Sunday, July 19, 2015

In Light of Mohra

About 46 miles down Jhelum river from Srinagar, just past Baramulla town, the topography changes drastically, hence the nature of river also changes. The mountains become edgier and the river becomes rougher. The valley of Kashmir falls rapidly, it slopes down. At places, water desperately seeks place to escape. At places, it physically cuts through them using routes violently carved out by it over ages. The beauty of all this seems a cold naked fact to the eye. The Jhelum river within 100 miles has an average fall of 50 feet per miles, with a minimum flow of around 3,000 cubic feet per minute. Ancient eyes of Kashmiris must have witnessed these cold facts and given rise to the story of Varah and the draining of Satisar, giving rise to the mythical origins of the valley.

Just 46 miles down Jhelum, the influence of Kashmiri culture drops, Kashmiri ethnicity gets overtaken by Gojri and language changes to Urdu. It seems a place so unlike Srinagar. The river looks unfamiliar.

Just past the ancient pilgrimage spot of Buniyar, it is here at Rampore in Uri area of Baramulla (the ancient Varaha Moh), a human endeavour about hundred years ago shaped the present semblance of Kashmir. A river was tamed to produce the life force of modern human life: electricity.

After the devastating flood of 1903, in 1904, skills of Canada born Major Alain de Lotbinière of Royal Engineers, after having successfully harnessed Cauvery Falls in Madras for electricity to be used for Kolar gold-fields in Mysore, were sought by Maharaja of Kashmir Pratab Singh for taming Jhelum river.

The idea was to produce electricity using the wild power of the river, and then use that electricity to dredge the river, to control it further.

Lotbinière came up with an extensive plan that made brilliant use of local topology and resources to produce one of the great marvels of engineering for its time. 

The details of the plan are given by Francis Younghusband, Resident of Kashmir for three years starting 1906,  in his book 'Kashmir' (1911):

[Lotbinière] therefore came to the work in Kashmir in September 1904 fully primed with the knowledge of all the latest developments of electrical science, and at once conceived the idea of harnessing, not any of the minor rivers of Kashmir, but the river Jhelum itself, and selected a spot a few miles above Rampur where he might entrap some of the water, lead it along the mountain-side at practically a uniform level, till he could drop it through pipes on to turbines—very much in the same manner as a mill-stream is led along and then dropped on to a water-wheel—and so by setting in motion various machines generate electrical energy.
The theory of the electric installation is then very simple. The valley falls rapidly. At the part selected it falls about 400 feet in 6½ miles. Some of the water is taken out and kept at about the same level so that at the end of the 6½ miles it has a fall of 401 feet. Consequently when it is dropped those 400 feet it falls with immense force and velocity. By most ingenious machinery this force is turned into electrical energy, and then transmitted by wires to wherever wanted—it is hoped even to the plains of the Punjab, to Rawal Pindi at least.
Water for the present project has been taken out a couple of miles above Rampur at a most charming spot, where the river comes foaming down over innumerable boulders, and the banks are overshadowed by the same graceful deodar trees which clothe the mountain-sides. Here very strong and solid masonry headworks and regulating sluices have been built under the lee of some friendly boulders; and elaborate precautions have been taken to protect these headworks from the impact of the thousands of logs which are annually floated down the river by the Forest Department to be caught and sold in the plains below.
From these headworks what is called a flume has been constructed in which the water will run along the mountain-side to the forebay or tank immediately above the generating station. This flume, answering to the channel which conducts the water to a flour-mill, is to the eye absolutely level, but it has in reality the very small drop of 1·05 feet in 1000 feet—just sufficient to make the water run easily along it. Its length is about 6½ miles; and the main difficulty in the whole project was found in constructing it. A road or even a railway when it comes to an obstacle can very likely, by a change in the gradient, rise over it or under it. But this flume had to go straight at any obstacle in its way, for it obviously could not rise, and if it were lowered it could not rise again, and so much horse-power would have been lost at the far end. The flume, in fact, once it was started off had to take things as it found them and make the best of them. The first obstacle was a great spur of boulder conglomerate. This had to be cut down into to a depth of forty feet. An arched masonry passage had then to be made, and the whole covered over again. Five torrents were negotiated by passing them clean over the flume. Over six other torrents the flume—here made of wood—had to be carried on strong iron bridges. And six tunnels were made through projecting rocky spurs. Only one-third of the 6½ miles' length of flume could be built of masonry, and the remainder had necessarily to be built of timber. This portion had an internal section of 8-1/3 feet by 8½ feet, and was constructed of tongued and grooved, machine-planed, deodar planking 2¾ inches thick, supported on cross frames 3½ feet apart.
On emerging from the flume the water enters the brick-lined tank or reservoir called the forebay, where it settles for a moment before descending the great iron pipe which conducts it on to the machinery in the power-house below. In this forebay there are, of course, sluice gates to regulate the flow, and shut it off altogether at one or all the pipes. And there is also a spill channel for the water to flow away to waste when it is not wanted.
Then four hundred feet below we come to the power-house, with all the most modern electrical plant transported from America, and much of it from the farthest western coast of America, across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, right across India, and then for 150 miles by road over a range 6000 feet high. The water-power made available by the flume is capable of generating 20,000 horse-power; but as that amount of power is not at present required, electrical machinery to develop not more than 5000 h.-p. has as yet been put in, though space and all arrangements have been provided in the power-house for machinery to develop 15,000 h.-p. more whenever that is required. The machinery is by the General Electric Co. of New York, and the generators supplied are of the three-phase 25-cycle type. The water-wheels upon which the water from the forebay, led down the pipes and contracted through a nozzle, impinges with such tremendous velocity that a hatchet could not cut the spout, are made of specially toughened steel, and are so cunningly designed that the utmost effect is obtained from the fall of the water, and that immediately the water has done its work it is allowed to pass away at once through a waste channel back again into the river without further impeding the machinery. These wheels were supplied by Abner Doble of San Francisco. They are sent revolving with immense rapidity—five hundred revolutions per minute, or eight every second—and they cause to revolve the electrical generators which are placed on the same axis, and thereby electric energy is generated. By a series of very ingenious machines this electric energy is regulated and conducted to the transmission wires which are at present carried through Baramula to Srinagar, and which will transmit the power at the extremely high voltage of 60,000 volts from the generating station to the spot where the power is required.
The construction operations were under charge of Mr. A.C. Jewett, a citizen of California and a former employee of General Electric. He later went on to be the chief engineer for the Amir of Afghanistan in a water-power project near Kabul. [ 'Special Consular Reports. Vol. 72, 1915]

