Thursday, November 27, 2008

Photographs of Hari Parbat Temple

Hari Parbat Temple

Stairs and entrance to the temple

Window with a view

Temple Rooms

View of Srinagar city from Hari Parbat

The Temple

The Goddess: Sharika Bhagwati, Chakrishwar

Return to Godhead


Shree Yantra Chakra

view from the window

Lone Singer

Empty Hawan Kund

view to the right: Old Durrani fort

No haer here

Created this video using these images of Hari Parbat

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

V.S. Naipaul in Kashmir

During calmer times, Vidia wrote to his family from Hotel Liward. He told Mira and Savi that the Kashmiris, 'barring the Tibetans, are possibly the dirtiest people in the world. They very seldom wash...They associated – like the Indians of Trinidad  and our family – cleanliness with godliness; only on religious days, therefore, they wear clean cloths...They have nevertheless a tremendous charm; perhaps they have this charm because of all their faults. Certainly there are few things more attractive than the friendliness and broad smiles of the Kashmiri children.'
The World is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French, pp. 228

Patrick French in his brilliant ‘official’ biography of V.S. Naipaul quotes the above lines from a private letter sent by Naipaul to his two sisters while he was visiting Kashmir in 1962. Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul stayed in the valley for around five months, staying well into the first few months of 1963. During his trip to Kashmir, stayed at Liward Hotel (later corrected to ‘Leeward Hotel’ in his 1990 book India: A Million Mutinies Now) built on the bank, and in the middle of Dal Lake. In this “Doll’s House on the Dal Lake” Naipaul wrote a short novel called Mr. Stone and the Knights Companions. Turning away from his usual West Indies settings for the first time, Naipaul gave this short novel an English setting.

Mr. Butt - the owner of Hotel Liward and his helpful nephew Aziz and Kashmir later found place in Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness written in 1964. The book also had an account a physically daunting and hazardous journey to the Amarnath cave that he took on the advice of Karan Singh.

Naipaul again visited Leeward hotel, Mr. Butt and Aziz in 1989, just before Kashmir blew up with unprecedented violence. This time he was working on India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990). The hotel, now, had got a new (present) building. 


Hotel Leeward, Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir
Photograph taken by me in June 2008.
Hotel Leeward is now a big military bunker for C.R.P.F (Central Reserve Police Force)
At that moment I didn’t know I was looking at the Hotel Leeward.
I took the photograph because of: sand bunkers, tin roofs, tin walls, barbwire, meditating 'high speed' boats and rested military men, in their clean white undershirts and khakis, unclogging a drainage pipe that goes into the lake. It is a beautiful lake.
While searching for a photograph of the hotel for this post, I realized I already had one with me.


Photographs of Kashmir from 19th and early 20th Century

Found a great flickr album of vintage photographs of Kashmir from 19th and early 20th Century.

The uploader of the great album Richardasplen, says:

I've had them for over 20 years. They were to be thrown out as junk. The Albums were in an appalling state of repair. Each Photo had to be lifted from it's rotting support to be saved.They came into my possession with a pile of books, equally rotten, given by a friend. There are 2 Albums, the first produced in the early 1890's, the second between 1905- 1910/12.This second album has been annotated on the reverse of each photo, the first unfortunately not, so I'm unsure where most were taken.
The collection consists of over 200 photos.
The photographs are probably by Fred Bremner.But, a lot of them are never seen before kind of stuff

Here is the link to the album of old photographs

And a big thanks to Richard!

Mattan. Probably 1910.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kashmir in Life Magazine Photo Archives

Google recently announced "the availability of never-before-seen images from the LIFE photo archive. This effort to bring offline images online was inspired by our mission to organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. This collection of newly-digitized images includes photos and etchings produced and owned by LIFE dating all the way back to the 1750s."

Curious, I looked for old photographs of Kashmir and came across some unseen gems like:

US Soldier Vaden Carney and his date Pam Rumbold (CL), walking the streets of Kashmir.
Location:Kashmir, India
Date taken:1943
Photographer:William Vandivert

In this photograph taken in1943, one can see a typical Srinagar suburban street. Looking at this photograph, one can say that these street have changed very little since then.

Check out the complete set of photographs of this American couple enjoying their time in Kashmir

It's an unbelievably large collection of more than 200 photographs. A bulk of them were taken by photographer Howard Sochurek in 1951.

Along with capturing life scenes from Kashmir(see the beautiful photograph of a bunch of Kashmiri kids with their beloved Kandis 'fire pots'), these photographs also give hints to the political environment of the time. There are photographs of "Free Kashmir" rallies in Pakistan, Kashmiris preparing to defend themselves against Kabaili intruders, UN peace folks, then there are photographs of political entities of the time like Sheikh Abdullah in better times and the young prince Karan Singh. The only color photographs of Kashmir in this collection of Life are by James Burke (died in 1964 after falling from a cliff while shooting a photo essay in the Himalayas) and are titled 'Nehru in Kashmir'. The curious one in this set is: A NC (National Confrence) organized boat procession (were quite popular at the time) with NC and Indian flags going down the Jehlum river in Srinagar to welcome Nehru. No date is given , but were most probably taken during Nehru's visit to Kashmir in May 1953 just before the time Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad became Prime Minister of Kashmir. There are also photographs of the pro- Abdullah protests that followed.

You can browse this entire wonderful unseen Kashmir collection here

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hari Parbat, in 19 images, 20 years later

video link

About the video presentation:
Photographs of Chakreshwari Sharika Devi temple at Hari Parbat, Srinagar, Kashmir.
All Photographs taken by me in June 2008.
Sound: A Kashmiri prayer (aarti/bhajan) in praise of Goddess Tripura Sundari. Recorded live at Kheer Bhawani shrine Kashmir


Visit to parbat usually meant a visit to the big red rock at the top of the hill and/or a trip around the hill.


Five ancient hymns, collectively known as Panchastavi are still popular among Kashmiri Pandits.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dress up like a Beautiful Kashmiri!

The statistics for this blog reveal that a lot of people end up at my blog looking for two particular things, their queries can be summarized in following lines:

  • "How to dress up like a Kashmiri?"
  • "How Beautiful Kashmiri Girls!

The reason they are directed here:

  • My post on fables of kashmiri Beauty. Here, in a long series, I looked inside journals of early western travelers to Kashmir and tried to find out how the stories of beauty of Kashmiri women started and spread in India and around the world.
Both these posts do not offer whta people are actually directed here looking for. Most people looking for beautiful kashmiri girls actually stay on the fable page for maximum 34 secs before they hop on to some other hyperlink.

I am going to offer some more of what no one is looking for:

Taken at Pari Mahal, June 2008

A photographer's complete set up for the tourists and visitors to dress up like an authentic Kashmiri.there are dresses for man, women, girls, boys and children. Hmmm...those head gears for men look a bit suspect.

