In days of yore, travelers of Kashmir faced the bleak prospect of traveling mountain ranges on foot for weeks, even months, for a glimpse of the fabled land. Today the flight from Delhi lasts just over an hour. Those lucky enough to get a seat on the right side of the aircraft can look down, for the last twenty minutes of the journey on a giant petrified white sea of mountains.
Kashmir is an apostrophe of greenery in the lap of three ranges within the lesser Himalayas. Its sparkling streams, placid lakes and snow-capped mountains beguile with their pristine charm. Even when autumns searching colors fade into winter, the landscape appears, not bleak and colorless, but as fascinating as a daguerreotype.
Kashmir, along with Ladakh and Jammu, comprises the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Each region adjoins the other, yet possesses its own distinct identity. Topography, culture and ethnic type differ widely.
The principal charm of Kashmir lies in the fact that every hundred feet of elevation brings new vistas and ever changing horizons. On a hot warm day, a journey of fifty kilometers from Srinagar, 1730 meters above sea level takes one into delightfully cool resorts. Nestling amid mountains, whose snow-covered reflection is mirrored perfectly in their limpid depths, are a series of lakes. Tulian near Pahalgam is small, Kournag near Achabal is emerald green and Gangabal near Sonmarg is one of the largest. They nestle at thirteen thousand and fourteen thousand feet above sea level, and lie locked in isolated silence.
Rice is the main crop of Kashmir and forms the staple diet of the Kashmiris. On hill slopes, maize rather than rice is cultivated. And before rice is cultivated, mustard is sown, as mustard oil is the medium of cooking. Occupations vary from place to place. Rice cultivation, growing and selling of fruits and crops such as walnuts, olives, cherries, pears, plums, etc are some of those occupations. Kashmir is also the only place in India, where saffron grows on the plateau of Pampore. The flowers of crocus sativa are ready in the middle of October when they are dried and plucked and readied for sale.
The people here are simple and follow simple rules of living. No jacket or blazer can compare with the comfort or convenience of the pheran. Knee-length and baggy, the sleeves are loose enough for the arms to be retracted into, pherans are made of tweed; dark brown and blues being the most favorite colors of the ideal kashmiri’s dress. They are worn over the latest styles of acid-washed jeans with as much ease as over the salwar.
Handicrafts, next to agriculture are Kashmir’s largest employer. The woodcraft of khatamband, a form of carpentry originally brought to Kashmir from Iran, and practiced by a dwindling community of carpenters. It’s made up of strips of wood fitted onto a plank to form an infinite design. Many of Kashmir’s crafts: crewel-worked tapestry paper mache, carpets and walnut wood carving, have existed for about five hundred years. Stone carving and bronze costing are also indigenous.
Thus, Kashmir can be compared to a diamond, whose glitter and sparkle have attracted a large number of adventurers, pious men, fortune seekers and romantics.
Lee Wie Mien Jackson
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shinekarthikeyan/375355863/]