Flumes running along the hills
The plant was commissioned in 1905 and fully operation by 1907

The water from Jhelum was diverted about 8 miles higher up into a canal, running partly on the surface but mostly in a wooden tube or flume, 8 feet square, which ran along hillside.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Tales of Kashmiri Boatmen

video link

An interview with Azim Tuman, former chairman of Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association (KHBOA). Recorded by me back in 2014

Watch for oral history of boats, houseboats and tourism in Kashmir. Of particular interest are the bits about evolution on houseboat, the way river transport worked, the major transaction points along the river, the role of a Pandit entrepreneur in the houseboat business around a century ago, the negative impact of 1947-48 war on tourism, how tourism revived in 60s and again in 1990s and the present concerns of the boatmen community.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A house in Chanapora

Contributed by my Mamaji, Roshan Lal Das. Lots of personal history and great insight on how a house was built in Kashmir. This is part two of A House in Kralkhod, a series in which he remembers all the houses he has lived in and built. 

We sold our ancestral home of Kralkhod in 1975. Some of our heirlooms had to be left behind as back then I felt these things to be useless. I still regret it. One of the heirlooms was a large stone mortar (known as kanz in Kashmiri) along-with a large wooden pestle(moohul). Ladies of earlier generation used to pound rice in mortar. We had large wooden container too in which we stored grains. We called it Ganjeen. We also had wooden bookcase with a sliding top. A broken gramophone with a broken trumpet too was left behind. We also left a stone grinder which was used to grind millet right until till 1950s. Although these heirlooms were heavy and large, but these were worth keeping for. I still regret it.

Anyhow, we left Kralkhod and took up a rented accommodation in Chanapora area (henceforth to be called Chhanpore in the write-up, as we used to say in Kashmiri. Chanapora literally means locality of Carpenters). This was a large house with lot of open land around it. The house had recently been built by a deputy superintendent of police and he charged us a hefty sum as rent. I would wonder as to how he could build such a huge mansion unless he had inherited a large sum of money, which was less likely. Later, I came to know that he was under suspension as he had earned lot of ill wealth while he being posted in Srinagar airport security. He would allow free flow of illicit drugs by smugglers. Later, he got himself reinstated due to his close proximity with the then home minister of the state. While living in this house, we started work on the new house.

We had a small plot in Chhanpore which had been allotted to us by the government. From a large plot of about 4000 sq.ft in Kralkhod, we came down to 1800 sq.ft in Chhanpore. The construction in suburbs had meanwhile changed considerably. Gone were the days of mud plaster, wooden beams and lime. I was confused as to what I should do. There was no one to guide me. I finally approached my uncle who had retired as a civil engineer a decade earlier.There was no system of consulting architects.T he mason decided everything. However, my uncle gave him proper instructions.

