Monday, December 28, 2009

...but they are crafty

- A Snake Charmer in the New Bazaar, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1892
from Illustrated London News. [found it here at]
[Update: It was the work of J. E. Goodall]

'[They] are good-looking...but they are crafty'.

wrote Buddhist pilgrim from China, Huen Tsang who arrived in Kashmir in A.D. 631 as a state guest and stayed for two years. The exact words,"light and frivolous, and of a weak, pusillanimous disposition. The people are handsome in appearance, but they are given to cunning. 'They love learning and are well-instructed."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Kashmir in 1920s

Some more vintage photographs from 'Kashmir in Sunlight & Shade: a Description of the Beauties of the Country, the Life, Habits and Humour of its Inhabitants, and an Account of the Gradual but Steady Rebuilding of a Once Down-trodden People' by Cecil Earle Tyndale-Biscoe (1922).

A Winter scene by Pandit Vishwanath.

Back waters of Dal

Swarup Rani, Pandit Nehru's Mother

With Dejhoor, Athoor and Atah dangling from her ear.
An Old photograph of Nehru's Mother, Swarup Rani, housed at Teen Murti Bhavan.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kashmiri in 1922

Some more old photographs of Kashmir from 'Kashmir in Sunlight & Shade: a Description of the Beauties of the Country, the Life, Habits and Humour of its Inhabitants, and an Account of the Gradual but Steady Rebuilding of a Once Down-trodden People' by Cecil Earle Tyndale-Biscoe (1922).

Pounding Rice: The mortars are block of wood hollowed out: the pestles are heavy pieces of timber which makes this daily round in women's work very arduous.It is the women's duty to convey water for domestic use. The constant practice of balancing the pots on their heads gives them an erect and graceful poise.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pandit Marriage, 1922

The bridegroom, aged 14, stands in the centre, priests are sitting in front. Pictures of various gods and goddesses lie on the ground.

Photograph by Pandit Vishwanath.

There's a good chance that the photo depicts the thread ceremony of Pandits or Yagnopavit. It's the sahibaan, the tent, in the background that I found interesting.

Found it in: 'Kashmir in Sunlight & Shade: a Description of the Beauties of the Country, the Life, Habits and Humour of its Inhabitants, and an Account of the Gradual but Steady Rebuilding of a Once Down-trodden People'  by Cecil Earle Tyndale-Biscoe (1922).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pandit Woman by Pandit Vishwanath, 1922

Kashmir women do not have a working dress. This one has been squatting on a filthy bank cleaning her greasy pots with mud whilst wearing all her gold and silver and precious stones. She has no trinket box at home nor any place to store anything, so besides wearing all her clothes and valuables she has both pockets full, and tucked into her sash a handkerchief, knife, comb and snuff-box, and in the fold of her sleeves snuff and sugar in screws of paper, a needle and cotton and various other things.

The writer must have caught hold of her and given her a good shake and out must have tumbled all her possessions. A needle, a knife, a snuff-box. From the description, I have heard stories about snuff boxes; practice of cleaning pots with mud continued well into the 90s.  And then slowly mud was replaced by Nirma.

Photo by Pandit Vishwanath, a student of Biscoe and the first Kashmiri photographer.Found it in the book 'Kashmir in Sunlight & Shade: a Description of the Beauties of the Country, the Life, Habits and Humour of its Inhabitants, and an Account of the Gradual but Steady Rebuilding of a Once Down-trodden People' (1922) by Cecil Earle Tyndale-Biscoe.

The thing that really interested me in the photograph is her footware. Must be the famous Pulhor [ recent photo] woven from leaves of Iris ( Krishm in Kashmiri ).

(I suspected it) Turns out  she is wearing Krav or wooden sandals.


With graceful steps, erect and slow
Adown the stone-built, broken stair
The panditanis daily go
And on their head help high they bear

Bright vessels, which they stoop fill
Beneath the bridge's wooden pier:
In pools of clouded amber still
Which gurgle deep and glowing here.

Their movements of unconscious grace
Glint in the Jhelum's flowing stream
Where rich hues shimmering interlace
And in the glancing ripples gleam,

Then with their slender rounded arms
They poise the shining lotas high,
Ot bashful, with half feigned alarms
Draw close their veils with gesture shy.

