Thursday, May 30, 2013

First Refuge, 1990

First Refuge
Bohri, Jammu. March, 2013.

'We are here!'

Getting out of the Auto-Rickshaw and dropping the bags to ground, father announced our arrival to the refuge. He could have added a 'Ta-Ta-Da' before or after the sentence and the feeling he wanted to convey would have been the same. Ta-Ta-Da, we are in Jammu.

We had a place to stay in Jammu. It was a house of a kin. For the first few days, we had the entire first floor of the house for ourself. In a few days my father was to leave again for Srinagar to get my grandparents out of Kashmir. But before that, a cycle of life had to begin afresh. Purchases were to be made.

A kitchen was set up. An electric stove was the first thing we bought. Then a bowl, an exact number of plates, a knife and some spoons. Pressure cooker we had brought along from Kashmir. A milkman was sought and easily found nearby. Just next to the house was a field. In the field was a tree to which was always tied a sickly cow. The owners of the cow lived nearby in a shed that stood next to a tall pile of green grass. In the field lived some watery eyes buffaloes, tied to a pole by steel chains. I could see it all from the roof of the house in which we had taken refuge from Kashmir. That tree's top was just within my reach from the roof. I could pluck its leaves, if I could learn to avoid its long pointy thorns. Jammu was kandi area they said. From the branches of that tree hung no fruits, but few round beautiful brown nests of weaver birds. With what mad fervor they build their homes!

Tea was ready. But it's taste caused an instant revulsion. I imagined it tasted like smell of a buffalo. I hated it as it made me nauseous. Kashmir had cows. But cow milk in Jammu was costly. Salaries were three digit and savings five digit. Cows would have to wait. Note for future refugees on getting their priorities right: The first are only two - Food and Shelter, and often in that order. In summer of 1990, we were also at first only seeking these two things. Food and Shelter. And the number of seekers kept swelling. As often happens, other refugees kept pouring into town, first a trickle and then a downpour. At first almost unseen, silent. Too ashamed to be alive. Then not sure of their existence and in the end alive, and consumed by a new world.

About three weeks after our arrival in Jammu, grandparents also were refugees. A few days after the arrival of my grandparents, a newly arrived migrant family took the first floor on rent from the owners of the house. This migrant family belonged to Anantnag, a name I first heard from them. With their arrival we moved to the top floor. To the top of the top floor. To the roof. On the roof was a store room. Our first refuge. I liked it. The roof of a traditional Kashmiri house is an endearing space, a intimate cave. It's a triangle. A crown. But seldom does anybody live there. Maybe cats. Maybe Ghardivta, the lord of the house. This space is used for storing wood for harsh winters, grains at times of weddings and always the ghost stories. I wanted to live there. I wanted to live in such a roof forever. The roof I got in Jammu was flat. All the houses in Jammu were crown less.

Note for future refugees on setting up spaces and boundaries in the new world:
A kitchen was set up in the store. Electric stove, bowl, plates, a knife and spoons, all parked neatly in a corner. Next, to preserve an archaic concept of pure and impure, an old cloth was rolled and set on ground to mark the boundary for pure 'Kitchen corner'. Over the next few days, as the space kept getting accidentally defiled by miss-steps, this boundary was re-enforced by bricks. Not that it helped much, but an illusion of a room within a room was enough to satiate minds seeking a certain familiar order in an unfamiliar territory.

The next thing they say a refugee seeks is shelter, a shade, a place to sleep. This need is somewhat overrated. Pushed enough and given enough time, people would sleep anywhere. But still, some may try to get a bit comfortable. The storeroom on that roof wasn't big enough to house eight people. But the roof was like an open field. The next big purchase was a folding cot. At least one person need not sleep on the ground. We took turns. But I liked sleeping on the ground. It's warmth even in summer a welcome hug, a fine Kashmiri rug. In the dead of the night, if you put your ear against the surface, you could hear the distant hum of a ceiling fan. For me, folding cot with all its Nylon stripes proved to be a thing of wonder only for a day or two. I soon realized those things are not reliable. One night, just before the start of summer, a thunderstorm broke in the sky. A mad wind blew and rains lashed down like whips, catching us all unaware in sleep. We ran into the storeroom. But in our panic forgot to fold the cot and bring it in. Next morning, we found the cot open and spread out in the middle of the road. It had flown away with the wind, People were walking around it, avoiding it like it was a holy cow or a car parked in the middle of a road. Getting that thing back up from the road and on back to the roof was more embarrassing than being forced to live on a roof in a storeroom.

As the summer started, it was obvious that the table fan we had bought with us from Kashmir was not enough. Even if we had brought with us the other fan we had left in Kashmir, the two would not have been enough for Jammu summer. We perspired more, unnaturally, certainly more than the locals. It was like our skin had become surface of a CampaCola bottle freshly moved out of a fridge. Something had to be done. Our next purchase was a big one. We got a big coolar. It was love at first sight. It was like getting a personal robot of red and green eyes and big knobs for control. I bought some He-Man stickers and posted them on to its dashboard. It was obviously going to be our savior. In the sun burnt afternoons, we would keep the door of the room open, and move in the coolar (which was so great that it even had pearly rollers at the bottom). The angle of the sun after noontime was kind enough not to light up the room, and the coolar, once its belly was full of water, would magically turn the killer loo to a cool breeze. To truly enjoy a coolar, you have to sit really close to its mouth, let it blow your hair, dry the sweat off your brows, and then wait patiently for this electric deity, in its benevolent mood, to spit some cool water into your expectant smiling face.

The only problem with coolar was it had to be fed water, and that too, frequently. At least five buckets every five hours. And on good hot day, two buckets extra. Since we were living on a roof, getting water in itself was a huge challenge. There was a water tank on the roof, a big steel one, conducive for getting boiling water in Summer, but there was no tap. So an engineering solution was applied. Father dropped a rubber pipe into the tank. And the tap was ready. My father explained how to operate this fancy tap. 'When you want water, just suck on the pipe, suck till water reaches you, then drop the pipe. If your level is lower than water, hydraulics will take care of the rest. Greeks built great cities on this principle. You can certainly learn to have a bath using this principle.' Why I will build a city on this roof. A city that shall shame the Greeks.