We dug up nearly four feet for laying the plinth. Meanwhile, I was asked to buy stones from Pandrethan area near Shankracharya hills. Since hundreds of years, a number of quarries existed at the foot of hills of Shankracharya hills in northeast of Srinagar. I was asked to procure rubbad stones from this quarry. I was advised to sit in a truck to see the stones being loaded in front of me. I was taken almost a kilometre up into the artificial path created by hundred years of constant quarrying. It was explained to me that rubbad stones are named because these are soft and easy to break. These stones are mainly used as fillers. The outer walls were built in stronger quartzite stones known in local lingo as fundai stones. These have bluish hue and are mainly available in Zewan area (known in historical times as Jayawana after the king Jayapida). The corners of the plinth were built in deewri stones, the chiseled stones available in Pantachoke area. The stone cutters of Pantachoke have been doing chiseling of stones right from hindu period when they carved idols. These days they mostly carve names in tombstones for Muslim graves. We purchased almost a dozen load-full of trucks. While unloading I surprised to see that a number of fandai stones had deep impressions of marine arthropods known as crustaceans in zoological terms.I enquired from a palaeontologist friend. He confirmed my observations. This fact compounded my belief that Kashmir valley was indeed a deep lake during geological epochs much before man made it his abode.

The labourers then sorted out small stones and filled the bottom most layer of the plinth with these. The upper layers were filled with larger stones. In the meanwhile, I was asked to fetch sand trucks from Sindh (not connected with Sindh river or Indus revier). When I asked my uncle as to why sand from Sindh nallah when I could easily get sand from nearby Doodh Gunga river, my uncle replied that the sand from Sindh nallah was having larger grains with less of clay sticking to it. Moreover, the sand grains of Sindh are a bit lustrous. Also, these grains bind better with cement.

After dispatching the sand trucks, I took a trip to Kondhbal, a village in Ganderbal tehsil famous for its special kind of lime (kondha in Kashmiri means lime). I had been directed by my uncle to purchase lime only from Kondhabal. I was surprised to see whole of the village as if painted in white. The living huts were situated just adjacent to the lime quarries. The people including women moved around with smudges of lime on their faces and clothes. Comparing the lime of of Kondhabal village to the ones available in the market, I was amazed over its far better quality

The plinth was filled with a lime and surkhi (brick powder) mix.  Rabad stones were arranged haphazardly over the top layers. When the stone layers reached the ground level the Fandai stones were laid were laid over these and fixed with cement. The chiseled stones of Pantachok were laid at the corners which gave a decent look to the plinth.

After plinth reached a height of 4 feet, I was told that a DPC layer was to be put over the top layer of the plinth. I had heard the name DPC for he first time. I was told that DPC meant 'Damp Proof Coating' and it was usually laid along with iron rods.

Upon searching for iron rods in market, one dealer offered me steel rods which he had saved from a much earlier stock from a Tata steel distributor. The stuff was real good but it was a labour intensive exercise to break open these rods. It was not like the TMT rods available these days, but the exercise was worth it as we found it later.

After laying the DPC, we waited about a week so as to allow it to dry.

Later, I was told that that I should build pillars and fill the gaps with a singular layered bricks known in local lingo as Bagal. The walls were laid in mud but the lentils were laid in cement. Meanwhile, the plinth was filled up with the earth which had been dug up earlier during laying of plinth.

I was asked to look for timber which had to be used for building window frames and for supporting the upcoming slab. I had no idea about timber measurements of timber. I learnt that timber in the form of joinery is sold in cubic feet and the planks are sold in square feet. There is a great disadvantage in buying wood in Kashmir as it does not dry in cold climate for months together. I hear that these days it is is heated artificially and treated chemically.The joinery was used as a scaffolding and the planks were laid to spread over these. After spreading a network of steel rods over the wooden planks, I was asked to procure truckloads of small round pebbles from Ganderbal town situated over the Sind Nalla. I asked my Uncle as why I had to buy round pebbles and why not crushed stones (Bajri). I was told that the pebbles make better slab. Next day we collected nearly 20 labourers and work was started. We made a partially dry slurry(unlike the ones made these days which is mostly wet). We were done by 6 p.m. and we had made only 4 inches thick slab unlike others houses which were usuallu 6 inches thick. This must have been one of the few slabs in Kashmir which was 4”thick. We found it later that many 6” slabs developed cracks during winters.