Bedecked by jewels quaint of form
In pherans robed, whose soft folds show
Tints dyed by rays of sunset warm
Flame, crimson, orange, rose aglow!

With you gay tulips they compare
Which on these grass-grown house-tops blow:
What types for artist's brush more fair
Does all Srinagar's city know?

~ Muriel A.E. Brown
Chenar Leaves: Poems of Kashmir (1921)
Muriel Agnes Eleanora Talbot Brown was the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Adelbert Cecil Talbot, Resident, Kashmir 1896- 1900. And first wife of Percy Brown, art historian famous for his work on History of Indian Architecture ( Buddhist and Hindu, 1942 ).

 Another one of her poems. 


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Photographs of Kashmir, 1921

Here are some old photographs of Kashmir from the book 'Topee and turban, or, Here and there in India'  (1921) by Newell, H. A. (Herbert Andrews, b. 1869). Photographs are by a Sialkot based photographer named R.E. Shorter.

Photograph of the Chenar Bagh on the Dal Canal at Srinagar

Third Bridge on Jehlum - Fateh Kadal. Can see Hari Parbat in the background.

Old Photograph of Pandit Woman, 1921

Found this incredible rare old photograph of Kashmiri pandit woman in a travelogue 'Topee and turban, or, Here and there in India'  (1921) by Newell, H. A. (Herbert Andrews, b. 1869 ). The photograph by R.E. Shorter was used as the frontispiece for this book.. 


Bedecked by jewels quaint of form
In pherans robed, whose soft folds show
Tints dyed by rays of sunset warm
Flame, crimson, orange, rose aglow!

- lines from poem 'Panditanis' by Muriel A.E. Brown
(Chenar Leaves: Poems of Kashmir, 1921)

I have previously posted old photographs of Kashmiri Pandit women Here and Here


Update [Thanks to Avi Raina]

The tight bracelet around the neck was known as 'Tulsi' and long teethy necklace was known as 'Chapkali'.


Friday, November 13, 2009



Picked up: "Tankipora or Teenk'pour  near old Secretariat in Srinagar. A place where you could get coin currency in exchange of  cash. And it had been like that, a place to get smaller change, for generations. The place gets its name from 'Teenk'" or 'Tanki' of  the kind issued by Emperor Akbar. Tanki were the copper coin  issued by Akbar from his Ahmadabad, Agra, Kabul, and Lahore mints. System: 10 Tanki (each one weighing 4.15 gram )  = 1 Tanka (230.45 gram)

He got his first salary - Rs 10. But sadly for him they gave him a ten rupees note. He was absolutely embarrassed. 'How can I hand just this single note to mother? It seems nothing. She would be dejected.'  So he hit upon an idea. He went to Teenk'pour and changed the ten rupee note for 10 paisa coins. Then he went back home and handed over a full jangling bag of coins to his mother. 'Son, they pay you so much salary!  May you prosper more! May you be an afsar soon! Good bless! Urzu! Urzu!' Mother was happy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Illustrated Kashmir, 1870

Found these in 'Letters from India and Kashmir' by J. Duguid, 1870. [The illustrations are by MR. H. R. ROBERTSON, and engraved by MR. W. J. PALM KB, principally from the writer's Sketches.]

View from Shankarachary . Can't take camera up the hill these days.

Martand as described by Sir Alexander Cunningham

 I  mentioned writings of Alexander Cunningham in a previous post about Pandav lar'rey (House of Pandas, as Martand temple was common known among Pandits).

British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham (1814-93), as a young British Army Engineer officer was stationed in Kashmir after the first Sikh War of 1845-1846. In November 1847, he measured and studied most of the ancient structures that existed in Kashmir. Because of his pioneering work he came to be known as the father of Indian Archaeology.

I recently came across some more extracts from his work 'An Essay on the Arian Order of Architecture, as exhibited in the Temples of Kashmir (1848) ' while reading 'Letters from India and Kashmir' by J. Duguid, 1870. Here are the extracts describing Martand temple and its illustrations from the book:

Saturday, October 31, 2009


'Hata kyo'ho chukh karaan! Hey, what are you doing!'

