Sopore’s New Light: Eyewitness to Dark Times

Asim Shah
20th May, 2016

Arguably the most famous landmark of Sopore, New Light Hotel and bakery has a long and chequered history that almost mirrors the history of the town, renowned for its entrepreneur spirit and resilience.

The story of this hotel has been synonymous with the history of Sopore

Arguably the most famous landmark of Sopore, New Light Hotel and bakery has a long and chequered history that almost mirrors the history of the town, renowned for its entrepreneur spirit and resilience. Established in 1948 by Haji Ghulam Rasool Lone, a noted businessman of Sopore, the hotel has witnessed three major mishaps – including a major encounter incident in which two top foreign Fidayeens were killed– but continues to be a major name in hospitality in North Kashmir till date.

In an exclusive chat with Varmul Post, the current proprietor of the hotel, Muhammad Shaban Lone, an adventure freak and a second generation hotelier, recounted the history of the legendary hotel and how it has undergone a huge transformation over the years – shaping up as district Baramulla’s foremost bakery and restaurant. The current bakery is situated in the same spot where the original hotel once stood, while as the restaurant and café, a big hit with locals and travelers alike, is located just on the periphery of the town, in a picturesque backdrop of orchards.

When established in 1948 as a restaurant, the vicinity of the hotel was not a very reputable area. The area had a shady reputation as the Red Light zone of Sopore (a no-go area) where all the immoral activities were going on. It was Lone senior and other notable people in the town who found a community which came up with the idea of establishing the school and mosque in the area. This proved to be a great step towards reforming the society.

After the restaurant came up, the hotel established over the years and became one of the top properties in North Kashmir that would offer rooms to travelers. Twice over the hotel suffered fire, reducing it to ashes but Mohammad Shaban Lone the orchardist cum hotelier restarted the venture every time.

The hotel witnessed one of the bloodiest massacres in Kashmir history, reported as a “Blood Tide Rising” in Time Magazine. The Sopore Massacre of 1993 that left 57 unarmed civilians dead and scores injured including women and children, the property worth crores was guttedby the 94th Battalion of the Border Security Force on that fateful day. The Sopore people cannot forget that horrendous incident and refer it as a doomsday in Sopore history. People in Sopore observe this day as a Black Day every year, which also saw Ghulam Nabi Bhat, the son in law of senior Lone, also being shot dead just outside the hotel. He was in process of carrying dead bodies when he was hit with a volley of bullets.

New Light Hotel didn’t let the tragedies overcome its reputation. It has always remained the main symbol of Sopore business sector. After it was gutted in a major fire incident in 2001, the hotel was rebuilt as a grand hotel with four-storey building.

Just when business was back and things seemed to look up for the hotel, a firefight between security agencies and two ‘Fidayeen’ of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (10thNovember, 2007), holed up in the hotel and led to its destruction. It was the same mindset that motivated Lone junior to restart New Light Restaurant and café at the periphery of the town and the bakery shop at the same place where the grand hotel once stood.

Sadly Sopore has now lost its biggest hotel because of the volatile situation prevailing in the town, but the building has been reconstructed again as the New Light Shopping complex and bakers. According to Mohammed Shaban Lone it was his father who brought the concept of bakery in Sopore. Till date New light bakery continues to lead the bakery business in Sopore town.

The restaurant and café named as “Renaissance” which is located on the periphery of the town, is a big hit among locals and travelers alike.The Restaurant has become the relaxing point where people enjoy various fast foods and coffee. However keeping in mind the circumstances, most restaurants don’t retain night rush in small towns — a setback to the hospitality sector.

“I would have moved my business to other place from Sopore like others did, to earn more profit but I have inherited this business from my father, who has loved this town (Sopore) and has done so many good things for this town people. My father’s love for people of Sopore is running in my veins and I am going to continue my efforts to make this place as same as it was before when people use to come here in abundance just to enjoy our hospitality,” Mohammad Shaban Lone concludes wistfully.