A photographer's display album. Lucky few get featured here. A memento for posterity. You were in Kashmir and look much like a real Kashmiri.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Trip to Zeethyar Temple, Srinagar

 June, 2008:
Zeestha Devi temple at Zeethyar ( Zeeth'yar/Jaishthethwar Shrine) in interior Srinagar at the foothills of Zabarwan mountain range. Earlier, one had to trek to this far off spot. But, now one can easily drive right up to the steps that lead to it. 

Zeestha Devi Temple Spring.

Unlike, Khir Bhawani spring, the water here is stagnant and needs to be cleaned frequently. And unlike Khir Bhawani Shrine and like the Chakrishwar temple atop Hari Parbat, meat -(particularly tcharvan (fried Liver) with Taher(turmeric yellowed rice), can be consumed here.  

Zeestha Devi. A lot of pandit families used to take Taher-charvan here. Government, circumventing few rules, on the initiative of a few pandit high officers, has recently built beautiful guesthouses on the slopes surrounding the temple.These guest houses are run by a trust. When I visited the place, it being a hindu, Indian tourist season - Summer, there were also a few non-kashmiri vendors selling Kehwa and frying thin Luchis in oil.

Gods, old and new, under the tree.

Shiv temple at Zeethyar against the back drop of Zabarwan hills.

A dense forest covers the nearby slopes and is home to a number of wild animals. A cousin of mine visited the place in 2001 and witnessed a very funny scene: A BSF guard on duty near the gate was regaining consciousness after having suffered a fear induced fainting attack. Moments ago, he had been approached by a leopard.

This Shiv Ling was earlier located at Ganpatyar temple and was moved to Zeeth Ya'r in around 1988. Most people remember it as Shiv-ling with a crack. 

An old habit of picking gor-da'yel (some sort of local citrus fruit) from the wild trees near the entrance to shrine. Gor-da'yel are meant to be consumed after cooking. We took a lot of them and did cook and ate them later.

All Photographs taken by me in June, 2008.

Monday, November 10, 2008

George Harrison in Kashmir

George Harrison
We were talking - about the space between us all

And the people - who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion

Never glimpse the truth - then it's far too late - when they pass away

Lennon had been making comments on Christ and Christianity; and George was taking a keen interest in all things India. These were tough times for The Beetles: there were even talks of retirement.

In July 1966, The Fab Four arrived at Delhi on what was to be the band’s first visit to India; it was a brief visit, and Harrison famously bought a Sitar from a music store in Connaught Circus, Delhi (now better known as Connaught Place or just CP, and the shop was Rikhi Ram and Sons.).

In September, seeking Sitar lessons from maestro Ravi Shankar, George Harrison returned to India on a six-week trip along with his wife Pattie Harrison (who later married Eric Clapton). He stayed at Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay (now Mumbai) and commenced taking lessons from Ravi Shankar; but soon realized that he was too famous even in India: when mobs of Indian Beatles fan started descending to the Hotel, he decided it was time to move to a place that offered anonymity and peace. Kashmir with its natural beauty and general inaccessibility proved to be the perfect place.

Once in Kashmir, he moved into the retreat of the famous Kashmiri houseboats (invented at the start of the century for the luxury of European tourists) that still line the Dal Lake. In the serene background of still waters of Dal, for the next few weeks he started learning Sitar from Pandit Ravi Shankar, and this was the only extended period of training that Harrison received from Ravi Shankar. He practiced Hatha Yoga (to get over the discomfort of having to sit on the floor with the Sitar), he started reading Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga. This was the start of his life long affair with Hinduism; and the immediate impact of the visit was for the world to see in the next Beetles’ album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was for this album that George Harrison created the beautiful song Within You Without You.

And the time will come when you see we're all one,

and life flows on within you and without you.

Although the song did start the fashion of the ‘Indian sound’, generated western pop interest in ‘Indian thought’ and sent a million back backers on pilgrimage to Kashmir*; but the fact remains that the song, unlike its many successors, in many ways sounded like an outcome of genuine devotion to Indian music and thought.



George Harrison stayed with Clermont Houseboats, a famous tourist establishment (their office right next to Sheikh Abdullah's grave)in Kashmir that over the years has played host to eminent guests like actress Joan Fontain, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, actor Michael Palin, former U.S. Vice President Nelson A. Rockerfeller and many more.

People still go to the place and look for the particular houseboat in which George Harrison stayed. Last year, Peter Foster, former South Asia Correspondent of Daily Telegraph, wrote about his trip to Kashmir and finding the George Harrison houseboat, now decrepit and sinking .


Hippie’yo kay lambay lambay baal

It’s a singsong line that I, while growing, had to hear every time I indolently would refuse a visit the barber, naeevid.

Hippies have long,

really long hair.


Junoon in Kashmir:

Kashmir Valley on 25th May, 2008

According to the official Junoon website: the concert, to be organized by the non-governmental organization SAF (South Asia Foundation), will be held on the banks of the Dal Lake.

Needless to say, this going to be quite an event; that is, if everything goes well.

A Respite.

From George Harrison to Junoon, a long vacuous journey.


You may also like to read about Kashmiri Folk music


The information about George Harrison’s trip to Kashmir is from the book:

The Dawn of Indian Music in the West

By Peter Lavezzoli


Cross posted at At The Edge

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who hasn’t heard of the Valley of Kashmir?

House Boat on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

Photograph: House Boat on Dal Lake, Kashmir. April 2006

Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere,

With its roses the brightest that earth ever gave,

Its temples and grottos and fountains as clear

As the love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave

Thomas Moore was born on 28th of May 1780 in Dublin, Ireland to a Roman Catholics couple. From as early an age as ten, he displayed an aptitude for verse. In 1793, the Irish Parliament opened Trinity College, Dublin, to Catholics and the following year Thomas Moore entered the College as a student. He became proficient in French and Italian, but showed little interest in Latin and other classic languages. He was to find fame as a poet, translator, balladeer and a singer.

In  1812, the idea of writing an oriental poem was first seriously entertained by Moore. Lord Byron (whose biography later Thomas Moore wrote) had already made Oriental Tales told in verses famous by inventing characters like Giaour, Abydos and Corsair.  Living at Mayfield Cottage near Ashbourne, Derbyshire, Lalla Rookh: an Oriental Romance took shape as an idea in Thomas Moore's mind.

The poem earned him £3,150 from the publisher Mr. Longman even before he had started out to write it. At that time it was the largest sum ever offered for a single poem. However, it was a sound investment for the publisher as the poem, first published in 1817,  went through more than twenty editions during the author's lifetime.

The Poem gets its title from the name of the heroine of the famed tale, Lalla Rookh, daughter of  Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. Engaged to the young prince of Bucharia (Bukhara, in nowadays Uzbekistan), Lalla Rookh sets forth on a journey to Kashmir where her nuptial is agreed to be solemnized, but on the way she finds herself in a dilemma as she is smitten by love for a poet named Feramorz who regales her with wondrous tales as they journey together to a Kashmr. The dilemma is resolved in the end as it is reveled that the poet and the young prince are the same.