Village Tulamulla. Outside the Temple. June, 2008.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Memories of Gulmarg


O! for the wind in the pine-wood trees

0! for the flowery, scented breeze
In far Gulmarg! in far Gulmarg!

0! for the wealth of flowers so blue
O! for the sound of the ring-dove's coo,

O! for that earth's soft covered breast
The turf my love's footsteps have pressed,

And all the thousand scents which rise
To subtly haunt our memories,

Scents which spring from the very grass

As o'er its velvet growth we pass
In far Gulmarg ! in far Gulmarg !

0! for the babbling brook's clear flow
Dancing from Killan's heights below,

0! for the cold and gleaming snow
Which Apharwat doth proudly show,

And lights and shades which joyous play
On her grey-green slopes all through the day.

O! for the moonlight so serene
As 'thwart the marg she casts her sheen,

O ! for the rainbow tinted vale

Which dream-like fades to vision pale
In far Gulmarg! in far Gulmarg!

Their distant peaks great mountains rear
Pure, shadowy guardians of Kashmir.

And now upon a dreary plain
I wounded lie in aching pain
How far Gulmarg! how far Gulmarg!

But when this pain comes to an end
My soul released swift may it wend

To its true home yonder I know

Instead of Heaven, God let me go,
To far Gulmarg! To far Gulmarg!

~ Muriel A.E. Brown
Chenar Leaves: Poems of Kashmir (1921)

Tv tower and house

Tv tower atop Shankaracharya hill, as seen from Dal gate.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Chinar Saplings

 Saplings and Sandbags.
 Khir Bhawani. June 2008.

Wan Raaz Trivikramasen

'Wan Raaz Trivikramasen! Answer King Trivikramasen' Baital needles the king into answering his trick questions in a 1960s (?) Kashmiri production of Baital Pachisi for Radio Kashmir. The popular  radio show was probably based on Kashmirian Somadeva's Vetalapanchavirhsati  in which the hero, the King  is called 'Trivikramasena, the son of Vikramasena' ** but still refers to the semi-legendary Vikrama or Vikramaditya of Jain tradition.

More about  Vetalapanchavirhsati  Here

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dal Boats

Visiting Ahdoos

She stands in front of the wall, looks at the door, stopped, a little confused. She call the waiter over.

'There used to be toilet here! Where did it go?'
'Madam the toilet is now down stairs. This is the...'

She looks around. At the ceiling, at the walls. I look away, miss the last word. I believe the word was 'lift'. Her old legs slowly lead her downstairs.

The little woman must have been in her early Sixties. When we took a table, she was sitting at a nearby table with two men who looked like her sons. They were having a full table, a full meal. Dinner.

 'They are Kashmiris too. Must be Punjabis.You know the business class. Stayed here for generations.'

I know.

She did the ordering. This was her place. The place. She must have been here a lot -"We must try this, the place served  best of this.'

Tea arrived at our table in a metal kettle. Milk. Sugar.We prepare cups of tea.

'They will bring a fresh hot kettle when this one runs cold. Great service! They have the best tea. Try it.'

This is embarrassing but true. As I take the first sip, the taste on my tongue makes me feel like I have never had tea before in my life. 'What leaves do they use? This is almost a new taste.'

'After four in the evening, this place used to be alive with people. They would crawl out of various government offices, in groups, alone and head for Ahdoos. The place would be filled with cigarette smoke. On one table a group would loudly be pro-government. At a nearby table a group would be loudly subversive.  Tea kettles would turn cold and be duly replaced with a hot bellied one. Discussions went on.'

My father remembers. This was Ahdoos.

It's late evening. The table to the left is occupied by two men, in early thirties. Kashmiris. Almost done about to leave. Newspapers on the table. The two are still talking, but both in friendly conceding tone.  I don't notice them leaving.

Waiter arrives with Chicken patties.

' Ah! Chicken patties! Try them'

Chicken is soft, unlike leather and strangely has a taste. It has been minced to butter.

'The size has become smaller. They used to be bigger.'

Waiter smiles a little. Almost detached from his environment, the man was an old fashioned waiter, in his forties, a pencil moustache, he could have been a government employee. 'Would you like to order anything else?'

'Yes, a serving of Gushtaba.'

'Anything to go with it. Rice. Roti.'


