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Munshi Aziz Bhat Museuma treasure trove of Silk Route memorabilia

Kargil,July 14 (Scoop News)- Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Silk Route, Central Asian Trade and Kargil Artifacts Kargil Ladakh also Known as Kargil Khazana/Resham Raasta is a People’s Museum, dedicated to every Indian, as claimed by the Director of the Museum Gulzar Hussain Munshi. It is a treasure trove of Silk Route memorabilia focusing on the Indian and Central Asian trade culture of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Mr Gulzar said that the Museum is a Family-owned and operated Museum dedicated to the life and times of Munshi Azizi Bhat Silk Route pioneer trader, Sarai Founder, collector, patriot, Husband and a father.
The Museum captures the diversity, energy, acumen, creativity, ingenuity and vitality of the adventuresome merchants, horsemen, herders, pilgrims, artisans, nomads and farmers who became the princes and paupers of the commerce and trader culture of the Central Asia, West Asia and East Asia.
While Silk from China was highly prized item, giving the trading routes their thousands of other goods and services were transported on the many maritime and overland trajectories of the silk routes. Items of every luxury use were dispatched from Asia to many ports and towns of Africa, Europe and the Americas, receiving produce and manufactured items from these, in return.
The overland and sea Silk Routes which were famous even in the reign of Alexander the Great and the Han Dynasty in China, expanded to become the centuries-old, multidirectional, transcontinental thoroughfare for the movement, on horse backs, donkeys, mules, yaks and on foot, of spices, salt and pepper; herbs, fruits and nuts; silk, wool and cotton textiles; finished garments, bags, buttons, caps and hats made of willow, cotton, leather and wool; pots and pans; carpets; silk, wool, cotton and leather ornaments; precious and semi precious stones; jewelry, metal ware, ceramics and of course- People.
The Silk Routes, always combing both maritime and overland trade ways, spanned centuries and continents, making possible cultural, industrial and technological exchanges of goods and ideas among people across the world.
Traders; The town of Kargil and the trader families who moved goods and produce along its many routes are part of the unique story that the Museum seeks to narrate.
Punjabis and Kashmiris, Afgans and Persains, Chinies and Tibetans, Spanairds and Somalains, Eygyptains and Italains, rubbed shoulders, broke bread and exchanged goods and travel stories with Dardis and Argons, Baltis, Bhoto and Puriks, Tajiks and Uzbeks. The traders and wayfarers included potters, weavers, jewelers, blacksmiths, nomads, cooks, porters, pimps, prostitutes and princes. Trade, for many landless poor, meant escape from serfdom and bonded Labour. The men and women who thronged the fabled trade ways, speaking and writing every language and dialects, wearing all manner of dress and ornaments, partaking of every variety of food and drink, practicing customs and traditions from every fiefdom and principality of this vast region of mountain majesty and steppe pasture, gave modern India an early and unforgettable foretaste of the linguistic and ethnic diversity that is the hallmark of our unprecedented vibrant and growing 21st century Indian democracy. India, for millennia, has been a vital hub of commerce, religion and material culture along all trade routes including the silk routes.
Mr Ajaz Munshi the Curator of the Museum said that, the life and times of Munshi Aziz Bhat, merchant and Saria founder, curated by the Musuem represents a part of that rich tapestry of Indian and Central Asian trader tradition.
The Kargil Khazana/Rasham Raasta Musuem is located above Kargil Townmarketplace at 147 Munshi Enclave, Lankore Kargil Ladakh. Tiled steps lead up from a winding road to the hilltop Museum, offering breathtaking views of snow-covered and barren mountains and the swift-fed Suru Riverwhich winds through the town.
The useum displays the collection of Silk Routes artifacts of the family of Munshi Aziz Bhat, to whom the museum is dedicated. This unique family collection is being enriched by donations of artifacts from descendants of other Silk Route trader families living in the town and its environs.
