Srinagar: From an abandoned zoo to environmental awareness center, the iconic Panther House at Chasma Shahi is all set to charm the people in a new avatar.

Department of Wildlife Protection has given a facelift to the vintage structure, which was built during the tenure of Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the seventies.

“As per the historical background is concerned, a leopard used to be kept there. With the passage of time, the concepts changed. The animals had to be kept in standardized enclosures. Following which, we developed a rescue center in Dachigam National Park, Srinagar,” Chief Wildlife Warden, J&K, Suresh Kumar Gupta said.

Since then, the building has been lying vacant. Last year, the Wildlife Department decided to renovate the structure to make it a tourist attraction.
“It is a two-storied building. On the first floor, we have developed an interpretation center, where the exhibits and awareness programmes on wildlife conservation will take place. Hopefully, we plan to launch it soon,” Gupta said.

Surrounded by towering trees, the structure has been made of natural materials, raw wooden furniture, and decorated by wildlife graffiti.
Spread over five kanals of land, the ground floor shall serve as a souvenir shop. It has been given an arty look by the local group of artists through drawings of Hangul, Leopard, and black bears on the walls.

The most interesting part of the structure is an open-air café which has been made of waste wood and pine cuttings. “There is a steady tourist inflow around Pari Mahal and Chamashahi areas. Our main motive is that people should stop by and have the first-hand experience with nature,” said Rasheed Naqash, Regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir.

Chashma Shahi, garden (royal spring) is one of the most popular Mughal Gardens, which has Iranian influence in its art and architecture. In the east of Chashma Shahi lies the Pari Mahal (Fairy Palace) which is visited by scores of tourists every year.

“We have made the structure eco-friendly. We will ensure that all items are put there are plastic-free. It should give a new thought to people that tourism is not only about concrete structures. There are plans of emulating this model in other areas,” Wildlife Warden Central Altaf Hussain said.

Hussain noted that creating an interpretation center out of a panther house had an underlying message. “The purpose of the initiative is essentially aimed at preserving the flora and fauna of the valley and making people aware of their importance,” he said.

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When the world fails to make sense, Hirra Azmat seeks solace in words. Both worlds, literary and the physical lend color to her journalism.

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