As summer progressed, there were other sources of water too. On the day of Baisakhi, a small drain just across the road sprang to life like a snake. They called it a 'Kanaal'. Icy muddy water of Chenab making its way down from high mountains, passing through sweltering plains, on a particular day, 'released', diverted through a network of canals named after the old Dogra Monarch of the State, Ranbir canal, reached our door step, passed us to reach the farms at the outskirts of the city. This canal was lined with mulberry trees, their branches brimming with a sweet fruit at start of Summer. The tar road near the trees at that time would be a canvas of violet on black. The fruit was edible. I was told. The tempting cold water in the canal, not. I was warned. So instead, I jumped into the canal for a cold bath. The water barely reached my knees. There was no chance of drowning. I liked it. It could be my private pool, I thought. After an hour of lounging in the shallow waters as I came out of my pool, some buffaloes took my place. Goodbye pool! I hated buffaloes.

With time, I did get over my dislike for some things. Like I did find a good use for that folding cot. It was ideal for watching TV. It took the experience of watching television under an open sky to the next level. Get the TV out of the store, spread the cot, light some Kachua Chaap, apply some Odomos, spread yourself long on the cot and watch some good old TV. It's practically a heaven. No fear of scorpions or snakes. There are none in this high Paradise. Even this fear is actually overrated. After few days of stay on the roof, I did discover scorpions, I did lose some sleep over it but eventually if you are alive and young, the sleep always wins over fears.

Best thing about watching television in Jammu was that you had multiple channels. There was always Doordarshan but Jammu offered a great reception for PTV too. On Saturday nights PTV offered English movies. I remember watching 'Jaws' one night. In the evening, we could hear news on both the channels. People were dying on both the channels. But the number varied. On one: 50 people dead while protesting bravely on a bridge. On another: 5 militants dead in an encounter, 5 bystanders in crossfire and a bridge burnt down by unidentified men. I figured if my schooling hadn't been disrupted, I would have learnt the laws that explained these numbers. I thought I would have learnt why it was all morbidly entertaining. These deaths. Most of all I would have picked a better sense of geography and direction.

Towards the west, in the direction of sunset, Pakistan was only miles away from where we stayed. In Srinagar, our house was actually further away from Pakistan, which was miles and miles past Gulmarg. It seemed we had moved closer to Pakistan after moving to Jammu. It made no geographical sense. At night, one could see red bulbs lining the sky. 'That's where Pakistan is.' I was told. But it was obviously too far from Kashmir, from Chattabal, the place in Srinagar where I was born. And yet in Jammu, it was closer. I couldn't grasp how long the borders of countries could run, how deep.

Every morning, my Grandfather took to going for walks in this direction. I never liked getting up early but on a roof there isn't much choice in the matter. Sun is a cruel alarm clock. With it arrived the singing parakeets, and from a nearby marshy field, mad war cries of a early rising titahari, Lapwing defending its land against invisible aggressor. Did-e-do-it.Did-e-do-it. Did-he-do-it. Did-he-do-it.

Most morning I would get up at dawn, pick my pillow and get some extra hours of sleep in a corner of the storeroom. But then kitchen too is a cruel alarm clock. Either Mother, Grandmother or Aunt would start stirring things. A ting of a bowl hitting a spoon. A tang of a spoon hitting a bowl. So some mornings, I too would accompany my Grandfather on his morning walks. These walk would usually end with a bath in a fresh water pool he discovered somewhere off the main road. He always liked to walk. Over the years, he taught me to walk the whole length and breadth of Jammu, covering it within hours, from one end to another, taking trails through fields and ravines, learning together short cuts that often turned out to be long cuts. Jammu back then too was called a city. Jammu city. BC Road, Parade, Panjtarthi on one side of river Tawi and Gandhi Nagar, Nanak Nagar, Satwari, Airport on the other. One, the old Jammu and other, the new Jammu. Everything else was mostly uneven open fields covered with wild bushes. Or, Nallas that came alive in monsoons. And in these spatial spaces often lived a few Gujjars here or a few Duggar there, some Sikhs here or some Mashays, the new Christians. That's about it. Beyond it, on one side there were villages grown around an irrigation canal. Villages in which people bravely tried to be cultivators. And on the other side of town, settlements of  transporters around the highway. If you walked blindly in one direction, you could find yourself in Pakistan and if you walked the other way, plains of India awaited. The city that Jammu is now was born somewhere in between these spaces. Feeding on a growing population. The pandits built houses in ravines, buying land from Gujjars. I learnt to walk these spaces even if these weren't the space I wanted to traverse. In Kashmir, my Grandfather used to take me to the ghat to get rations. I couldn't carry much weight but he would pretend I was a help. In Jammu, at our first refuge, he would take me to a wheat mill by a canal. Buying aata this way was cheaper and the quality better. He explained. I felt wiser. I liked walking with him. I used to pretend I was a help. It made me happy. In fact, I remember most of that year as a happy year.

I was happy there was no school. A few months later, as a new school session began, all the school were already full to their capacity. There were classes being held in playgrounds, prayer grounds and even rooftops. Later, when I did get in, I got a rooftop there too. And I had to repeat a school year. Thinking about it now makes me feel like a rat running on a treadmill. I feel like I was part of some great failed experiment conducted by history and civilisations. Which reminds me of a funny story from that year:

One day news spread that government was doing evaluative work to see what kind of monetary help could be offered to Pandits. At Shastri Nagar (in a school, I think) was set a make-shift office of a government representative doing this evaluation. Pandits were happy that finally the government, their 'Center', was doing something for them. They thronged to the place, all lined up dutifully outside this office. Here, a man handed them all a form to fill-up and list all their movable and immovable assets. Some filled it out right there standing in the queue. Some took it home, to deliberate. I still remember the lengthy discussion that my grandfather, father and uncle had about the dilemma posed by this miraculous form that promised to ease their financial troubles. But it also posed a puzzle. They wondered if they should mention things like '1 old Table fan', '2 new Tubelights', '1 very old Philips Radio set', 'a brand new Geyser', 'a pile of galvanized steel sheets'...over assets like these they wondered if listing everything truthfully was going to send them into some 'income-tax' bracket and instead of receiving money, they will have to pay money. In the end, after much thought, they did list all their assets into that form. Next day, this form was duly submitted at that office. Some days later, just as suddenly the office had opened, it closed. The man with the forms was gone. It was much later that the Pandits realized that the man was probably just a poor student working on his PhD on 'migrants'.

