By: Mohamad Haseeb Shah
The first permanent bridge over the river Jhelum was built by Sultan Ali Shah, in 1419 A.D., in the heart of the Srinagar city.The bridges constructed by Muslim rulers were made of deodar not only because of its availability in abundance in the valley but also its resistance to rot in water where it is said to remain unaffected for at least half a century.
The construction of wooden bridges over the Jhelum was cheap, effective and picturesque, and their construction involved two techniques with little variance. Initiated by the engineers of the medieval Kashmir, these were followed for several centuries until modern concrete bridges began spanning the river. In the first case, large square boxes of deodar filled with stones were sunk in the bed of the river over one another until a height above the low water level was reached for pier construction.
According to the second technique, old barges (boats) filled with stones were sunk at the sites chosen for pier foundations. Piles were then driven and more boats sunk when a height above the low-water level as reached, wooden trestles of deodar were constructed by placing rough-hewn logs at right angles. As the structure approached the requisite elevation to admit of Chakwaris (house – boats) passing beneath, the deodar logs were cantilevered. This reduced the span, and huge trees were made to serve as girders to the roadway (Chohan,1846-1947:60).The foundations of loose stones and piles were protected on the upstream by planking, and a rough but effective cut-water made. The boat-sinking technique for bridge construction is believed to be inspired by the building of an island on the Wular Lake by Zain-ul-Abideen by adopting this method. In the later years the sinking of boats and wooden boxes was replaced by a relatively modern technique adapted to form the foundation of a pier. A triangular space, with its apex stream wards, was formed in a river bed by strong stakes well driven down and covered with planks on the outside to a height of eight feet (Khuihami,1954:311). The space was then filled with stones and formed the foundation of the pier.
The pier consisted of alternate layers of deodar trunks; each placed above a foot apart with each succeeding layer broader than the previous one and laid at right angles to it. The trunks were fastened together at their ends by strong wooden pegs. The piers were then united by long and stout deodar across, from one to another laid about two feet apart. The platform consisted of rough planks or slender poles closely laid across the trunks connecting the piers and fastened at each end by wooden pegs. Finally, a coating of grass and earth was spread over the platform and a railing erected on either side of the construction in Kashmir, the wooden bridges also got the metallic surface instead of that of grass and soil (Ahmad,2001:108).
The wooden bridges constructed by driving down deodar planks into river bed were different for the other two types involving sinking of boats and boxes only in so far as construction of pier foundation was concerned. The other aspects of the bridges building remained the same. The driving-down technique was relatively modern, economic, efficient and less cumbersome in comparison with the earlier two methods. Thus we see the technique being employed sometimes beyond the construction of the first concrete bridge over the Jhelum at least where the dilapidated bridges were sought to be repaired. Alongside the construction of wooden piers, some bridges were built on brick and stone piers also like the old Amira Kadal, dismantled in 1980’s.
Author is student of Kashmir University can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org