamgir bridge
- New Habba kadal – built in 2001
Coming back to the story of the Zero bridge. The Amira kadal was regarded as the ‘first’ bridge in Srinagar out of the original seven bridges. Now, the more official version of why Zero bridge is called Zero bridge is that the Zero bridge preceded the Amira bridge. Amira bridge, as I just mentioned, was regarded as the ‘first’ bridge, and ‘zero’ precedes ‘one’, so this new bridge was came to be called ‘Zero bridge’.
Another story of why the Zero bridge is called Zero bridge is that this particular bridge was constructed by a local contractor who was apparently deaf. In Kashmiri, the word for deaf is ‘zorr’. So, the bridge was originally called ‘Zorr bridge’. With time, the name went from being ‘zorr’ to ‘zero’.
Status of the Zero Bridge
Some years back, the wooden planks of the Zero Bridge began collapsing and the entire bridge was dismantled for repair. It had already been closed to vehicular traffic at that point and continues to remain so even today. Paramilitary bunkers have been built on both sides of the zero bridge.
The current Zero Bridge is a spectacular marvel made of the wood from Deodar and Walnut trees, local to Kashmir and known for being highly durable in the river conditions where the bridge stands on the Jhelum.
Zero Bridge is considered to be a valuable part of the local heritage of Srinagar, which is why when the bridge was rebuilt, it was rebuilt as a wooden bridge and not replaced with a cement and mortar bridge which otherwise would have been a lot more durable.
The view from the Zero Bridge is amazing, there’s maple trees around, the Jhelum flowing below is serene there is almost always a gentle cold breeze blowing. the night view from the bridge and of the Zero bridge is simply mind-blowing. To me, Zero Bridge signifies convergence, connecting two very different parts of a beautiful city, bridged together by the wood that is iconic for Kashmir. This convergence, to me, is the beauty of Kashmir – the coming together of some of the most beautiful landscapes nature has created with some great food, and just peace. Ok, I tend to get carried away when talking Kashmir, so let me get back to Zero bridge.
What to do at Zero Bridge?
Ideally, the first thing most people will tell you is to take pictures of such an iconic beautiful bridge. However, when have I joined the bandwagon of what everyone does? To be fair, I did take pictures, a lot of them, but that is not my number one recommendation of what to do at the Zero Bridge. My first recommendation is this –
There is a small shop near the Zero Bridge called Khulad Chai. They serve their chai in a kulhad, the Kashmiri way. I would say, get a cup of steaming hot Kashmiri Kahwa from the shop. Then walk over on to the Zero Bridge, and sip your Kahwa on the bridge, feel the breeze on your face, through your hair, listen to the Jhelum river streaming by, the beautiful leaves of the Maple trees around swaying to the tune of the breeze, and just for a few moments, soak up in the snow capped mountains on the horizon, let the Kahwa warm your hands, your body, and your heart. And then, you can go on to take as many pictures as you like.
Kashmir truly is heaven on Earth, and if you haven’t visited it, get up and do it as soon as you can.
That’s my story of the Zero Bridge. What do you think? Drop me a comment below or find me on Instagram – @banjaranfoodie