The only worry I suffered that year was the thought of not seeing my father again. In the first month, my father disappeared for two days. He just took off. Didn't tell any body where he was going and just went away. I became worried only on the second day of his disappearance as all those Hindi movies started running through my head, 'Tumhara Baap kaun hai?' Think Rajkumar from Mother India. And that union leader guy from Deewar. That evening father returned with a coconut and some red shiny golden bordered cloth in hand. He had gone to Vaishno Devi. From the roof at night I could see the hill that housed the cave shrine. A hill dotted by a stream of bright lights. A God visible from this far! Obviously, now this Sherawalli, I took very seriously. Some years later, when I did visit the place, lack of Sher on the hill proved to be a bit of disappointment. I would have been a believer today had I found a single tiger on that hill.

The only traumatic memory I have of the year on the roof  is of my grandfather breaking the television one day. He threw a metal jug on the screen. It happened one evening when the elders were having some discussion in the storeroom behind a locked door while my sister and I roamed around on the roof. I didn't think much of it. Locked door discussions were common that year. Even before leaving Kashmir, the subject of leaving was discussed by elders behind a locked door. I thought it was one of those normal family talks but then suddenly, I could hear my grandfather's raised voice and the next thing I heard was glass breaking, followed by the long winding sound of metal ringing on the floor. The discussion ended. There was no television that day. I wondered what they must have been discussing in the room. I never found out. I guess they were not happy on the roof. It was a silent night. A horrible thought took root in my mind. What if it really was a sad situation? What if it was a permanent state? What if we never return to Kashmir? I hadn't met any of my cousins during this entire time. Everyone had stopped visiting each other. I wondered if they too were living like this. What would happen to my treasure trove that I had buried in Kashmir before leaving? Before leaving, in a far off corner of the courtyard I had dug a hole in the ground and buried inside it my precious things for safekeeping: a small wooden black horse, a plastic wound up Jeep toy with a missing roof, half a magnet, some tips of broken pens, some empty casings of sketch color pens, a dead silvery lighter belonging to a dead grand-uncle, some marbles and a piece of a blade of a hand saw. What would happen to them? There were more...a hot-wheels car, one EverReady cell, bottle caps, a shard of green colored glass, whistles collected from sauf packets, two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle...the one that were part of Taj Mahal. Counting my treasures I went to sleep. Next morning, father made me carry our broken 14-inch television to a repair shop to have its tube replaced. It survived. We survived. The show continued.


Rooftop of the place I am staying these days.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Pestonji's White Horse, 1983

White horse outside
'Bank of Baroda',
Pestonjee Building, Kothibagh,
Residency Road
I knew this one was going to be a special book but what I didn't expect was an image of a prized memory of Srinagar City: Pestonji's White Horse.

Raghubir Singh's 'Kashmir: Garden of the Himalayas' (1983) has the photograph explained as, "The white wooden horse was a joke-present from one polo-playing Maharaja (Jaipur) to another (Kashmir). A White Horse whiskey dealer rescued it from a junk heap and installed it in front of a building in Srinagar which he rents to a bank."

Although the book does not mention it, yet I had heard so much about it (although not the story about its origin), I knew I was looking at the famous Pestonji Ka Ghoda. 

Pestonji name figures in history of Kashmir right from late 1800s to the early times of Sheikh Abdullah (Jinnah and his wife apparently stayed with him during a trip to Srinagar in 1920s).

A shopping mall now stands in its place.

The book took almost 14 days. Whoever said world has become smaller hasn't obviously tried bringing in a book from overseas. Originally costing Rs. 280. It cost me around Rs.1600 for a second hand first edition. Some more on the book later. And also some more rare books. And when I get some time some old writings of an incredible Parsi on Kashmir, its lore, Pandits and their ways of life.

Update: From my father's camera. The White Horse (rather a replica?) now in November 2013, alone in a M S Shoping Mal, Residency Rd, Regal Chowk, Rajbagh, Srinagar.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

The definitive index to Kashmir Images through the ages

A simple guide to go through more than 3000 vintage images posted on this blog in last four years. The links are ordered in increasing order of year of creation ( and when info. not available based on year of publication)