The poem consists of four interpolated tales supposedly sung by the poet: "The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan," "Paradise and the Peri," "The Fire-Worshippers," and "The Light of the Haram."

It is in the final section titled "The Light of the Haram",  that we get to see Kashmir of Moore’s imagination.

Since Thomas Moore had never been to Kashmir (and was never to visit it in his lifetime),  in order to write his Oriental masterpiece, he read the works of two of the early travelers to Kashmir. The wealth of footnotes to the poem bear witness to this fact.

One of the traveler whom he read was a French physician named Francois de Bernier. Bernier visited Kashmir in 1664–65  as part of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s Royal entourage and described Kashmir in the letters that he wrote. These letters later published as Travels in the Mogul Empire, A.D. 1656-1668, (Paris, 1670) are widely recognized as the first authoritative source on description of Kashmir. Mughals thought of Kashmir as 'Jannat' or 'Paradise' and so in the letters of Bernier the subject of Kashmir was covered  under the title: Journey to Kachemire, The Paradise of the Indies.

The other writer that Moore read was a little known traveler in service of the East India Company — George Forster. His "Letters on a Journey from Bengal to England, through the Northern Part of India, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Persia, and into Russia, by the Caspian Sea" first published as a series of letters in 1798, was an interesting and entertaining narrative account of his two year long overland journey — starting in 1782 and ending in 1784. He traveled from Bengal to St. Petersburg disguised as a Mughal merchant, Turk, Arab and Georgian; and his work also chronicled his difficulties with language, customs and posing as a Muslim. Since foreigners were barred from entering the valley of Kashmir, George Forster tried unsuccessfully to escape the notice of spies of tyrannical Afghan ruler of Kashmir by donning the garb of a Turkish merchant. He left Calcutta on May 23, 1782 on his long and arduous overland journey to England and passed through the north-eastern hilly tracts of the Punjab in February - April 1783.

In 1783, on arriving in Kashmir, George Forster wrote about his first impression about Kashmiris:

On first seeing the Kashmirians in their own country, I imagined from their garb, the cast of their countenances, which were long and of a grave aspect, and the forms of their beards, that I had come among a nation of Jews.

Many other travelers including previous visitor like Bernier had voiced similar opinion on the subject. Bernier in particular discussed the matter at some length in his letters giving the impression that the subject must have been (even then) of a lot of interest to many westerners. Words from most of these works are now quoted in support of all kinds of Jewish-Kashmiri theories.

During his visit to Kashmir, Forster also wrote about the grave situation of Kashmiri Shawl makers. He estimated that in Kashmir there were 16,000 shawl looms in use compared with 40,000 in the time of Mughals. According to John Gorton’s A General Biographical Dictionary:

His information was derived from inquiry and observation than from books; and when he relates what he had seen, his veracity may be trusted; but his historical disquisitions are frequently inaccurate. He returned to India, and was preparing for farther researches in that part of the world, when his death took place at Allahabad, in 1792.

Between Bernier’s account of Kashmir written in 1664–65  and Forster’s account written in 1782 – 1784, the valley of Kashmir had in fact changed a lot. Although the account of beauty of the fabled land remained almost same, yet there were subtle changes in the life of people living in the valley. Forster's comment on the Shawl makers was just an indication, Kashmir was already well past its glories and yet in the works of Bernier and Forster, Moore found just what he was looking for – an exotic land, and managed to create a compelling image of the fabled beauty of  Kashmir, an image that inspired many European travelers to journey to this distant land. Kashmir was changing again.

In 1835, an early English traveler to Kashmir, Godfrey Thomas Vigne wrote "that Kashmir will become the sine qua non of the Oriental traveller". * He thought Kashmir could become "a miniature England in the heart of Asia", a place were the "sports and games of England" could easily be introduced ( a task that was accomplished successfully by Cecil Tyndale Biscoe in around mid 1890s – although with some initial stubborn opposition from local populace of Kashmir, both Pandit as well as Muslim) and a place that could become the stepping stone for the world to "become subject to the power of the Christians". In 1846 the Treaty of Amritsar saw British gain complete control of the Punjab and proxy control over Kashmir. The present situation in Kashmir can justifiable be traced back to this sardonic act of imperialism and yet it was this treaty that opened the doors of Kashmir to the European travelers. Vigne's words proved to be true, travelers came in droves. But most of these travelers were not seeking the kind of pleasure that religion provides. British civil servants and military officers came to seek respite from the oppressive Indian summers. Kashmir offered: walk in the meadows and climb in the mountains, it offered music and dance, ride in lakes and rivers, forest for game and of course –  it offered parties.

Kenneth Iain MacDonald  writes in The Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia
With the arrival of summer travelers, Moore’s world came alive, at least textually. The mid 1850s mark the emergence of Kashmir as the Happy Vale replete with the imagery of Moore’s verse. Kashmir was not simply a respite from life on the plains but became a place of romance, and for displaced Europeans, the ‘Eastern’ equivalent of ‘Western’ places of leisure: “Venice of the East”, “Playground of the East”, “Switzerland of the East”.
Most of the travelogues of that era mention Thomas Moore and his poem. Most of the travelers thought of Moore’s verses regarding Kashmir to be true. There were some disappointed travelers too, most famous among them Victor Jacquemont, a French botanist who visited Kashmir in 1831, was so disappointed that he called Moore “a liar” and “a perfumer”.  However, such voices were few and far, in fact even Jacquemont’s opinion was taken with a pinch of salt. For most travelers, Kashmir of Thomas Moore was a reality and providently it became a reality soon after Moore's death in 1852. By mid 1850s, Kashmir was a holiday destination.



Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere,

With its roses the brightest that earth ever gave,[278]

Its temples and grottos and fountains as clear

As the love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave?

Oh! to see it at sunset, --when warm o'er the Lake

Its splendor at parting a summer eve throws,

Like a bride full of blushes when lingering to take

A last look of her mirror at night ere she goes!--

When the shrines thro' the foliage are gleaming half shown,

And each hallows the hour by some rites of its own.

Here the music of prayer from a minaret swells,

Here the Magian his urn full of perfume is swinging,

And here at the altar a zone of sweet bells

Round the waist of some fair Indian dancer is ringing.[279]

Or to see it by moonlight when mellowly shines

The light o'er its palaces, gardens, and shrines,

When the water-falls gleam like a quick fall of stars

And the nightingale's hymn from the Isle of Chenars

Is broken by laughs and light echoes of feet

From the cool, shining walks where the young people meet.--

Or at morn when the magic of daylight awakes

A new wonder each minute as slowly it breaks,

Hills, cupolas, fountains, called forth every one

Out of darkness as if but just born of the Sun.

When the Spirit of Fragrance is up with the day

From his Haram of night-flowers stealing away;

And the wind full of wantonness wooes like a lover

The young aspen-trees,[280] till they tremble all over.

