The first bridge across the Jehlum was Aali Kadal, built by Sultan Ali Shah in 1415 AD. Six more bridges were built by later rulers, and by the nineteenth century Srinagar came to be known as the 'City of the Seven Bridges.'
1415 AD/Aali Kadal/Sultan Ali Shah
1427 AD/Zaina Kadal/Sultan Zain ul Abdin
1500 AD/Fateh Kadal/Sultan Fateh Shah
1573 AD/Habba Kadal/Sultan Habib Shah
1666 AD/Nawa Kadal/Noor ud din Khan Bamzai
1671 AD/Safa Kadal/Saif ud din Khan
1774 AD/Amira Kadal/Amir ud din Khan Jawan Sher
'The view from any of the old city's bridges is wholly and unmistakably Kashmiri. Old brick buildings line the banks. The distinctive pagoda-like roof of a mosque or a shrine enlivens the horizon, and in the muddy water of the River Jhelum, a straggling row of doongas flanks the edges. These boats, with their shingled roofs, are the forerunners of Srinagar’s houseboat. A particular community lives in them. Formerly this community was associated with ferrying people, livestock and food grains along the river. The past still lingers in their lifestyles even if their occupation has changed. Occasionally one may catch sight of a doonga making its stately progress down the river as the owner shifts residence. Doongas are sparsely furnished – virtually no furniture is seen except for the kitchen, which gleams with copper utensils of every description that line the shelves from floor to ceiling.'
Two bridges were constructed during the rule of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed – Budshah Kadal and Zero Bridge. The former was built in 1957 across the river Jhelum to connect the Maulana Azad Road to the Civil Secretariat and was named after Zain-ul-Abidin (AD 1420-70), popularly known as ‘Budshah’, the great king of ancient Kashmir. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin thus has the honour of having two bridges named after him- the 'Zaina' and 'Budshah' Kadals.
A popular anecdote relates that the Zero Bridge was originally nicknamed 'Zaer' Bridge after it's contactor who happened to be hard of hearing. It is totally in character that Bakshi Sahib would rename it to 'Zero' bridge as he disliked negativity in names (The renaming of Sonawari, Mahmudpura and other places with earlier unfavourable names are testimony to this fact.)
1n the 1970's the Noor Bagh Bridge was built over the Jehlum near Qamarwari. It must have been one of the earliest concrete bridges as it is still popularly known as the 'Cement Bridge'.
In fact most of the old wooden bridges have been replaced by modern concrete ones. These are undoubtedly more functional yet appear soulless when compared to the aesthetics of the old rickety wooden structures. A couple of old bridges like Habba Kadal and Zaina Kadal are still used as pedestrian walkways while the rest have been dismantled.
In the 1990's the Abdullah Bridge between the Zero and the Amira Kadal was constructed. Currently eleven bridges span the Jehlum between Sonwar and Qamarwari.
Two pedestrian bridges have also been constructed over the Jehlum at Sonwar and Lal Mandi. The latter bridge near the SPS Museum is the first suspension bridge across the Jehlum. Numerous smaller bridges intersect the network of waterways that flow through Srinagar city.
Zero Bridge was also slated for dismantling but fortunately some bright spark had the epiphany to restore it to its original splendour. Work in the traditional manner is underway to give the bridge a new lease of life. It is fascinating to compare recent photographs of the restoration of Zero Bridge to those of bridge rebuilding after floods in the 1880's.
A plan to build a new bridge between the post office lane and Rajbagh has run into what I feel is needless controversy. Reams have been written on the aesthetics of the Bund, the shape and orientation of the new bridge, the ill-effects(?) on a nearby girls high school. If the traffic patterns and structural requirements have been properly worked out, it can ease the chronic traffic congestion on both sides of the Jehlum.
Wags are already calling this new bridge the 'Tedha Bridge' and I hope that the name does not stick because, like my father, I do not like discordant names. I just hope that it is not an incomprehensibly humped structure like the Amira Kadal Bridge (Shonthoo's Folly, I read somewhere) where driving behind an impossibly loaded 'redha' or handcart is a nightmare.
If I may be allowed a suggestion, it could be named 'Albion Bridge' after Sir Albion Banerji, the Prime Minister of Kashmir who resigned in 1929 to protest against the injustice being meted out to the citizens of Kashmir by the sectarian and autocratic Dogra rulers.
“You can use mortar and stone to build walls to separate people or to build bridges to unite them!