  1. A map, based on Bernier's description of Kashmir, was first included in the Dutch version of his travel account published in Amsterdam in 1672.
  2. Map of Kashmir and Northern Part of Panjab from 'Notice of a Visit to the Himmáleh Mountains and the Valley of Kashmir, in 1835 ( by Charles von Hügel, January 1, 1836)
  3. Kashmir Lithographs from 'Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo ' (1840), G.T. Vigne's book about his travels in Kashmir in 1835.
  4. Lord of Puri under Kashmiri Shawl. An illustration from India and its inhabitants (1854) by Caleb Wright, Alexander Duff, John Statham and J. J. Weitbrecht.
  5. Kashmir Illustrations from 'Church Missionary Intelligencer' (1854)
  6. Kheer Bhawani Hindu fair Illustrations by William Carpenter (1854-55)
  7. Kashmir Illustrations from 'Wall-Street to Cashmere : a journal of five years in Asia, Africa, and Europe' by (1859) by John B. Ireland.
  8. Kashmir Illustrations from 'Journals kept in Hyderabad, Kashmir, Sikkim, and Nepal' (1887) by Sir Richard Temple (1826-1902).
  9. Panoramic painting of Srinagar from 'Travels in Ladâk, Tartary, and Kashmir' (1862) by Henry D'Oyley Torrens.
  10. Photograph of Kashmiri people by Bourne & Shepherd. Samuel Bourne, British photographer who first visited Kashmir in 1864. From 'The world's peoples; a popular account of their bodily & mental characters, beliefs, traditions, political and social institutions' by A.H. Keane (1908)
  11. Photograph of people of Kashmir in India from various volumes of 'The people of India : a series of photographic illustrations, with descriptive letterpress, of the races and tribes of Hindustan' (1868) by John William Kaye, Meadows Taylor, J. Forbes Watson.
  12. Illustrations from 'Letters from India and Kashmir' by J. Duguid, 1870
  13. Kashmir and 'Little Tibet'(Ladakh) illustrations from 'Central Asia, travels in Cashmere, Little Tibet, and Central Asia' (1874) by Bayard Taylor.
  14. Illustrations from 'The northern barrier of India: A popular account of the Jummoo and Kashmir territories' (1877) by Frederic Drew.
  15. Illustrations from 'A trip to Cashmere and Ladâk' (1877) by Cowley Lambert.
  16. Illustrations from 'The Happy Valley: Sketches of Kashmir & the Kashmiris' by W. Wakefield (1879)
  17. Kashmir illustrations from 'Indian pictures, drawn with pen and pencil' (1881) by William Urwick
  18. Kashmir sketches from 'The diary of a civilian's wife in India' by Augusta E. King (1884)
  19. Kashmiri guns and sword illustration 'Aus dem westlichen Himalaya: Erlebnisse und Forschungen' by Károly Jenö Ujfalvy (1884)
  20. Working class Pandit women from countryside. 1985. Photographer unknown. A matter of simple caption.
  21. Maps and images of Kashmir from 'The Earth and Its Inhabitants' (1891) by Elisée Reclus.
  22. A Snake Charmer in the New Bazaar, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1892. Illustration by J. E. Goodall
  23. Kashmir images from 'Where Three Empires Meet: A Narrative of Recent Travel in Kashmir, Western Tibet, Gilgit, and the Adjoining Countries' (1893) by E. F. Knight
  24. Pencil sketches of Kashmir by David McCormick from his book 'An artist in the Himalayas' (1895)
  25. Two photographs from year 1885. Photographer unknown. [Earthen Ware sellers], [Embroideres
  26. Women Clearing Weeds. Kashmir, 1890.
  27. Photographs from 'Valley of Kashmir' by Walter Rooper Lawrence (1895).
  28. Vichar Nag, 1895 
  29. Kashmir towards the end of 19th century in British Newspapers. [Earthquake and Famine]
  30. Pandit woman by Fred Bremner, 1900. Published in National Geographic, 1921. [with a note on wrong caption]
  31. Photographs from ‘Afoot Through the Kashmir Valleys’ (1901) by Marion Doughty.
  32. Kashmir paintings by Australian artist Mortimer Menpes. From the books 'World pictures; being a record in colour' (1902) and 'The Durbar' (1903).
  33. Stereoscopic photographs of Kashmir taken by James Ricalton in c. 1903
  34. Photographs are from the book 'Irene Petrie : Missionary to Kashmir' (1903)
  35. Kashmir images from 'Sport and travel in the Far East' (1910) by J. C. Grew. [year of travel: 1903]
  36. 'India, past and present' (1903) by C. H. Forbes-Lindsay.Images by Francis Frith from 1870s.
  37. A Kashmir sketch from 'The land of regrets: a Miss Sahib's reminiscences' (1909) by Isabel Fraser Hunter. Year of travel: 1903.
  38. Photographs of Kashmiri Giants at Delhi Darbar, 1903. By George Rose
  39. Images from 'Kashmir: Its New Silk Industry' by Sir Thomas Wardle (1904)
  40. Photographs from the book A lonely summer in Kashmir (1904) by Margaret Cotter Morison.
  41. 'Feeding poor in Jammu' for prince of wales in 1905. From 'Through India with the Prince' (1906) by George Frederick Abbott.
  42. Map of Kashmir from 'The Vale of Kashmir' (1906) by Ellsworth Huntington
  43. Kashmir illustrations from 'Pictorial tour round India' (1906) by John Murdoch
  44. Photographs of Kashmir from 'The Romantic East Burma, Assam, & Kashmir' by Walter Del Mar (1906)
  45. Illustrations of Kashmir from 'A Holiday in the Happy Valley with pen and pencil' (1907) by Major T. R Swinburne.
  46. Images from dutch travelogue 'De zomer in Kaschmir : De Aarde en haar Volken' (Summer in Kashmir: 'The Land and its Peoples) by F. Michel (1907).
  47. Paintings from 'An eastern voyage: A journal of the travels of Count Fritz Hochberg through the British empire in the East and Japan (1910) by Hochberg, Friedrich Maximilian, Graf von. Year of travel 1908. And Images from Kashmir and Ladakh from this book.
  48. From the book 'Kashmir described by Sir Francis Younghusband, K.C.I.E. Painted by Major E. Molyneux' (1909).
  49. A group photograph of Kashmiri Pandits from 'Modern India' by William Eleroy Curtis (1909)
  50. Photographs of Kashmir by Vittorio Sella from 'Karakoram and Western Himalaya 1909, an account of the expedition of H. R. H. Prince Luigi Amadeo of Savoy, duke of the Abruzzi' by Filippo De Filippi (1912). Year of travel: 1909.
  51. Mattan spring tempe. Probably 1910. Photographer probably Fred Bremner [Via a Flickr user]
  52. Kashmir images 'Across the roof of the world; a record of sport and travel through Kashmir, Gilgit, Hunza, the Pamirs, Chinese Turkistan, Mongolia and Siberia' (1911) by Percy Thomas Etherton.
  53. Kashmir images from 'Indian pages and pictures: Rajputana, Sikkim, the Punjab, and Kashmir' (1912) by Michael Myers Shoemaker
  54. Photographs from 'Beyond the Pir Panjal life and missionary enterprise in Kashmir' by Ernest F. Neve (1914, first published in 1912)
  55. Kashmir images from 'Jungle days; being the experiences of an American woman doctor in India' (1913) by Dr. Arley Munson.
  56. Kashmir images from 'Sport & folklore in the Himalaya' (1913) by H. L. Haughton.
  57. Photographs from 'Our summer in the vale of Kashmir' (1915) by Frederick Ward Denys.
  58. A photograph of 'boat' ambulance in Srinagar from 'Ministers of Mercy' by James Henry Franklin.
  59. Photographs from 'Cashmere: three weeks in a houseboat' (1920) by Ambrose Petrocokino. Also, photographs of the old Hazrat Bal. Year of travel: 1917.
  60. From 'The Charm of Kashmir' (1920) by V.C. Scott O'connor: Kashmir by Abanindranath Tagore [paintings], Brahmans [photograph],  A beauty of valley by Miss G. Hadenfeldt [painting], her other Kashmir paintingsThe Shepherd's Daughter [photograph], water color are by Colonel G. Strahan, Kashmir paintings by Mrs. L Sultan Ahmad, photographs of mountains, photographs of nomadic life, other photographs of Kashmir.
  61. Photographs from Tyndale Biscoe's book 'Character Building in Kashmir' (1920)
  62. Football. Players 1921. From National Geographic.Vol 40, 1921
  63. Photographs by R.E. Shorter  from 'Topee and turban, or, Here and there in India' (1921) by Newell, H. A. Also, from the book photograph of a Pandit woman.
  64. 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). Also, from this book, photographs by first Kashmiri photographer Pandit Vishwanath: Pandit Marriage and Pandit woman. [A photograph of the photographer and old photographs of pandits]
  65. Kashmir images from 'Peoples Of All Nations: Their Life Today And Story Of Their Past' edited by J.A. Hammerton (1923)
  66. Franklin Price Knott's Kashmir in October 1929 issue of National Geographic Magazine. Year of travel: 1927.
  67. Kashmir by Swiss photographer Martin Hürlimann. Probably from the book 'Burma, Ceylon, Indo-China'(1930). Year of travel: 1927.
  68. Photograph of Kashmir from 'The Oriental Watchman and Herald of Health: A Magazine for Health Home and Happiness' (January, 1928)
  69. Photographs of Kashmir by Helmut De Terra (from an expedition that entered Kashmir from Sindh Valley, crossed Ladakh and reached Uighur in China) from year 1933. 
  70. Photographs from 'Houseboating in Kashmir' (1934) by Alberta Johnston Denis.
  71. Illustrations from children's book 'Rhamon a boy of Kashmir by Heluiz Washburne, pictured by Roger Duvoisin' (1939).
  72. Family portraits of Pandits around 1930s. Shared from private collection by readers. [Near Burzahom, Kashmir ], [Kauls of Ali Kadal]
  73. Photographs Kashmir by Ram Chand Mehta. 1930s-40s. Also, Kahsmir postcards from Mahatta's
  74. Major E Brookman's photographs of Kashmir in 1943/4 [Shared by a Flickr user]
  75. Photographs of Kashmir by American serviceman named Robert Keagle in 1945
  76. A pic of Rozabal from 'The tomb of Jesus' by Mutiur Rahman Bengalee (1946)
  77. Kashmir war refugees, 1947
  78. War pamphlet Art by Sobha Singh, 1947
  79. Painting by Kashmiri progressive artists. Later 40s - Early 50s.
  80. Kashmir in Life magazine. 1940s-50s
  81. Kashmir images from 'The road to Shalimar' by Carveth Wells, 1952.
  82. Kashmiri Kid on cover of  'The Oriental Watchman and Herald of Health: A Magazine for Health Home and Happiness' September 1952.
  83. Pages from 'Guide To Kashmir' published The Tourist Traffic Branch, Ministry of Transport New Delhi in 1954. [Personal Collection]
  84. Number plate/token for a cycle . Year 1956-57. [Sent in by a reader]
  85. Village life of "Utrassu-Umanagri" (1957-58), from anthropological study of Pandits by T.N. Madan. 
  86. Brian Brake's Kashmir, 1957 () [Tracing the commonality in Kashmir imagery from past to present]
  87. Photographs of  village "Utrassu-Umanagri" in year 1957-58, from the book The T.N. Madan Omnibus The Hindu Householder Family and Kinship: A Study of the Pandits of Rural Kashmir Non-Renunciation: Themes and Interpretation of Hindu Culture (2010)
  88. Photographs of Srinagar city by Douglas Waugh (for what seems to have been a series on 'modes of transportation'). Shot around late 1950s.
  89. Kashmir images in 'Asia' by Dorothy W. Furman (1960)
  90. Cinema goer of  1980s in photographs


