God's own land
The magnificence and beauty of Kashmir is unrivalled and undisputed.
on earth, a unique blend of divinity and romance, has inspired poets, philosophers
and seers over the centuries, writes Pran Nevile
nature's most spectacular work on earth, has, for centuries,
enamoured seers and sages, merchants and missionaries, emperors and
scholars, adventurers and travellers, artists and poets alike. They
have all glorified this picturesque land - a paradise on earth. A
meeting ground of different cultures of Asia and beyond, Kashmir has
essentially inherited the Indo-Aryan traditions.
A pavilion in Shalimar Bagh
View on the Mar Canal with Mosque of Shah Hamdan, Srinagar. Paintings by William Carpenter C.1850
and mysterious mountains have been projected as the abode of gods in
various scriptures. The holy Amarnath cave is considered to be the
resting place of Lord Shiva. The ice lingam is a marvellous
handiwork of nature and a symbol and manifestation of the supreme
power. Here, Shiva is believed to have narrated the Amarkatha
to his consort, Parvati.
The sacred verses of the
Rig Veda were composed in Kahmir. The ancient classic on
dance, drama and music, Natya Shastra, which is also called the
fifth veda, too, was compiled in the spiritual and romantic
environment of the Valley. Patanjali also wrote his compendium of yoga
in the second century B.C here. This was the earliest comprehensive
study of discipline. With the passage of time, Kashmir became a
fountainhead of Sanskrit learning and a rival to Benares. It was
around seventh century AD that Jagadguru Shankaracharya, the great
saint and philosopher, who revived Hinduism and the classic Upanishads,
travelled to Kashmir. In the 11th century AD, Somaveda Bhatta produced
the famous Katha-Sarit Sagar (the ocean of the stream of
stories.) His aim was to please a queen. With its 22,000 verses and
lines in prose, it is much longer than the Illiad and Odyssey
(the River of Kings), a chronicle of Kashmir composed
in the middle of the 12th century, is the earliest record of Indian
history and presents a rich account of Kashmir and its people. He
gives a poetic narrative, of "its streams and cascades, the
flower-strewn meadows, soft cloud-draped sky over rich fields, the far
vistas of snow on the mountains and the roses and pinks and madders in
an artist's palette."
He tells us that the
capital owed its name to `Srinagari' (city of the sun) founded by
the great Mauryan emperor, Ashoka.
Later, with the advent
of Islam, Kashmir came under the influence of Central Asia and Persia.
Then followed the Mughal emperors who admired and loved this heavenly
resort and constructed a string of vast picturesque pleasure gardens
like the Naseem, Nishat and Shalimar. The beauty of these is
celebrated in prose and poetry. Jehangir gives, in his memoirs, a
fascinating description of the entrancing beauty of the Valley:
"The red rose, the violet and narcissus grow of themselves.
Truly, this is the paradise of which priests have prophesied and poets
sang - "Agar firdaus ba-ru-i-zamin ast, hamin ast u
hamin ast" (If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it
The Afghan and Sikh
rulers followed the Mughals until finally in 1846 the British, while
retaining their supremacy, gave the territory of Kashmir to the Dogra
King Gulab Singh for a consideration of Rs 75 lakh.
The first European to
visit Kashmir was Bernier (1668), who described it as "the
terrestrial paradise of the Indies". "The whole kingdom
wears the appearance," he says, "of a fertile and highly
cultivated garden. In truth it surpasses in beauty all that my
warm imagination had anticipated."
It is only in the 19th
century that we find accounts of English travellers to the Valley.
Moorcroft was the first Englishman to visit Kashmir in 1823 after
obtaining permission from Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who held sway over
Kashmir. Until then the British had generally viewed Kashmir through
the eyes of Lalla Rookh by Thomas Moore (1817), who had culled
its imagery from early travellers' accounts:
"Who has not
heard of the Vale of Cashmere
With its roses the
brightest the earth ever gave?"
