LAL  CHOWK, the very name creates a sort of sensation in those people who are over the age of 60 years. LAL CHOWK is the heart of Srinagar  what Cannaught place is to  New Delhi and Bond street to London. LAL CHOWK got its name after Communist Leader B P L Bedi came to Srinagar and is considered the founder of Communist Party of India in the valley. It is synonymous with the RED SQUARE OF MOSCOW. 

It was around 1945 - 46. A hard core Communist he spread his ideology among the youngsters who by their education had become progressive and liberated  in their outlook.

What was the previous name of LAL Chowk nobody could answer whom this writer approached. 

LAL CHOWK essentially is a round circular place with a few buildings.Slowly with the passage of time it was encircled by numerous markets. In this circular area many things have happened especially after 1947 which have made history.


Palladium Cinema is the most important landmark of LAL CHOWK.It was owned by Bhai Anant Singh .He had 2 sons Surrinder Singh  and Krishan Gopal. Later on Surinder Singh became the owner and Krishan Gopal  became the owner of SHIRAZ Cinema.It will be interesting for the readers to know when Sheikh Mohd Abdullah was appointed Head of Administration Palladium Cinema became the office of Prime minister ( as Chief Minister was those called). 

Veteran Journalist Late Sh. S P Sahini , in his book writes That there were only 3 journalists who would go for the Press briefing of the new Government , namely -----  Sh. R.K.Kak, Sh. N L Wattal besides S. P Sahini.The first vital decisions by the new government were taken in Palladium cinema.


The next important landmark of LAL CHOWK  is Punjab Muslim Hotel ( later on Punjab Hotel). The three storey imposing large building is next to Palladium Cinema. In pre 1947 period it was owned by Non Kashmiri Pujabi Muslim.It is said the owners were running a hotel. 

Besides the Hotel it was the Head office of ALLIED CHIRAG DIN & SONS ,the main and big transporters  who ran passenger bus service between Srinagar and Rawalpindi.
A historical fact is attached to this building.In 1947 while the Indian army was pushing back the raiders Pt. NEHRU came to Srinagar. 

Sheikh Mohd Abdullah the then head of administration organised a public meeting in lal chowk . An improvised small  stage  nearly 2 storey high was made in front of Punjab Hotel building with the sole purpose that Pt. NEHRU should be visible to the huge crowd which had assembled to hear him about the future of Kashmir.

 A photograph of that meeting which has been misplaced shows Pt. Nehru speaking sitting in back is Sheikh Mohd Abdullah in a chair. Sitting behind Sheikh are two gentlemen with their attention concentrated on their notebooks noting down the contents of the speech. The two gentlemen are then Srinagar based journalists -------- Respected Sh. R K. KAK & Sh. N L WATTAL. 

Carried away by the huge cheering crowd Pt Nehru assured the audience that KASHMIRIS will decide the fate of Kashmir by PLEBESITE. 
One school of historians say that it was Sheikh Abdullah who spoke in the United Nations about PLEBESITE. ( I stand corrected).

The other school of historians says that it was Pt. Nehru who spoke first of PLEBESITE. The decision is left to the readers. Coming back to the owners of Punjab Hotel . 

With the folding up of the transport business most of the men and women of the family  opted for Pakistan. A young man with two or three ladies decided to stay back. The young man was a tall six footer always immaculately dressed and apparently was not doing any work. After sometime he committed suicide.


The most vital and important landmark of LAL CHOWK. This was/is a place where  Rich and poor, bureaucrats and their subordinates , Ministers and commoners , people irrespective of cast creed and religion would rub shoulders to have PAN . The shop is corner shop of the line , so small hardly one could sit. 

The owners were either from Bihar or U.P. The owner a dark faced serious looking  person with dark glasses would make the PANS and handover to the Pan lovers without exchanging a word. It is reported that the owners built a vast empire on this PAN business.


LAL CHOWK became the hub of SACRED RELIC AGITATION when it was alleged to have been removed from its place in HAZRATBAL SHRINE.The year was 1962 0r 1963 ( I stand corrected ).

The removal shook the whole nation .Sh. Lal Bhadur Shastri was flown specially to Srinagar for this purpose with a big troupe of Intelligence officers from IB and CBI. LAL CHOWK became the centre of agitation .

A stage was erected and with it the daylong speeches were made . The speakers were young and old, from different parties , individuals .It was the beginning of winter grass chatties ( mats) were spread all over the chowk for the public. 

Some of the journalists who used to cover the proceedings had to sit on the round railing of City Bus Service stand.It took nearly 3 -4 weeks to find the relic. 


This landmark of LAL CHOWK came into existence with the arrest of Sheikh Mohd Abdullah in 1953 and Bakshi Ghulam Mohd becoming the Prime Minister ( As  Chief Minister was those days called) of the state.

Till then Tongas were the main source of transportation. The Tongawallas  to show their solidarity with Sheikh Mohd Abdullah stopped plying Tongas as a mark of protest. The city became handicapped in the absence of Tongas. 

This provoked Bakshi who brought out buses from the Govt. Transport  to ply as City Bus service to different routes from LAL CHOWK.A roofed stand was constructed for the passengers. With the passage of time the stand was removed and with the city bus service came to an end.

With the passage of time LAL CHOWK slowly lost its importance with the emergence of Regal chowk. The COFFEE HOUSE became the main attraction of young and old , politicians , businessmen, intellectuals, journalists,  rich and poor . 

The COFFEE HOUSE was a comfortable place with good seating arrangement . Old timers say that in the beginning Coffee was sold to the customers just for 25 PAISE.

( I stand corrected). 


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The writer is NCR/UP based and a regular contributor to this Website .

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