And something different

Kashmiris in Persian tales and in Europeans arts

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Palladium Goers, 1980s

The irony isn't lost on me. Over at my other blog I have written extensively on history cinema in this part of the world. I wanted to write even more. The fact that the place where I was born has no cinema halls keeps mocking me. I remember the first ever movie I ever saw in a theater was in Srinagar. The first and the fast in Kashmir, somewhere around year 1988-89.


A seven year old kid goes to a late evening show of a Mithun movie with his father and an uncle. Two men walk a kid and a green atlas cycle to a theater. The theater looks like a palace. The kind you read in storybooks. It's majestic with all its pillars and high ceiling. After buying tickets from a pigeon hole in a wall at the end of chain cage. They walk into the hall through a small door that didn't befit a palace this size. Inside, a sudden darkness seizes him, terrified, he holds on hard to his father's hand. Father, it seems, can see in the dark. Just like a cat. The kid doesn't realize that it's just that his father has spent too much time wading through these aisles. They find the seats, somewhere near the front, just as the kid's sight returns. He sits feeling the handle bars of a flat wooden chair with his hands. He turns and a strange setup confronts him. A wall with what appears to be giant purdahs hanging at two sides. It suddenly lights up. His eyes follow a beam of light. The source somewhere high at the back. He looks back but can't make out anything in the darkness. Just a lit little window. It was then that his father asked him,'Where's Bh'Raja?' Uncle was missing. Father asks the kid to get up and look around to see if he can find. The boy gets up reluctantly asking,'How do I find him in this darkness? I can't see!' Father a bit disappointed in boy's intelligence, 'You just call out his name.' The boy starts walking towards the back of the hall, towards the light window box, all the while meekly ringing out a name, 'Bhaeiraaj Nanu. Bhaeiraaj Nanu.' He is embarrassed of the thought that other people besides Bhaeiraaj Nanu might be hearing him. He realizes the light box at the end is too far. He doesn't want to loose sight of his own seat. The thought of being lost in that big hall among stranger, frightens him. He makes his way back faster.