Like the Mughals, the
British took delight in the blue lakes with their beds of lotuses
surrounded by willows, poplars, walnut and chinar trees. The fair
Kashmiri women in their handsome costumes were a delight to the eyes.
It is not surprising that William Carpenter, a famous British artist
who visited Kashmir in the 1850s in search of subjects for his Royal
Academy paintings of India, chose "Cashmere women buying
vegetables on the banks of the City Lake" and "Girls
The second half of the
19th century witnessed a spate of British visitors, and by the end of
the century Kashmir had emerged as the most popular holiday resort for
the British residents in India.
In his account of
travels in Kashmir, Lt-Col Torrens gives a delightful description of
the flowing Jhelum, the overhanging picturesque houses perched on
slender piles, shikara boats and the famous Shalimar, Nishat and
Naseem gardens and lovely surrounding hills mirroring themselves in
the smooth surface of the lake they encircle - "Wherever the
lotus will allow them
an uninterrupted view of themselves."
He was allured by the
sight of Kashmiri nautch girls with braided tresses and dark bright
eyes. Speaking about Shalimar, the queen of gardens, he recommended
that this should be visited "by the pale of moonlight." It
does not look well by daylight, but at night, if properly bedecked
with torches and crowned with lamps, you do not remark the ravages
time has made in her complexion, and she still has the power to
charm." He notes that the proper thing to do is to give order for
a `nautch' at Shalimar, to read nothing but Lalla Rookh all
day, and towards the evening to step into your boat and glide over the
still lake to the gardens, doing your best to feel, "As felt the
magnificent son of Akbar."
We come across another
fascinating account by William Simpson, a noted British artist who was
a witness to a nautch performance in the illuminated Shalimar in 1861.
He was so captivated that he wrote, "It was like a scene from Lalla
Rookh. The paris of paradise were not a matter of doubt,
they were realities before us."
By the end of the 19th
century, travelling in Kashmir was a pleasant experience for those who
were not pressed for time. In his famous account of his extensive
travels in Kashmir, Sir Francis Younghusband (1890) mentions that the
usual mode of conveyance was a tonga with a change of ponies
every five or six miles. Other more costly means of conveyance were
landaus and Victorias. The journey from Rawalpindi to Srinagar took
three, four or more days according to the time of the year, condition
of the road and the disposition of the traveller. He adds that
houseboats are not indigenous to Kashmir but were introduced by one
T.T. Kennard around 1880.
In those days, the
traveller pitched his little camp wherever he wished. Food was
ridiculously cheap and coolies were thankful enough to get any payment
at all. There were no game laws or licences and the sportsmen were
free to shoot to their heart's content.
Comparing Kashmir to
Switzerland, Younghusband observes that Switzerland might excel
Kashmir in its combination of lakes and mountains but it lacks the
wide sweep of snow-clad mountains.
"There is not a
place (in the world) where one can see a complete circle of snowy
mountains surrounding a plain of anything like the length and breadth
of the Kashmir valley, for the main valleys of Switzerland are like
the side valleys of Kashmir. Each spot in Kashmir one is inclined to
think the most beautiful of all, perhaps because each in some
particular way excels the rest."
Commenting on the grand
remains of monuments, Younghusband extols their solidity, simplicity
and durability as well as the graceful elegance of their structure,
the massive boldness of their parts and the happy propriety of their
outlines. He describes the Sun Temple of Martland as the finest
archetype of early Indian civilisation, built on the most sublime site
occupied by any building in the world finer than the site of the
Parthenon, or of the Taj, or of St Peters.
Kashmir continues to
enchant the new generation of visitors from all over the world. No
other place anywhere has been so widely hailed as a paradise on earth.
Its magnificent mountains, lakes, verdurous valleys and majestic
monuments embellished with mystery, mythology and legend would always
draw the traveller, adventurer and the scholar.