When the East is as warm as the light of first hopes,

And day with his banner of radiance unfurled

Shines in thro' the mountainous portal[281] that opes,

Sublime, from that Valley of bliss to the world!

But never yet by night or day,

In dew of spring or summer's ray,

Did the sweet Valley shine so gay

As now it shines-- all love and light,

Visions by day and feasts by night!

A happier smile illumes each brow;

With quicker spread each heart uncloses,

And all is ecstasy-- for now

The Valley holds its Feast of Roses;[282]

The joyous Time when pleasures pour

Profusely round and in their shower

Hearts open like the Season's Rose,--

The Floweret of a hundred leaves[283]

Expanding while the dew-fall flows

And every leaf its balm receives.

'Twas when the hour of evening came

Upon the Lake, serene and cool,

When day had hid his sultry flame

Behind the palms of Baramoule,

When maids began to lift their heads.

Refresht from their embroidered beds

Where they had slept the sun away,

And waked to moonlight and to play.

All were abroad: --the busiest hive

On Bela's[284] hills is less alive

When saffron-beds are full in flower,

Than lookt the Valley in that hour.

A thousand restless torches played

Thro' every grove and island shade;

A thousand sparkling lamps were set

On every dome and minaret;

And fields and pathways far and near

Were lighted by a blaze so clear

That you could see in wandering round

The smallest rose-leaf on the ground,

Yet did the maids and matrons leave

Their veils at home, that brilliant eve;

And there were glancing eyes about

And cheeks that would not dare shine out

In open day but thought they might

Look lovely then, because 'twas night.

And all were free and wandering

And all exclaimed to all they met,

That never did the summer bring

So gay a Feast of Roses yet;--

The moon had never shed a light

So clear as that which blest them there;

The roses ne'er shone half so bright,

Nor they themselves lookt half so fair.

And what a wilderness of flowers!

It seemed as tho' from all the bowers

And fairest fields of all the year,

The mingled spoil were scattered here.

The lake too like a garden breathes

With the rich buds that o'er it lie,--

As if a shower of fairy wreaths

Had fallen upon it from the sky!

And then the sounds of joy, --the beat

Of tabors and of dancing feet;--

The minaret-crier's chant of glee

Sung from his lighted gallery,[285]

And answered by a ziraleet

From neighboring Haram, wild and sweet;--

The merry laughter echoing

From gardens where the silken swing[286]

Wafts some delighted girl above

The top leaves of the orange-grove;

Or from those infant groups at play

Among the tents[287] that line the way,

Flinging, unawed by slave or mother,

Handfuls of roses at each other.--

Then the sounds from the Lake, --the low whispering in boats,

As they shoot thro' the moonlight, --the dipping of oars

And the wild, airy warbling that everywhere floats

Thro' the groves, round the islands, as if all the shores

Like those of Kathay uttered music and gave

An answer in song to the kiss on each wave.[288]

But the gentlest of all are those sounds full of feeling

That soft from the lute of some lover are stealing,--

Some lover who knows all the heart-touching power

Of a lute and a sigh in this magical hour.

Oh! best of delights as it everywhere is

To be near the loved One, --what a rapture is his

Who in moonlight and music thus sweetly may glide

O'er the Lake of Cashmere with that One by his side!

If woman can make the worst wilderness dear,

Think, think what a Heaven she must make of Cashmere!

Thomas Moore's Footnotes to the poem:

[278] "The rose of Kashmire for its brilliancy and delicacy of odor has long been proverbial in the East." --Foster. (Thomas Moore credits George Forster as George Foster. So do many later day writers and historians)

[279] "Tied round her waist the zone of bells, that sounded with ravishing melody." --Song of Jayadeva.

[280] "The little isles in the Lake of Cachemire are set with arbors and large-leaved aspen-trees, slender and tall." --Bernier.

[281] "The Tuckt Suliman, the name bestowed by the Mahommetans on this hill, forms one side of a grand portal to the Lake." --Foster.

[282] "The Feast of Roses continues the whole time of their remaining in bloom." --See Pietro de la Valle.

[283] "Gul sad berk, the Rose of a hundred leaves. I believe a particular species." --Ouseley.

[284] A place mentioned in the Toozek Jehangeery, or Memoirs of Jehan- Guire, where there is an account of the beds of saffron-flowers about Cashmere.

[285] "It is the custom among the women to employ the Maazeen to chant from the gallery of the nearest minaret, which on that occasion is illuminated, and the women assembled at the house respond at intervals with a ziraleet or joyous chorus." --Russel.

[286] "The swing is a favorite pastime in the East, as promoting a circulation of air, extremely refreshing in those sultry climates." --Richardson.

[287] At the keeping of the Feast of Roses we beheld an infinite number of tents pitched, with such a crowd of men, women, boys, and girls, with music, dances, etc." --Herbert.

[288] "An old commentator of the Chou-King says, the ancients having remarked that a current of water made some of the stones near its banks send forth a sound, they detached some of them, and being charmed with the delightful sound they emitted, constructed King or musical instruments of them." --Grosier.



Prithivi Nath Kaul Bamzai made a note of Vigne's writing in his comprehensive book Culture and Political History of Kashmir - Page 709



The complete poem Lalla Rookh


The biographical sketch of Thomas Moore written by William M. Rossetti for The Complete Poems of Sir Thomas Moore.

Francis Younghusband in his book Kashmir (1908) mentions a town called Hassan Abdal as the location of real Lalla Rookh's tomb. Hasan Abdal is a small town about 40 km. east of Attock, Paksitan.


You might also like to read about:

Nautch Girls of Kashmir

In 1863, Samuel Bourne, a British photographer during his work trip to Kashmir was having trouble trying to get a troupe of Kashmiri dancing girls to pose for a photograph. After successfully taking a satisfactory photograph, much later, in his Narrative of a photographic trip to Kashmir (Cashmere) and adjacent territories (British Journal of Photography, 25 January 1867), he recounted:

nautch women of Kashmir
"By no amount of talking and acting could I get them to stand or sit in an easy, natural attitude . . . The English Commissioner resident at Srinnugur (Srinagar). . . gave an order to have a number of the best-looking girls collected, of whom I was to take a group. They were very shy at making their appearance in daylight, as, like the owl, they are birds of night. They came decked out in all their rings and jewelery. and all their silk holiday attire; but, on taking a cursory glance at them when they were all assembled, with the exception of two or three, one could not help coming to the conclusion that if these were the prettiest, the rest must be miserably ugly. Much to my annoyance, a number of gentlemen had assembled 'to see the fun', and their presence by no means added to the composure of my fair sitters. They squatted themselves down on the carpet which had been provided for them, and absolutely refused to move an inch for any purpose of posing; so, after trying in vain to get them into something like order, was obliged to take them as they were, the picture, of course, being far from a good one . . . (13) (plate 22)."