'Couldn't find him!' he exclaims with a puff, as if tired.
'Look down at the front. Try the lower stall. He must have bought a stall ticket for himself. That's where he likes to sit.'
'Down. At the front. Go look.' Father know the kid has a lot to learn. A couple of more trips and he too would think himself the lord of this theater.

The kid walks to the front. There's a wooden railing at this end. He grabs it. He get's still closer and sneaks a peek down. Down, there's a big dark pit. In the white light coming off the screen he can see heads of people seated in chairs. Some hurriedly walking to their seats. Some walking at leisure. As vertigo starts to set in, he takes a step back. Still holding on to the railing, he starts chanting, 'Bhaeiraaj Nanu. Bhaeiraaj Nanu'. He is sure uncle is down there. He chants a little louder. The walls of the hall respond back with a faint echo. The force in his chanting increases. He doesn't care who is listening. He cries out still louder. 'Bhaeiraaj Nanu. Bhaeiraaj Nanu.' Just then the screen comes alive with colors. A second later, hall is drowned with a cracking sound. And then trumpets blow. The show had begun. The kid ran back to his seat praying his uncle is really down in stall.

'Couldn't find him.'
'Alright. Now, let's watch the film.'


Bhaeiraaj Nanu passed away a couple of years ago. He died in a road accident on his way to "back to Kashmir" trip with some old friends. He was an expert ticket buyer. Father tells me getting a Palladium ticket wasn't easy. For a new show, the lines would be long and the crowds maddening. Theater owners had a man employed solely for controlling the ticket buyers. And this man would do his job by whipping people with his leather belt. Or just by the sight of his belt in hand. The ticket booth was at the end of a caged structure. An expert ticket buyer was one who could, like a lizard, crawl on the sides of the cage, over the heads of men standing in queue and forcefully place his hand into the booth's pigeon hole for tickets.

Palladium cinema, Srinagar.
Probably early 1980s (based on the film)
Credit: Wish I knew who uploaded the photograph so I could give proper credit
[update:2020.Sept. The photographer is Noor Mohammad Khan of Pakistan. Who was visiting Kashmir in 1980. He has a beautiful collection of Kashmir photographs of his travels.]

Another image (down). Possibly from the same set (although I couldn't confirm)

Palladium, 1983.
Via: Aga Khan Visual Archive, hosted at Mit Libraries. The archive offers 'Images of architecture, urbanism, and the built environment in the Islamic world'.

A Zoom-in on the notice board hanging from the theater.
"Due to Non Arrival of Print Private Benjmin
Showing Hera Pehari"
Palladium cinema, Srinagar. [1930s - 1992]
Shot by me in Summer of 2008
Another one on philim culture in Kashmir. Source: Unknown (came across on Facebook. I wish people of the network would start citing sources more often). Year: Probably early 1980s.

By Raghubir Singh, Kashmir: Garden of the Himalayas (1983)


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Aurangzeb's Kashmir fleet

A defunct houseboat on Dal. 2008.
"About 1665, Shah Jehan died in the palace at Agra, not without suspicions of foul play. Aurangzeb had been suffering from serious sickness, but after his father's death he was sufficiently recovered to proceed to Kashmir, where he recruited his health in the cool air of the mountains. At Kashmir he attempted to form a fleet which should rival the navies of European countries. Two ships were built by the help of an Italian, and were launched on the lake of Kashmir; but Aurangzeb found that it would be difficult to man them efficiently. No amount of teaching would impart the necessary quickness, nerve, and energy to his own subjects; and if he engaged the services of Europeans, they might sail away with his ships, and he might never see them again."

~ 'India and the Frontier States of Afghanistan, Nepal and Burma, with A Supplementary Chapter of Recent Events'  by James Talboys Wheeler and Edgar Saltus (1899).


Unrelated post:

  • Beheading of Dara

Friday, May 17, 2013

Jugnu T'choor

15th May, 2013. Kochi.
Kashmir had Khar, T'char, Wattil and Kan'hapin, it was in Jammu that I first saw a Jugnu. But the only Jugnu story I know comes from Kashmir and has been told once too often to me by mother. Kashmiris have been telling venerative stories of thieves for ages but this one is more recent.

There once was a thief in Kashmir who took his name from Dharmendra's film titled Jugnu (1973). Inspired by the film he took to leaving letters at crime scenes, all of them marked 'Jugnu'. It is said, one night he climbed into a house and not finding anything else worthwhile, served himself dinner, eat and left. Next morning the victims found a letter in the kitchen. It went something like this:

Jugnu aya 
Gad'e Khaya
Bahut Maza aya

Jugnu came
Had fish


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ezra Mir's Pamposh

Still no trace of the film...but I managed to find the synopsis and international reviews of the film. One would have thought finding a Cannes nominated (1954) film, that too India's first (Geva) color (processed entirely within the country) would be easy, special in the year when the people are celebrating 100 years of Indian Cinema. Yet, no trace.

Said 'L' Humanite:
"A real discovey and revelation! 'Pamposh' is one of the most poetic works, completely impregnated with the most delicate sensitivity! The image are of rare beauty! This film reaches in its simplicity a rare nobility and grandeur...It is a typical  national work, which is not only a picturesque evocation of manners and traditions which are not common to us of a distant and mysterious folk, but also prescribes us the human content of a rare healthiness, a rare grandeur and emotion..."

Pages from 'The world of Ezra Mir' (2005) by N. J. Kamath.

Not so uncanny that the film Indian film in color should have been shot in Kashmir. And the film's Kashmir connection would be the music by Mohanlal Aima.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kashmiris and the tales of Sea

A footnote from 'Folk-Tales of Kashmir' by Rev. J. Hinton Knowles (1888).