Waiter comes to life. 'Nothing. Okay. If you had told me earlier that you were going to have Gushtaba I would have kept tea and patties for after.'

'It's okay. And you are right. But who knew?'

'Anything else?'

'No. That's it'


Father looks at me and say, 'We will be having dinner with the rest at the hotel. They won't be pleased to know that we came here without them. Hotel owner has been specially asked to prepare a non-veg dinner tonight. So we can't have anything heavy. But Gushtaba will do'

Will more than do.

We  were soon digging into those soft meatballs called Gushtab. Dense and Delightful. Stupendous. Before leaving we ordered another serving, around twelve balls, for the folks back at the hotel. To return empty handed from Ahdoos would have been unforgivable.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cinema Hall of Kashmir

The mini-van entered city limit, someone inside mentioned Khayyam. Soon they were off rattling mesmerizing names and old tales of visiting this of that theater of Kashmir. They mentioned:

Broadway near the Army cantonment area,
Neelam at the back of the Civil Secretariat,
Shiraaz at Khanyaar,
Palladium and Regal at Lal Chowk, 
Naaz near Iqbal Park,
Shah in Qamarwari,
Firdaus in Hamwal,
Khayyam near the chowk of same name.
Then there was:
Heaven/Hewaan in Anantnag,
Thimaya in Baramula,
and Samad/Summer Talkies in Sopore.


Kapra in Sopore
Amrish/Regal Talkies at Residency Road:
Regina cinema of Baramulla
Marazi cinema in Kupwara
Heemal at Handwara
Nishat at Anantnag
Zorawar Theater on Srinagar-Baramulla Highway near Pattan,
run by army

These thanks to commenters (see below). Now the total is about 19.
Image: Remains of Palladium Cinema Hall, Lal Chowk, Srinagar. June, 2008. Burnt down in 1992.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


As bombs burst outside,
faint-hearted Jakie ran inside.
Her ears couldn't bear the sound.
Diwali is always loud.
It was, even in Kashmir.
She ran for her life.
Crossing vot,
she made an instinctive dash
for the safest place in the house.
Eyes and some legs followed her.
Jackie ran for thokur-kuth.
The God room, the holy kitchen.
Among the framed family portraits of smiling gods
from the Himalayas, Plains and the Heaven,
Jackie stood moaning right next to the unlit
(but still warm for autumn night) daan.
A canine inside a Hindu Kitchen.
'Jackie isn't very fond of Diwali. Jakie went mad.'
They were all now laughing.
Jakie was led out of  the Kitchen.
But nothing could make her come out of the house.
(Weak-hearted Jackie)
So she stayed inside all that night.
'Tomorrow, she may go back to roaming the streets.'
Old lady of the house again cleaned the Kitchen.
Poured water and swept the floor
A diya still burning in front of gods. She bolted the door shut.

'You weren't born when this happened.'
I heard this story, every Diwali, every year,
while I was growing up not in that house.
'Jackie must have died a year or two after you were born.
She used to play with you.
You wouldn't remember that (do you)!
Someone from the neighborhood fed her something.
A needle in her throat.'

And then the post scripts.

'Then when your sister was born, around that time, we took in a dog.'

I remember the litters. The dog was really shy.


Thursday, October 15, 2009


July, 2009

'Sarkar  gir gai! Sarkar  gir gai! The government has fallen!'

At Amira Kadal, a young newspaper vendor was screaming at the top of his voice. The paper was selling briskly. Only paces away from him, on the same pavement, a distraught looking old man, another newspaper vendor, was trying to grab the attention of faceless morning crowd. He was beating the palm of his one hand on his head while the other hand was pointed towards his young competitor.

'Ha yemis kya sa gao! Ha yemis ha'sa niyn ra'tith! What is wrong with him? They will get him! The government hasn't fallen. He is lying through his teeth. Look at him. Stop him.'

People kept walking. He competitor kept making the pitch.

Previous day, the Chief Minister of the state, amid an uproar, had angrily walked out of the assembly house and later submitted his resignation. The resignation was rejected by the governor and the government did not fall.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On way, Baltal via Sonamarg

Views on way to Baltal via Sonamarg
July 2009.

Baltal Thajwas Wildlife Sanctuary

A small Fishery

White water rafting in Sindh River

White water


Shared by my father.

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