Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum

The Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Central Asian And Kargil Trade Artefacts is a family-operated, public museum located in the town of Kargil, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. The museum has on display objects that circulated along the trade routes between Ladakh and Yarkand, as well as other material relics.

The museum has been operational since 2004, owned and maintained by two brothers Gulzar Hussain Munshi (director) and Ajaz Hussain Munshi (curator) – with assistance from their family members and founding partners International Association for Ladakh Studies. The museum is named after the ancient silk route trader Munshi Aziz Bhat. Objects on display include a variety of artefacts: horse-saddles, tapestries, utensils, coins, old manuscripts and photographs, costumes and jewellery. Though not stated as such, the museum implicitly contributes to the recognition sought for Kargil beyond its current Kashmiri or "Islamic" image in the eye of the common traveler and situates the region in the longue durée of history. The first and only initiative of its kind in the Ladakh region, it is primarily a repository of artefacts associated with the Silk route trade dating back to the 19th century, when Kargil served as a principal trading centre along this passage. Most artefacts displayed in the museum were discovered and retrieved from a rest house Ek Sarai (currently dysfunctional) built in Kargil for traders in 1920 by Munshi Aziz Bhat. The museum's collection consists primarily of artefacts unearthed at the rest house (Sarai) built by Munshi Aziz Bhat, as also donations by townsfolk and heirs of erstwhile merchants and royalty. Even though the number of artifacts in the museum’s possession has grown steadily over the past eight years – it currently houses over 3500 artifacts including a range of mercantile items associated with trade along the Silk Route .

Some of the choicest artifacts include hookah pipes from Yarkand, rugs from Kashgar, fabrics (dyed and raw silk from Khotan in China), natural dyes, costumes, jewelry, coins, shoes, utensils and ammunition. Apart from these, the museum incorporates mercantile items from the late 19th and early 18th centuries like leather skins, coarse cotton cloth, carpets from Central Asia, British horse seats and saddles, buttons from Italy and items from the factory of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Recently, the museum has acquired handwritten Qurans and Tibetan manuscripts which the owners claim to be around 600–700 years old. The museum has also gathered important documents and artifacts of the Purkis tribe, a major tribe of the Ladakh region. Kacho Ahmad Khan, the great grandson of the king of ‘Sot’ Kargil and Kacho Sikander Khan, the descendents of the King of Shar Chiktan recently contributed to the list of artifacts by donating old guns, a small cannon, a sword, wooden bowls, a granite stone pot as well as warrior armor. The owners have also obtained their consent to excavate and explore their ancestral fort in Chiktan to look for more artifacts.

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