Video: Arabian Sea at Kochi, Kerala. 2013
Audio: From Pushkar Bhan's radio play 'Sindbad Machama' (1960s)


Monday, May 13, 2013

El chal de cachemira

El chal de cachemira : juguete cómico en un acto (1852)
[The cashmere shawl: comic sketch in one act (1852)]
Alexandre Dumas (in French)
adapted to Spanish by José Díaz Tezanos.
Generally, number of times a woman is draped in a Kashmiri Shawl in a work of Dumas > number of times a woman is draped in Kashmiri Shawl in a work of Kashmiri writer.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lal Vakh, audio

A recording of authentic Kashmiri rendering of Lal Vakhs by Pandit Sarvanand Sagar, produced by Vir House, Jammu.

[ link]

In all there are three files. First two are the vakhs (almost 1 hour in playtime, around 60 Vakhs) and last one is a Kashmiri Bhajan. The whole setup (starting with Shuklambaradharam and ending with stutis and a Bhajan) gives a feel that there must have been a time when just like Gita Path, a night just for listening to Lal Vakh too must have been organized by Pandit families. Besides more popular vakhs of Lal Ded, I heard some for the first time. Like:

Gita Paraan Paraan kuna mudukh 
Gita Paraan Paraan kun gai suur 
Gita Paraan Paraan Zind kith ruzukh
Gita Paraan Paraan dodh Mansoor

Why didn't you die listening to Gita
How many turned to ashes listening to Gita
How did you live listening to Gita
Listening to Gita, Mansoor went ablaze



Among Kashmiri Muslims the above mentioned lines are attributed to Nooruddin Rishi and in their rendition 'Gita' is replaced with 'Koran'. The reference to Mansoor here is to Persian Sufi Mansur Al-Hallaj (c. 858 – March 26, 922), who was publicly executed, his body cut and then burnt for claiming, 'Ana al Haq. I am the truth'. The burning of Mansoor's body is a common motif in old Kashmiri Sufi poetry.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Harwan Tiles

“These terracotta plaques at Harwan each of which was moulded with a design in bas-relief, are of a character which makes them unique in Indian art. Pressed out of moulds so that the same pattern is frequently repeated, although spirited and naive in some instances, they are not highly finished productions, but their value lies in the fact that they represent motifs suggestive of more than half a dozen alien civilizations of the ancient world, besides others which are indigenous and local. Such are the Bahraut railing, the Greek swan, the Sasanian foliated bird, the Persian vase, the Roman rosette, the Chinese fret, the Indian elephant, the Assyrian lion, with figures of dancers, musicians, cavaliers and ascetics, and racial types from many sources, as may be seen by their costumes and accessories.”

~ Percy Brown, Indian Architecture: Buddhist and Hindu periods (1942)

Aurel Stein in his edition (1892) of Kalhana's Rajatarangini identified terraced site of Harwan as Sadarhadvana, ‘The wood of six saints’, the place where once lived the famous Bodhisattva Nagarjuna of Kushan period in the time of King Kanishka. The site was first excavated in year 1923 by Pandit Ram Chandra Kak. Based on  masonry styles Kak categorical the structures and findings into three types: (i) Pebble style (ii) Diapher Pebble style, and (iii) Diapher Rubble style. The pebble style being earliest in date, the diapher pebble of about 300 A.D. and the last one of about 500 A.D. and later.

Here are some of the photographs of the tiles of Harwan ( Harichandrun, originally in Kashmir) provide by Kak (came across in booklet 'Early Terracotta Art of Kashmir' by Aijaz A. Bandey for Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar (1992)):

First one, a tile that gave me an opportunity to interpret a symbol.
Here above are shown four full blown lotus flowers; below a procession of geese running with their wings open. It is to be noted here the four geese from left have already picked up a stalked flower in their bills while the extreme right bird is about to pick it up. This males the scene more alive.
The point here is that it is not just an 'alive scene', it is an animated scene, there are no four, five geese, there is only one goose, the way the scene is set, it looks like an "animation cel;", it is as if the artist was not trying to capture just the subject but also motion, hence we have an animated scene of a geese in motion, catching, leaving, holding on to a flower. 

Why geese? What does this motion symbolize? 

Goose in Indian motifs (both in Buddhist, to a great degree also in Hindu art and lore ) is the most common and recurring symbol of an ascetic in search of truth. In art, geese with a flower in beak would be the state of perfection, and the flight would be the journey that an ascetic undertakes. And then in addition, there is this impression of "passing" time that the flight symbolizes. It is a simple and obvious explanation.

In fact, it must have occurred to some other observers too. In 'The Goose in Indian Literature and Art' (1962), Jean Philippe Vogel cautions against such a tempting answer easily. "It is tempting to assume a connection between the yogis and the geese, although the latter appear also on tiles belonging to the courtyard where they seem to have a merely decorative function."

Can't a religious symbol be used in a secular space with a decorative function? But then, that would be akin to how in present times say a 'Ganesha' statue might be found in a corner of drawing room of a Hindu household, performing a decorative and a religious function. Is is difficult to assume that people back then too were capable of doing something like this. 

Dating back to third and the fifth century, Harwan is not an easy site to decipher. Each symbol is capable of throwing interesting questions at the observer. Take the case of ascetics. When we see ascetics in these tiles, are we seeing Buddhist ascetics? Although Harwan is often thought as a Buddhist site, there are theories according to which the Buddhist site was built on top of an existing site claimed by a religious sect called Ajaivika belonging to Nastika thought system. The sect peaked at the time of Mauryan emperor Bindusara around the 4th century BC. But by the time of Ashoka the sect quickly went downhill (apparently, the fact they published a photograph of Buddha in negative light didn't go well with Ashoka the Great and he had around 18000 followers of the sect executed in Pundravardhana, present day Bengal). The sect disappeared without leaving much trace.

However, it is interesting the only image of an Ajaivika ascetic may have been provided by Kashmir. Below is given a page from 'Indian Sculpture: Circa 500 B.C.-A.D. 700' by Pratapaditya Pal.