He also explains why the 'fair' Kashmiris appeared dark in photographs:

"A photograph hardly does justice to native beauty; the fair olive complexion comes out much darker than it appears to the eye, on account of its being a partially non-actinic colour."

A couple of  years later, these dancing girls seem to have posed happily for a photographer named John Burke. Azeezie, probably a popular dancing girl at time in Kashmir, posed no less than four times for him. Burke, in notes to these photographs mentions some other dancing girls named Sabie and Mokhtarjan. In fact, all three of them had earlier been photographed by Bourne. Around the same time, another visitor to Kashmir, Captain William Henry Knight in his Diary of a Pedestrian in Cashmere and Thibet (1863) mentions a Kashmiri dancing girl named Gulabie. These dancing girls had already been made famous by the western travelers through their travel writings and were given the misnomer of nach/nauch/nautch girls.

As opposed to the first euphoric description of Kashmiri Beauty by Bernier, the new western travelers to the valley were trying to write a more reasonable and realistic account of Kashmiri beauty. Naturally, not all the nautch girls came out looking pretty in these accounts. In their accounts, these travelers noted that most of these dancing girls worked at Shalimar Bagh that was built by the Mughals. Here, lamps were lit at night and camps were set in the garden. And the tourists often used to visit these camps. Pran Nevile, a man who knows much about the history of nautch girls of India and author of the book Stories from the Raj: Sahibs, Memsahibs and Others,writes:

"There is a fascinating description by Lieutenant Colonel Tarrens (1860) of a nautch by Kashmiri girls in the Shalimar Gardens at Srinagar. The author was enchanted by the beauty of Shalimar, the queen of gardens, which he felt should be visited at night by the pale of moonlight when it is properly bedecked with torches, and crowned with lamps. Then "the proper thing to do is to give orders for a nautch at Shalimar." Apart from the beauty of the place, Torrens was enchanted with the dancing and singing of the charming Kashmiri nautch girls whom he considered "vastly superior" to what he had seen elsewhere. Another witness to a similar performance in Shalimar Gardens was a reputed professional artist, William Simpson, who was so much enthralled by the sight of nautch girls dancing by torchlight that he describes it as "the sweet delusion of a never to be forgotten night."
Shalimar Bagh Srinagar Kashmir

Often, in these accounts, they also noticed that Kashmir must once have been a great country but with years of cruel Pathan rule - it was in a state of slow decay.

Godfrey Thomas Vigne in his excellent book Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo (1844) * wrote about a remote Kashmiri village that was once renowned for producing the best dancing girls. On his visit to Kashmir in 1835, he wrote :

"The village of Changus,** but a few miles from Achibul, was celebrated in times gone by as containing a colony of dancing girls, whose singing and dancing were more celebrated than those of any other part of the valley. I have heard Samud Shah and other old men breathe forth signs of regret, and expressions of admiration, when speaking of days that were past; and the grace and beauty of one of the Changus’ danseuses, whose name was, I think, Lyli, and long since dead, seemed to be quite fresh in their recollection. The village itself, like every thing else in Kashmir, has fallen to decay. A few of the votaries of Terpsichore still remain, but are inferior in beauty and accomplishments to those in the city, and continue to get a living by what would technically called provincial engagements. From one of them, whom I heard singing, I picked up the following air, which I believe to be original, although the first line bears, it cannot be denied, a striking resemblance to that of Liston’s “Kitty Clover.” Of word I know nothing, excepting that they were, as usual, of amorous import."
And in the next two pages of the book, he gave the actual notes of the song (here's a recreation of that old melody). These travelogues were  read all around the world and easily seeped in works like History of prostitution: its extent, causes, and effects throughout the world by one William W. Sanger, published in 1859. The author, mocking Easter depravity and amoral lifestyle, wrote:

"Unoppressed by any rigid code of etiquette, and naturally addicted to pleasure, the people of Kashmir find much of their enjoyment in female society, and from the earliest times have been noted for their love of singers and dancers. In former days the capital city was the scene of constant revels, in which morality was but but a secondary consideration, and now the inhabitants relieve the continual struggle against misfortune and despotism by indulging in gross vices, and drown the sense of hopeless poverty in the gratification of animal passions. The women of this delightful valley have long been celebrated for their beauty, and are still called the flower of the Oriental race. The face is of a dark complexion, richly flushed with pink; the eyes large, almond-shaped, and overflowing with a peculiar liquid brilliance; the features regular, harmonious, and fine; the limbs and bodies are models of grace. But all writers agree that art does nothing to aid nature, and it is not unusual to see eyes unsurpassed for brightness and expression flashing from a very dirty face. Among the poorer classes filth and degradation render many women actually repulsive, notwithstanding their resplendent beauty.

Travelers always remark the dancing girls who have acquired much renown in Kashmir. The village of Changus was at one time celebrated for a colony of these women, who excelled all others in the valley; but now its famous beauties have disappeared, and live only in the traditions of the place. The dancing girls may be divided into several classes. Among the higher may be found those who are virtuous and modest, probably to about the same extent as among actresses, opera singers, and ballet girls in civilized communities. Others frequent entertainments that the house of rich men, or public festivals, and estimate their favors at a very high price, while the remainder are avowed harlots, prostituting themselves indiscriminately to any who desire their company. Many of these are devoted to service of some god, whose temple is enriched from the gains of their calling.

The Watul, or Gipsy tribe of Kashmir is remarkable for many lovely women, who are taught to please the taste of the voluptuary. They sing licentious songs in an amorous tone, dance in a lascivious measure, dress in a peculiarly fascinating manner, and seduce by the very expression of their countenances. When they join a company of dancing girls, they are uniformly successful in their vocation, and have been known to amass large sums of money. Now that the valley is in its decadence, their charms find a more profitable market in other places. The bands of dancing girls are usually accompanied by sundry hideous duennas, whose conspicuous ugliness forms a striking contrast to their charge.

The Nach girls are under the surveillance of the government, which licenses their prostitution. They are actual slaves, and cannot sing or dance without permission from their overseer, to whom they must resign a large portion of their earnings.

In addition to these, who may be styled poetical courtesans, there exists a swarm of prostitutes frequenting low houses in the cities or boats on the lake; but of them we have no distinct account. It is certain that they are largely visited by the more immoral of the population, and an accurate idea of their status may be formed from a knowledge of the fact that the traveler Moorcroft, who gave gratuitous medical advice to the poor of Serinaghur, had at one time nearly seven thousand patients on his lists, a very large number of whom were suffering from loathsome diseases induced by the grossest and most persevering profligacy. In short, there can be but little doubt that the manners of the inhabitants of this interesting and beautiful valley are corrupt to the last degree."
Around this time, stories of young Kashmiri girls being sold in the plains of Punjab were also doing the rounds in writings on Kashmir. These stories were first recorded by a French botanist named Victor Jacquemont who visited Kashmir in around 1831.

