In 2001, a large collection of artefacts from the trans-Himalayan caravan trade in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were discovered in a dilapidated serai in Kargil’s Old Bazaar. It did not immediately occur to the owners—the Bhats, a prominent family in Kargil—to build a museum to house them.
The Bhats had lived in the city for four generations, working in the fields of politics, commerce and welfare. But it took three years, some debate and a few coincidences for the Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Central Asian and Kargil Trade Artefacts to open to the public. The curator, Aijaz Hussain Munshi, told me when we met in June 2017 in Kargil that the family had nearly forgotten its role in the caravan trade until his older brother, Munshi Abdur Rehman, decided to dismantle the old serai and build a new market for his sons. “While the workers were taking the structure apart, a mason stumbled across a turquoise stone,” he said. “The man brought it to my father, Munshi Habibullah, who lauded the mason for his honesty and asked him to keep it for his daughter’s wedding. After this, we all went to the serai and dug out boxes after boxes of artefacts.”