It was turn to build a roof. Tin roofs are the norm in Kashmir since last fifty years. By early seventies, the tin roofs had evolved into various shapes. Our expert carpenter, Luqmaan Shaan suggested me to build either a Rushian Baam ('Baam' in Kashmiri means 'Roof') or a Star Baam.

In Rushian baam, space was left in the middle to build a small sunshine attic or what we call as cats attic - Brair Kani. In the case of Star Baam, curved eaves were built on the corners so as to give a star like shape to the roof. Since we were running short of money, I asked Luqmaan to build a simple roof. A network of joineries was created by using the scaffoldings used earlier to support the slab. The scaffoldings were not available on rent those days.

After completing the superstructure, we moved onto making the staircase. Earlier,we kashmiris were used to having almost 8 foot wide corridors which led to our rooms. With the shrinking of living space, need for optimum utilisation of space was felt and it was difficult to create space for staircase. So, within 5 ft. of corridor, we had to build a semi-spiral staircase giving a flat base at the turnaround. It is known as chaand in local lingo.

After stairs, we started work on flooring the house .One of my cousins suggested that we should use 'chips' for the floor of corridor. I was amazed by it for it was a new thing for us. We did it and for the first time I saw white cement. The labourers got some different kinds and different numbered grinding stones. They rubbed on and on till a smooth finish was obtained, till it emitted a lustre.

After completion of bathrooms, we dug a hole in the near vicinity so as to build a soakage pit. In Jammu and Kashmir very few families dug soakage pits as we were only familiar with open drains which made everyone susceptible to vector infections.

Thus ends the story of my second house which I had to leave in 1985 in very peculiar circumstances.
The present house which I am living in Jammu is my 4th one.


Mamaji had sent me this write-up back in 2012, but I asked him to send a photograph of the house to go along with the write-up. Seems, there are none. The house was burnt down in October 1990. A photograph of the burnt house was used for making insurance claim. But, there are no photographs remaining now, as it was lost due to memory corruption of a Disk drive. 

In an old family album, found a photograph from 1985 of my family's visit to the Chanapora house, my matamal.

Update January 19, 2019

The place where stood my massi's house in Chanpora, Srinagar. My matamaal, burnt down in mid 90s, sold a year later. The initial offers for the house was about 9-10 lakh. It was a house built in around 1975 at an upcoming new suburb after selling the ancestral house at Kralkhod in interior old Srinagar. The dealers kept showing up frequently. After the house was burnt down (a pic had appeared in some paper). It went for about 3 lakh. When my massi went to collect the money for the house, the buyer said he was 10000 short. The "Deal" still happened. And they say it was Kashmiri Pandits who were settings their own houses on fire for insurance money. The greedy scheming pandits. I try to imagine my Massi, a single mother, going back to Kashmir, paying some Kashmiri Muslim to set her house on fire. Horror. A few years ago, I saw the image of the new house that stands in its place. I thought it was my Mama's house, which was in same area but a different location. Last month, after talking to massi I realized it is in fact the place where her house was. My memories have stated to jumble. In 1990, I promised myself I would remember everything. I thought it all meant something. That I might need these memories someday. But, you can't save it all. Every 7 years human body sheds all its cells and the cells are reborn. Perhaps, even as the cells in brain are reborn, the nature of memories change. The cells in my body have been reborn at least 3 times since 1990. Some memories are lost, some freshly remembered and some memories are assigned new meanings. I remember, back them, in mid-90s, I had a recurring nightmare, probably triggered by the news that the house had been burnt down or was sold. In sleep, being stuck in the brair-kani, cat's attic of my matamaal, hearing azaans, or sounds that seem like azaans, getting louder, a dark shadow approaching, walls disappearing, the house disintegrating, brick by brick turning into a mosque with a piece of moon at the top of the attic. Some nightmares they do come true. A few years back I saw the image of the house that stands there, it is house painted green. My memory of the house, my matamaal is now painted green, a peaceful pious green.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Prisoners of 1931

I called my grandmother this morning to ask her again the story.
I call to ask her the name of the man who died in 1931. Morning of July 13th in Kashmir.
She asks me not to waste my time.
I insist.
He was a brother of her mother.
She doesn't remember the name. She doesn't remember the year. What did he do for a living? She doesn't know.
All she knows:
'It was the year of first "gadbad".'
I remember hearing bits: He had gone out to get bread from the local bakery. Someone put an axe to his head.
She doesn't remember all this.
She asks me not to waste my time with this nonsense.
She asks if I had my breakfast.

[Tangential events of 1931 were to setoff KPs and KMs on opposing paths]

Images: Prisoners of 1931. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

A lifetime worth of Bathing rituals

If I were to live my life based on the old Pandit code, I would have to spend most of my time bathing. The world is just too impure.