On his arrival in the Lahore court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh - the ruler of Punjab and of Kashmir, Jacquemont was treated to "a most splendid fěte" - a performance by "Cashmerian danseuses" who had "their eyes daubed round with black and white". In a letter he told a friend of his: "my taste is depraved enough to have thought them only the more beautiful for it.” And in a letter to his father he wrote: " the slow-cadenced and voluptuous dance of Delhi and Cashmere is one of the most agreeable that can be executed." However, his experience with dancing girls in Kashmir was only of disappointed. In his supreme disappointment, he calls Kashmiri women “hideous witches” and even calls Irish poet Thomas Moore “a perfumer, and a liar to the boot” for essentially writing too beautifully about Kashmir in his famous poem Lalla Rookh. About the dancing girls at Shalimar Bagh her wrote: "They were browner, that is to say blacker, than the choruses and corps de ballet of Lahore, Umbritsir, Loodheeana, and Delhi." Jacquemont had made up his mind when he wrote: "It is true that all little girls who promise to turn out pretty, are sold at eight years of age, and carried off into the Punjab and India."

George Forster, who visited Kashmir in 1783, thought that Kashmiri dancers had disappointingly "broad features" and even more disappointingly often "thick legs" too. He was probably the first European to write about Kashmiri nautch girls. In spite of his disappointment he wrote: "the courtesans and female dancers of Punjab and Kashmire, or rather a mixed breed of both these countries, are beautiful women, and are held in great estimation all through Norther parts of India: the merchants established at Jumbo, often become so fondly attached to a dancing girl, that, neglecting their occupation, they have been known to dissipate, at her will, the whole of their property; and I have seen some of them reduced to a subsistence on charity; for these girls, in the manner of their profession, are profuse and rapacious."

Surprisingly, Jammu can be claimed to have continued this tradition right until the time of legendary singer Malika Pukhraj (1927-2004). She started her illustrious career at the royal court of Maharaja Hari Singh and went on to captivate the entire divided sub-Continent with her beautiful singing.

There is another Jammu angle to the story of Kashmiri Dancing girls.

What these early western visitors probably witnessed in Kashmir was a form of Kashmiri singing and dancing known as Hafiz Nagma. The songs are usually set to Sufi lyrics or Sufiana Kalam and the dancer who performs these songs, always female, is known as - Hafiza. These dancers were much celebrated at weddings and festivals.In a Victorian twist, Hafiz Nagma was banned Kashmir in 1920s by the ruling Dogra Maharaja. He felt that this dance form was losing its sufi touch and was becoming too sensual, and hence amoral for the civil society. Now, old traditional songs being the same, in an odd parody, female dancers were replaced by young boys dressed like women to perform on them. It came to be known as bacha nagma and is still popular at Kashmiri weddings. Hafiz Nagma is now almost lost.


*This particular book first published in 1842 is my personal favorite. The only obvious error I could find in the book is that it got the date of George Foster’s visit to Kashmir wrong. Foster visited Kashmir in 1783-84 and not 1833 as claimed in Chapter titled Beautiful Country that quotes Foster’s visit to Vernag (Verinag). The same was noted in a footnote to C.Knight’s Penny cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1851) while dealing with an article on the life of Francois de Bernier.

** Changus: Village Shangus of Anantnag district.


Photograph of Shalimar Garden taken by me in June 2008

My post on old photographs of Kashmir included photographs of some of these nautch girls

Guide to the Fable of Kashmiri Beauty as given in a Tourist Book

By the start of 20th century, tourists started to pour into Kashmir. And good tourists need a good Guidebook to a comfortable holiday.
The journal was written day by day, and the sketches were all done on the spot; and if this account--bald and inadequate as I know it to be--of a very happy time spent in rambling among some of the finest scenery of this lovely earth, may induce any one to betake himself to Kashmir, he will achieve something worth living for, and I shall not have split ink in vain.
- Writes T. R. Swinburne in preface to A Holiday in The Happy Valley with Pen (1907), a book “with” no less than “24 Coloured Illustrations”.

The journal starts with lines of Arthur Hugh Clough’s Amours de Voyage (1849), a novel written in Verse form that was inspired by the siege of the Roman Republic.
"Over the great windy waters, and over the clear crested summits,
Unto the sea and the sky, and unto the perfecter earth,
Come, let us go!"
Having reached the "perfecter earth" Kashmir, Swinburne notes:
While the gentlemen of the Happy Valley have been lashed by the tongue and pen of every traveller, the ladies, on the contrary, have been rather overrated.

In all communities where the men are invertebrate the women become the real heads of the family, doing not only most of the actual work, but also taking the dominant position in affairs generally. This I have observed strikingly in the case of the three "slackest" male races I know—the Fantis of the Gold Coast, the Kashmiri, and the crofters of the West Highlands.
Further on the subject of "female loveliness in Kashmir" he notes that the "opinion is divided" and writes:
Marco Polo (who probably only got his ideas of "Kesmur" from hearsay) echoed the prevalent opinion by saying, "The women although dark are very comely" (ch. xxvii.). Bernier is enthusiastic: "Les femmes surtout y sont très-belles," and hints at their popularity among the Moguls.

Moorcroft, Vigne, and others swelled the laudatory chorus until Forster, "having been prepossessed with an opinion of their charms, suffered a sensible disappointment," and even was so rude as to criticise the ladies'legs, which he considered thick!

Lawrence saw "thousands of women in the villages, and could not remember, save one or two exceptions, ever seeing a really beautiful face;" but the heaviest blow was dealt them by Jacquemont, who, as a gay Frenchman, should have been an excellent judge: "Je n'avais jamais vu auparavant d'aussi affreuses sorcières!"

Again, in one corner, we had Bernier and his extremely beautiful ladies and on in the other corner we had Jacquemont and his hideous witches. The rest of the opinions could be placed somewhere in between these two extreme end.

This is page 8 of the series Fables of Kashmiri Beauty
previous pages
  • Fable of Kashmiri Beauty: page 1
  • Fable of Kashmiri (not so) Beauty as told George Forster: page 2
  • Fable of Kashmiri (un) Beauty as told by Victor Jacquemont: page 3
  • Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (yet) as told by G.T. Vigne : page 4
  • Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (types) as told by Walter Lawrence: page 5
  • Fable of Ugly Kashmiri as explained in a Magazine: page 6
  • Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (generally) as told by Younghusband: page 7

Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (generally) as told by Younghusband

Francis Younghusband, winding up a very audacious journey, first reached Kashmir in around 1887. He wrote about this Journey in Report of a Journey from Peking to Kashmir via the Gobi Desert, Kashgaria, and the Mustang Pass. It was in Srinagar that he met a middle aged married women named Nellie Douglas. Nellie Douglas and Younghusband stayed in touch through letters for a long time. Understandably, the Report does not mention this ‘letter affair’; Patrick French wrote about it in his insightful and at times humorous biography of Younghusband aptly titled: 'Younghusband, The Last Great Imperial Adventurer'

Much later in 1906, Francis Younghusband came to Kashmir as The British Resident, and stayed on for three years.