Kargil is situated on the Karakoram plateau, is a nodal point between Srinagar, Leh, Zanskar and Baltistan since it is equidistance from all four places. Though it has been a strategic location, being an important link on the Central Asian Trade route, it has remained relatively unexplored especially when compared to its neighbor, Leh. It has also been ignored in terms of funding and even the Indian Government, the Tourist Department; NGO’s and research scholars have not given it enough attention.
Despite of the fact that it has been neglected for years, Kargil has a rich history and culture and has nurtured several tribes and languages. The six major tribes in the region are Puriks, BAltis, Dardis, Bhotos and the Argons. These people depend mostly on agriculture and animal husbandry for their subsistence. The climate of the region is harsh, with temperatures dropping to -30 to -40 degree Celsius in winters, heavey snowfall forces many people to live in isolation for long periods.
In ancient times, due to its strategic location, Kargil was important staging post for traders. It was an important link between India, Central Asia, Tibet, Kashmir and Baltistan. The traders included foreign merchants, ordinary peasant, nomads, porters and even princes. For many local traders, trade meant freedom from penury trading not only entailed an exchange to trade goods but also meant participation in the global exchange and intermingling of language, culture, arts and religious ideas.
Munshi Aziz Bhat; Munshi Aziz Bhat belonged to an educated family. He was only two when his father Rasool Bhat passed away after a short infirmity. Aziz Bhat was brought up by his audacious mother with the pension amount that she recovered from the government of Maharaja Pratap Singh for whom Rasool Bhat worked. Munshi Aziz Bhat was a bright student and managed to pass his class V examination from the only primary school of that time in Baltistan (now Pakistan). He joined revenue department as patwari, but quit the job in 1915 to give a shot in business.
During the period of 1880-1950, all the trading activities were run and controlled by the Punjabi Sikhs and Hoshiarpuri Lalas who were Hindus. It was in this period he managed to mount as a large scale trader in the expanse. In August 1915, he in partnership with a Punjabi Sikh Merchant, Karan Sigh commenced retail sum wholesale shop with a cushion money of Rs 6000/-(Silver Coins) which is equivalent to Rs 60 lakh these days. Luck favored them and they made an annual profit of Rs 9000 (Silver Coins).
In 1920 he dissolved the partnership and established his own large scale enterprise with the help of his two elder sons and named it as ‘Munshi Aziz Bhat and Sons’. In a short span of time Munshi Aziz Bhat became the crore large scale trader in the region and he managed to get himself appointed as the petition writer of Maharaja Hari Singh for the region.
He Constructed the first ever Inn in Kargil, named as Munshi Aziz Bhat Saria. This triple storied building, housed seven shops from where he operated his business, and it still exist in the Old Bazaar of Kargil, but its front side has been renovated.
Mr Ajaz said that the objective of the museum is to establish the first ever museum of its kind in Ladakh (and most probably in India) of Central Asian Trade and Kargil arts and Artifacts and to some extent we have achieved. Also to establish a center to preserve the artifacts presently available to us, that we might acquire in future or might be donated by various interested persons and according to him people are contacting them and donating their treasures with the museum.
Talking on the aim and objective of the museum the director of the museum Gulzar Hussain Munshi said that the aim is not to preserve these artifacts but also through these to preserve our culture, history, tradition and customs which are fast disappearing especially because the younger generation is copying the western culture and habits badly. A few years ago our friend Dr. Raveen Agarwal from University of Indaina (USA) was doing her thesis ‘Kesar Saga’ in Kargil and she told many things that we didn’t know about the saga. She also said that if our culture were not preserved locally, some day we might need to travel to USA or England to know about our culture.
He added that they are planning to add a contemporary art section in the Museum to encourage young upcoming artists.
Mr Ajaz said that though 95% of the Artifacts belong to them, they do not want to make it a personal or private Museum. They want to convert it into a trust which will have local, National and International members, who take interest in our history and culture and in the overall development of our area.
Thus the aim is to establish a center in Kargil for visit, study and research for locals, tourists and research scholars and keep it growing with the passage of time.
The museum has been registered with the registrar of Societies under the Act of 1941 by the name Kargil Social and Cultural Organization (KASCO).

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