(... and read to the end for the story of Khruschev's chandelier ...)
In the first half of the last century, there was one commanding hotel in Srinagar - Nedou's. It's still there. At least, the building is. But it hasn't had guests for many decades. Indian security forces were billeted there, but they have now gone. The site, on M.A. Road (photographed as best I could through gaps in the fencing and barbed wire) is a mess. But word around town is that Nedou's is to be reborn, with the old facade retained. What a heartening prospect!
The Nedou family story is fascinating. Michael Adam Nedou - I think that's him on the right, photo courtesy of the Nedou's Gulmarg website - came to India from Dubrovnik (then also known as Ragusa), now in Croatia but at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Nedou was an architect, and in the 1880s opened smart hotels in Lahore and then in the Kashmiri ski resort of Gulmarg. Nedou's Gulmarg is still going, and featured memorably in Molly Kaye's thriller, Death in Kashmir. (Nedou's have also recently opened a small boutique hotel in Srinagar).
The writer on post-colonialism Nyla Ali Khan has retrieved the story of the Nedou dynasty in Kashmir - a family of which she is part (by my reckoning, she is Michael Adam Nedou's great-great-granddaughter). The best known Kashmiri Nedou is Michael Adam's son, Michael Henry Nedou, universally known as Harry, who was born in Pune in 1877. So he would have been in his early twenties when the flagship Nedou's hotel, on what is now Srinagar's Maulana Azad Road, opened in 1900. It was the city's first round-the-year, 'European' hotel - previously European visitors had usually stayed in houseboats. Francis Younghusband commended the hotel in his 1909 account of the Kashmir valley, and clearly found life there agreeable. 'Srinagar is indeed a gay place for the summer months', he wrote, 'with games going on every day, dances nearly every week, dinners, garden parties and picnics.'
Nedou's was well placed to ride the wave of tourism and colonial-era 'rest and recreation' which enveloped Kashmir from the 1920s and hits its crest during the Second World War. In 1947, there were a few hundred all-the-year-round European residents of Srinagar. As a lashkar, an army of Pakistani tribesmen, advanced on Srinagar at the end of October 1947, Leela Pasricha told me how she fled from Baramulla to a well appointed lodge at Nedou's. It was where the foreign correspondents covering the conflict stayed. And in Nedou's bar, journalists got first-hand accounts from Indian army officers of the progress of the fighting and sought out the pilots who could hand carry their copy back to Delhi.
In the National Army Museum in London, there's a letter written from Nedou's in early November 1947 by a British woman, Gwen Burton, who found herself unwittingly caught up in the first act of the enduring Kashmir crisis. 'We never thought we would be in the siege of Srinagar! Not at all pleasant + very nerve racking. Food is beginning to get scarce, no butter in the hotel now + flour very scarce. ... We have had lovely weather here so far + only hope it goes on.' She too found a pilot to carry the letter to Delhi and post it there.
I am not sure whether Nedou's was still taking guests right up until the insurgency started at the end of the 1980s.By the time I first came to Kashmir in 1993, the site was under Indian military control. And that remained the case for about twenty years.
Now the security forces have left Nedou's, there's an opportunity for renovation. And according to a contractor I was chatting to in Srinagar the other day, plans are taking shape. If I find out more, I'll update this post. A couple of other commercial institutions from the colonial era (technically Kashmir was a princely state, not part of the Raj, but let that pass) - the Suffering Moses handicrafts store,and onetime society photographers Mahatta's - are still in business on the Bund, the riverside walk, a short distance away. It would be nice to have Nedou's back.
And as a footnote: the Nedou family married in to the premier political dynasty of modern Kashmir. Here's the story -
Harry Nedou married a Gujjar woman, Mir Jan. Their daughter Akbar Jehan (they had several sons too) married Sheikh Abdullah, the 'Lion of Kashmir', the foremost Kashmiri nationalist of his generation. (Tariq Ali has suggested that Akbar Jehan earlier entered into a brief marriage to T.E. Lawrence, but Lawrence experts are unconvinced).
Sheikh Abdullah's grandson, Omar Abdullah, is currently the chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. So the Nedou family have played quite a part in Kashmir's history.
LATER - NEWS FROM NEDOU'S: A family member has got in touch to confirm that there are indeed plans to refurbish and reopen their Srinagar hotel. The intention is to keep the atmospheric colonial-era exteriors, and to thoroughly modernise the interiors. I'm told Nedou's still has a chandelier presented to the hotel by, of all people, the Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev - unlikely as it may seem, he and Bulganin visited the Kashmir valley in December 1955. The chandelier is apparently structurally sound, but bits of the glass have been smashed and splintered over the years. (Is that a metaphor for something?)
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