On the subject of Kashmiri beauty, sympathizing with Walter Lawrence, Younghusband wrote:
Kashmir is generally renowned for the beauty of its women […]. And I think , well deserved. Sir Walter Lawrence indeed says that he has seen thousands of women in the villages, and cannot remember, save one or two exceptions, ever seeing a really beautiful face. But whether it is that Sir Walter was unfortunate, or that he is particularly hard to please, or that villages are not the adobes of Kashmir beauties, certain it is that the visitor, with an ordinary standard of beauty, as he passes along the river or the roads and streets, does see a great many more than one or two really beautiful women. He will often see striking handsome women, with clear-cut features, large dark eyes, well-marked eyebrows, and general Jewish appearance.
The valley was now seeing its first horde of western tourists and not just western travelers. And they were all still probing for Kashmiri beauties.


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Fable of Ugly Kashmiri as explained in a Magazine

The writer of an article titled The Valley of Kashmir and its Women, published in Blackwood' Magazine in 1875, having read Victor Jacquemont and his tale of Kashmiri women being “carried off into the Punjab and India”, wrote:
“I am afraid a good deal of traffic still goes on, notwithstanding the law which forbids women and mares to be taken out of the country; and as it has gone on for generations, it is easily explicable how the women of Kashmir should be so ugly. A continuous process of eliminating the pretty girls and leaving the ugly ones to continue the race must lower the standard of beauty.”
By now, we can explainable guess why there was a law forbidding trafficking of women, but we can make no guess about the ban on trafficking of mares. How were the clauses of this ban written, wonder, if they too mentioned women and mares in the same sentence?

Anyway, the writer of the article then went on to make a comment of his own on the “standard of beauty”. He wrote:
“But the want of good condition strikes one more painfully in Kashmir than the want of beauty. The aquiline nosed, long chins, and long faces of the women of Kashmir, would allow only of a peculiar and rather Jewish style of beauty; but even that is not brought out well by the state of their physique; and I don't suppose the most beautiful woman in the world would show to advantage it [if] she were imperfectly washed and dressed in the ordinary feminine attire of Kashmir -- a dirty, whitish cotton night-gown.”
The writer was talking about the beloved attire of Kashmiris: a pheran.

More than a century and a half later, in around 1930s, a Kashmiri Pandit, Kashayap Bandhu went around suggesting social and cultural change among his Pandit community; and making women get rid of pheran was high on his agenda.

Songs were written:
Travee Pheran lo lo
Zooj, Pooch tye Narivaar
Yim chhi shikasaek sardaar
mali baerthaey gardan
Travee Pheran lo lo
O! Give up the Pheran, dear
Give up Zooj, Pooch and Narivaar
these are harbinger of only squalor
Lo! your neck is covered with muck
Give up the Pheran, O dear!

Pheran is also known as narivaar, in Kashmiri language narivaar is a piece of clothing that covers the arms and shoulders. Besides narivaar, a pheran comprises of two more sets of clothing, a zooj and a pooch. And together, they do have a tendency to attract a lot of dust and dirt. Kashayap Bandhu and his bunch of close associates started a door-to-door movement and organized community meets. Disdainful, some pandits critical of his ideas began to call him Kash Bandooq or a rifle filled with sawdust.

The repose of women was equally poetic :
taaraachand bulbulo trawoo israar
aes na baa traawoy z'ahtih narivaar
TaraChand, O! Stop chattering like a Bulbul,
leave the doggedness, for we will never leave,
our precious gown – narivaar

In the end, although, other dresses and forms of clothing (more Indian) did make inroads in Kashmir, but pheren even today remains much loved.


The article The Valley of Kashmir and its Women was republished in The New York Times
dated May2, 1875

This is page 6 of the series Fables of Kashmiri Beauty

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Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (types) as told by Walter Lawrence

In 1889, Walter Roper Lawrence came to Kashmir as the British Settlement Commissioner for land and apparently did a good job: Prithivi Nath Kaul Bamzai in his book Culture and Political History of Kashmir (1994) writes that “His land settlement in the State marks a turning point in the economic and social history of its people”.

As regards the “Beauty of the women”, Walter Lawrence was probably the first to make a distinction between the beauties of various tribes of Kashmiri women. He wrote in his book The Valley of Kashmir (1895):
“As regards the beauty of the women it is difficult to speak, but I have seen thousands of women in the villages and cannot remember, save one or two exceptions, ever seeing a really beautiful face. They seem to age very quickly, and though the children are often lovely the average woman is plain. Beauty, not ‘beauty born of murmuring sound,’ is perhaps more common among the Hánjis and the Wátals, but the old and prevailing idea among the natives of Hindustán, as to the beauty of the Kashmíri women, is probably due to the healthy, rosy cheeks that many of them have, so different from the wheaten hue of India. In the city there is the well-bred Panditáni, whose easier, more refined life makes beauty less difficult to inherit and keep than it is for her hard-worked and weather-worn sister of the villages, and I should say that if the fabled beauty of the Kashmíri really exists it is to be found in Srinagar and not in the villages of the valley. Apart from early marriage, hard work and exposure, the peasant women are often cruelly disfigured by smallpox, and though beauty may be found in the house of some affluent village headman, it does not show itself in the field where the women song and work.”

And as was the tradition, he then went on to quote the lines of Bernier and Marco Polo on the subject of Kashmiri beauty, but in between these lines he also wrote that:
“One ingenious writer suggests that the decadence of beauty of Kashmir is due to the fact that the fairest of Kashmir’s women were taken away to India, and that the stock whence beauty might be bred has disappeared.”
That "ingenious writer" was, of course, Victor Jacquemont – the Frenchman who had famously called the Kashmiri women: "hideous witches". It was Victor Jacquemont who wrote that:
“It is true that all little girls who promise to turn out pretty, are sold at eight years of age, and carried off into the Punjab and India. Their parents sell them at from twenty to three hundred francs — most commonly fifty or sixty."
Later, these lines were widely quoted by various travelers and writer (on one occasion even in an article on Kashmiri women published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1875), and have since then remained widely in currency as an explanation for the "lack of beauty in Kashmir”.

This is page 5 of the series Fables of Kashmiri Beauty

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  • Guide to the Fable of Kashmiri Beauty as given in a Tourist Book: page 8

Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (yet) as told by G.T. Vigne

In spite of a somewhat unfavorable opinion expressed by George Forster and a completely malignant opinion expressed by Victor Jacquemont, most travelers who came to Kashmir after them, continued to talk buoyantly about the beauty of Kashmiri women.