Some other tiles from Harwan (a site that was almost lost again and buried after a cloud burst in 1970s):

Friday, May 10, 2013

intolerable beauty

Painting: 'Nightfall on Wular Lake' by Col. H.H. Hart, R.E. From the book 'Our summer in the vale of Kashmir' (1915) by Frederick Ward Denys.
Quote: Silvia Baker, 'Alone and Loitering: Pages from a Artist’s Travel Diary (1938-1944)' . She was describing her visit to Wular Lake in around year 1944. [via: exiledstardust]

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Faqir Bahadin Vs Shah-i-Chin

Tradition says that Kashmir was once a tributary of China; and because there was not much money in the valley and cattle was difficult to transport, men and women were sent yearly as tribute to that country [Begar System]. When Zainulabadin [1423-1474] obtained possession of Kashmir he declined to pay the tribute, whereupon the Shah-i-Chin sent a parwana, censuring him, and threatening him that if he did not quickly comply with the custom of his predecessors in the valley he would make war on him, and ruin him and every one and everything belonging to him.

Found the photograph in A lonely summer in Kashmir (1904)
by Margaret Cotter Morison
Now Zainulabadin had heard of Chinese, of their vast numbers, and power, and cleverness, and therefore was somewhat frightened by these stern words. He took counsel with his ministers and friends as to what he should do, but they could not help him. He then sought advice from faqirs. At that time there lived in Kashmir a very famous faqir by the name of Bahadin [Ziarat of Bahauddin Sahib is near Akbar's rampart, Hari Parbat. And built atop the ruins of the temple of Pravarisha, built by King Pravarasena II, founder of Srinagar in around middle of sixth century], who begged the king not to be distressed, and promised to arrange the matter for him. This faqir, by virtue of his sanctity, flew over to China in the twinkling of an eye, and brought back the Shah-i-Chin lying on his bed to his own humble abode. In the morning, when the Shah awoke and found himself in a meager hut, he was very much surprised.

 “Oh, holy man,” said he to the faqir,”I perceive that you have done this thing. Tell me, I prey you, why you have brought me here.”

“I have transported you hither,” replied Bahadin, “in order that you might meet face to face with Zainulabadin, and promise him that you will abolish this wicked custom. Give it up, and God will bless you, and the people of this country will thank you.”

 The Shah-i-Chin was pricked to the heart by these words, and cutting his finger, so that the blood oozed out, he called for a pen and some paper, and at once wrote an order declaring Kashmir an independent state. Then Bahadin presented him with some peaches, apricots, walnuts, and other fruits, and caused him to arrive at his country again. When the Shah related to his people what had happened to him and what he had seen, his people would not believe him; but afterwards, when he showed them the differed fruits that the faqir had given him, they were convinced, and applauded his deed.

~ A footnote in 'Folk-Tales of Kashmir' by Rev. J. Hinton Knowles (1888).

Kashmiris still tell strange tales of their saints intervening in wars and saving Kashmir.


Update: The part about "Kashmir was once a tributary of China" seems to have confused a few people who see the world as it is today and think it was always like this. Here's some more on the tradition that histories written in Kashmir conveniently forgot to mention:

During the time of the Chinese progress in far West, Turkestan, Western Tibet, and Kashmir became part of the celestial empire. These conquests took place during the first part of the eighth century. From the Chinese annals we learn that “the first embassy from Kashmir arrived at the Imperial Court on or shortly after A.D.713. In the year 720 Tchen-tho-lo-pi-li, ruler of Kashmir, the Chandrapida of the Kashmir chronicles, was accorded by imperial decree the title of king.” It is of some interest to notice that the Kashmir book of chronicles, the famous Rajatarangini does not make the least mention of the subjugation of Kashmir by China, nor does it refer to the annual tribute that had to be sent to China. The Kashmir policy of those days seems to have been one of yielding to the strong and bullying the weal. It looks as id the Kashmir troops had not offered much resistance to the Chinese, and as if the Kashmir king had early sought the friendship of the Chinese. He was apparently quite satisfied with his recognition as a vassal king. It was different with Western Tibet. Although the land was split up into a great number of petty principalities, as will be shown more fully in the next chapter, the Tibetans were ready  to fight; and the state which offered the most serious obstacle to the progress of the Chinese was Baltistan. Several expeditions became necessary against Po-liu, as Baltistan was then called, and the first of them took place some time between 736 and 747.
With a sufficient army at one’s disposal, it could not have been very difficult to gain a victory over one or other of the numerous little kingdoms between Leh and Kashmir which were continually at war with each other; and this fact was recognized by the next Kashmir king, Lalitaditya, or Muktapida, the Mou-to-pi of the Chinese annals. He boasted of his victories over the Tibetans, and, although his expeditions against them were mere raids for the sake of plunder, he pretended he had been engaged in serious operations.
He sent an envoy called Ou-li-to to the Chinese court. This man was to report the victories of his master over the Tibetans, and at the same time to solicit the establishment of a camp of Chinese troops by the banks of the lake Mo-ho-to-mo-loung (Mahapadma, or Volur lake). The Kashmir king offered to provide all necessary supplies for an auxiliary force of 200,000 men. But the “Divine Khan” found it more convenient to content himself with issuing decrees for the sumptuous entertainment of the ambassador and for the recognition of Muktapida under the title of king. “Since that time the relations of Kashmir with the celestial empire and the payment of tribute from the former is said to have continued to this day.”

 [parts quoted from Dr M. A. Stein’s Ancient Geography of Kashmir] 

~ From 'A History of Western Tibet: One of the Unknown Empires' by August Hermann Franck (1907).


"China supplied military aid to Kashmir. In Lalitaditya's time she [Kashmir] depended on Chinese help to fight the Tibetans...It is apparent that Kashmir as a subordinate ally assisted China in her enterprises in that long as the Tang dynasty was in power, she evinced great strength. But with the decline of the Tangs...Kashmir is no longer seen to carry on a policy of expansion. She retired from the scene, never to appear again."

~ Early History and Culture of Kashmir by S.C. Ray.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Photographer: Mukhtar Ahmad. I don't know why more of his work isn't easily available. His Kashmir photographs are one of the best I have come across.

Update: 16 Jan, 2014

Had a little conversation with Mukhtar Ahmad about a photograph by Raghubir Singh.
Here's the link to Mukhtar Ahmad's website

Seller, 1895

Dated: around 1895. Photographer: Unknown.

Embroideres, 1895

Dated: around 1895. Photographer: Unknown.

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