Photo: River bank, Srinagar. 1970s. Albert Robillard.
Karmakandakramavali by Sri Somashambhu of 11th century A.D. South India, the Shaivite work lays down rules and regulations pertaining to the daily practices of an orthodox Hindu, who is a rigid follower of the Tantric system.

From Kashmir Sanskrit Series (1947) edited by J.D. Zadoo, Karmakandakramavali tells us following about Snana (Bath):

There are five kinds of Snanas, namely - Mala, Vidhi Varuna, Agneya, Mahendra, Pavana, Mantra and Manasa.

Mala consists in employing earth, like soap, to remove all dirt that may have accumulated on the body. It is kind of preparatory bath taken before the principal one i.e. Vidhi Snana (obligatory bath). The Varuna is the bath with water (as Varuna is the lord of water) which is to be taken if one touches a pigeon, fowl, murderer, crow, heron, ass, horse, cat, pig, vulture, camel, cremation ground, an out-caste, a corpse, and a woman who has recently delivered. The Agneya, which consists in smearing the body with ashes, is ordained to be taken when one comes in contact with dirty women, eunuchs, Shudras, cats and mice. The Mahendra consists in wetting one's body with the rain accompanied with sunshine. Pavana, in taking on the body the dust raised by the hoofs of cows. Mantra in sprinkling water with mantra and Manasa, in reflecting on God Shiva, prior to taking breathing exercises.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

SearchKashmir in Deepdream

I fed some of the images from SearchKashmir archive into Google's Deep Dream code. [Method Used] The result from artificial neural network is dystopic, almost a reality, almost a future and almost a past. A machine dreaming of Kashmir.

Source Image: Something I made based on Lal Ded's sayings

Verinag. Shot by me in 2014.
Source Image: Kashmiri Dancers, Srinagar. By Alexandre Jacovleff, 1931
Source: Pandit women. 1949
Source: A paint of Jhelum Bank in Srinagar by S.H. Raza

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why not naked at Amarnath?

Revivalism isn't easy. Customs and traditions change frequently. All evidence suggests that the tradition required pilgrims to take off their cloths inside the cave at Amarnath. Something akin to what still Naga Sadhus do at Kumbh Melas across India. Evidence suggests this is not done anymore at Amarnath, none of the recent photographs of the place suggest this.

Devotees in the Amarnath cave temple
Jammu, Pahari, mid 19th century
Collection: National Museum, New Delhi

From National Geographic Magazine, Vol 40, 1921.

Recently, in a documentary (uploaded by British Pathé ) about Amarnath from 1960 titled 'Himalayan Pilgrimage', I came across the same pile of cloths.

video link
When exactly did the practice stop? We don't know.


Monday, July 6, 2015


The bed is too big.
Sleeping in separate corners,
between us, 
we can carve entire nations square.
An urge to paint Kashmir, puts me to sleep.
I keep running out of colors.
In the end, I draw from memories.
Even that, I can't anymore.
Receipt of inheritance is lost.
I have lost count of the windows the house had.
They won't let me cross.
This river of history has washed away another
corner of my story.
Wet eyed, I remember no more:
Horseshoe of luck is missing at the front.
Black horses break down the door.
Neighing, I hear, their breath on my back, I can feel.
Movement of Knight is unfair.
Rook is half there, eyeing the Queen.
King is ready to pack his bags.
Summer moles dug out and shot.
Winter Pawns sent off to little boxes.
Bishops on the minarets,
cutting straight lines, singing a strange song.
Castle is buried under grey dust.
In the end,
Kings, Queens, Bishops and Knights
dine together at an uncheckered table.
Tomorrow's headlines,
"A match well fought! A nail biting ending!
Tables ablaze!"
All fair.
Kyahrov, be declared the finest player.
Before I go to sleep, let me say this:
Ramzaan, your pockmarked face,
I remember.
It is true.
In the end, our Kashmir,
like a simple game of chess,
can be drawn in
black and white.
Would you care for another round of the game?
This time let me bring my bag of horseshoes.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Give me tea, O Saqi, and let there be no delay;
let me have it bitter, if milk and sugar are not at hand.
Had Jamshid taken a draught from this pot,
his slow-beating pulse would have run like deer.
Have you heard the boiling kettle of tea cry bagg bagg?
Verily you would say it was Mansur shouting ana al-haqq.
There is a reference in the Book of God
Bread to eat and tea to drink
~ lines from Chanama ("A Tea Poem") of Mulla Hamidullah 'Hamid', (d.1848) Persian poet of Shahabad, Kashmir.

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