Godfrey Thomas Vigne, one of the early English travelers, visited Kashmir in 1835 and made the following comment on the subject of Kashmiri beauty:
“I do not think that the beauty of the Kashmirian women has been overrated. They are, of course, wholly deficient in the graces and fascinations derivable from cultivation and accomplishment; but for mere uneducated eyes, I know of none that surpass those of Kashmir.”
Traveling widely in the region, G.T. Vigne also went to distant and at that time potentially hazardous places like Ghuzni, Kabul, Afghanistan, Ladak and Iskardo. Not only was he a prolific traveler but also a fine travel writer. In his Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo (1844) he gives a comic description of a chance encounter with three “savage-looking beauties”. On way to Kashmir, somewhere near Banihal, Vigne saw three “savage-looking beauties” and in a moment of artistic inspiration thought that a sketch of these “savage-looking beauties” would look great on paper. He asked his servants to persuade these women to remain quite for a while so that he could sketch them, but to no use. While the servants were still negotiating for silence, the three women ‘took fright, ran off, and climbed some trees with the activity of monkeys from which no money, or assurance of protection, would induce them to come down.’

Recounting another incident, he writes how, while he was putting up at a village retreat, an old snooping village woman kept peeping into his room while he, in a moment of cherished privacy, was going to do his chamber pot. After much warning, guards, with some force, dislodged the old curious woman.

White man and his curious pot must have terribly fascinated the poor lady.

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Fable of Kashmiri (un) Beauty as told by Victor Jacquemont

Perhaps the nastiest comments ever made on Kashmiri women were those by a French botanist named Victor Jacquemont (Born in Paris on August 8, 1801 and died in Bombay on December 7, 1832). Jacquemont came to India in the late 1820s and visited Kashmir in around 1831.

On the topic of Kashmiri beauty, in a letter written to his father, he writes:
"Know that I have never seen any where such hideous witches as in Cashmere. The female race is remarkably ugly. I speak of women of the common ranks, — those one sees in the streets and fields; — since those of a more elevated station pass all their lives shut up, and are never seen. It is true that all little girls who promise to turn out pretty, are sold at eight years of age, and carried off into the Punjab and India. Their parents sell them at from twenty to three hundred francs — most commonly fifty or sixty."
Bernier had sung hosannas about Kashmir; and Jacquemont, disappointed by what he saw, not only called Kashmiri women “hideous witches”, but on not finding trees on route to Kashmir, even called poet Thomas Moore “a perfumer, and a liar to the boot”.

It is words of one Frenchman against the words of other Frenchman!

Whose opinion could one venerate?

Jacquemont’s letters, originally written in French, were later translated and published after his death as Letter from India: Describing a Journey in the British Dominion of India (1834). This publication, collecting Jacquemont's letters written for various friends and relatives, provides a very confusing account of his travels.

After his first meeting in Lahore with the ruler of Punjab and of Kashmir, Ranjit Singh, at night a welcome concert was organized in the royal court. About this night, in a letter to his father he writes:
“The concert was execrable, Oriental music being one of the most disagreeable noises I know; but the slow-cadenced and voluptuous dance of Delhi and Cashmere is one of the most agreeable that can be executed. I will also admit that my Cashmerian danseuses had an inch of colour on their faces, vermillion on their lips, red and white on their cheeks, and black round their eyes. But this daubery was very pretty: it gives an extraordinary luster to the already beautiful and extraordinarily large eyes of the Easter women.”
Earlier in some other letter to his brother, one can read him write that although the dance is “monotonous” but the singing is “not without art”. And in the same letter he goes on to write that “their dancing is already to me the most graceful and seducing in the world”.

In another letter, to a friend he writes about his opulent Arabian Nights’ adventure:
“ At Lahore, I lived in a little palace of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments; a battalion of infantry was on duty near me; the drums beat in the field when I put my head out of doors; and when I walked in the cool of the evening, in the alleys of my garden, fountains played around me by thousands! A most splendid fěte was given to me, with an accompaniment of Cashmerian girls, as a matter of course; and, although they had their eyes daubed round with black and white, my taste is depraved enough to have thought them only the more beautiful for it.”
Shalimar Bagh Srinagar Kashmir Photograph of Shalimar Garden taken by me in June 2008

In Kashmir, he pays a visit to the famous Gardens at Shalimar Bagh and about the Kashmiri Nautch girls there, he writes to his father:
“The Cashmerian beauties had nothing in their eyes to compensate for the monotony of their dancing and sing. They were browner, that is to say blacker, than the choruses and corps de ballet of Lahore, Umbritsir, Loodheeana, and delhi. I remained as long as I was pleased with looking at the fantastic architecture of the place […]”
The only argument in his favor and the only conclusion that one can draw: at least he thought daubed Kashmiri eyes to be beautiful. Perhaps, in his mind, he was thinking, rather ironically, some lines from Moore's Lalla Rookh. Maybe he was thinking:

"Those love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave"
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Dancing girls of Kashmir

Fable of Kashmiri (not so) Beauty as told George Forster

A traveler in the service of The East India Company, George Forster left Calcutta, on May 23, 1782, on a long and strenuous overland journey to England. Letters on a Journey from Bengal to England, through the Northern Part of India, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Persia, and into Russia, by the Caspian Sea, first published as a series of letters in 1798, is an interesting and entertaining narrative account of his two year long overland journey that started in 1782 and ended in 1784. He traveled from Bengal to St. Petersburg disguised as: a Mughal merchant, a Turk, an Arab and a Georgian. This was a time when foreigners were barred from entering the valley of Kashmir and George Forster tried unsuccessfully to dodge the spies of Afghan ruler of Kashmir by donning the garb of a Turkish merchant. He passed through the north-eastern hilly tracts of the Punjab in February - April 1783. On arriving in Kashmir in 1783, on subject of Kashmiri beauty, George Forster wrote that:

The Kashmirians are stout, well formed, and, as the natives of a country lying in the thirty-fourth degree of latitudes, may be termed a fair people; and their women in southern France, or Spain, would be called Brunettes. But, having been prepossessed with an opinion of their charms, I suffered a sensible disappointment; though I saw some of the female dancers most celebrated for beauty, and the attractions of their profession. A coarseness of figure generally prevails among them, with broad features, and they too often have thick legs. Though excelling in the colours of their complexion, they are evidently surpassed by the elegant form and pleasing countenance of the women of the western provinces of India.

The focus was now shifting towards looking at Kashmiri beauties in a more ‘realistic’ manner.
Francois Bernier, who can rightly be blamed for spreading a favorable opinion of the Kashmiri beauty, in spite of all his cleaver stratagems for seeking beauty, failed to notice the legs. If comments made by Forster can be termed unfavorable, then the comments made, around fifty years later,  by Frenchman Victor Jacquemont, can be termed outrightly rude.

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  • Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (yet) as told by G.T. Vigne: page 4
  • Fable of Kashmiri beauty (types) as told by Walter Lawrence: page 5
  • Fable of Ugly Kashmiri as explained in a Magazine: page 6
  • Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (generally) as told by Younghusband: page 7
  • Guide to the Fable of Kashmiri Beauty as given in a Tourist Book: page 8

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