Throughout its chequered history, as it was frequented both by its connoisseurs and colonialists, Kashmir left a lasting impression on everyone. As an escape route and a learning place for prominent personalities of the world, the valley found exhaustive mention—becoming its global introduction—in personal diaries, travelogues and treatises.
Kashmir has served as a recuperative medical asylum and provided sanctuary to ailing emperors, to heal in the nature’s lap. It served as an aesthetic sanatorium, providing solitary sanctity and exclusive solace to Emperor Jahangir, during his last, ailing days.
The verdant sub-alpine valley has been prized for its postcard beauty for centuries, and during the Raj, Kashmir offered foreigners, colonialists, gazetted officers and India’s elite an eudaimonist haven, serving as a go-to vacationing staple, a cool escapade during Delhi’s scorching summers.
Many visitors of yore have immortalised their Kashmir sojourn in the form of their vivid impressions and experiences. Here are the six quotes by eminent personalities that define Kashmir Valley’s historical, cultural and aesthetic significance.
Laurence Hope, Kashmiri Song (1902)
“Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
Where are you now? Where are you now?
Pale hands, pink tipped like lotus buds that float on the cool waters where we used to dwell.”
The English poetess Adela Florence who wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Laurence Hope’ was the daughter of a British army employee stationed at Lahore. She was reared by her kin back in Britain.
Laurence left for India in 1881 to join her father who was also the editor of the Lahore vestibule of The Civil and Military Gazette. He’s widely contended to have been the one to provide a young Rudyard Kipling his first employment, that as a journalist.
Her spouse Colonel Malcolm Hassels Nicolson, who was an avid linguist, literatuer, traveller and a fervent patron of culture, introduced her to Indian customs, cuisine and picturesque landscapes. They toured North and North-Central India extensively, often staying at a particularly scenic place for several weeks.
Her poems often employed imagery and symbology, borrowed from the mystical poets of the North-West Frontier of India and the Sufi poets of Persia. Her poem talking about Kashmir first appeared in her first poetry-collectanea, The Garden of Kama (1901).
“Kashmiri Song” is also an eponymous 1902 song by Amy Woodforde-Finden based on it. The same has been quoted by over a score prominent novels and movies, besides several others, an unusually varied and vibrant repertoire, ranging from the novel and its subsequent eponymous cinematic adaptation, The Sheik to Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, through PG Wodehouse’s comical Ring for Jeeves.
The surreal, exquisite Shalimar Bagh—which finds mention in her poem—was built by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, which brings us to other literary mention of Kashmir.
Mughal Emperor Jahangir
“The Kashmir Valley is worth all of Hindustan.”
In October 1592, Emperor Jahangir married a daughter of Husain Chak of Kashmir. Later, he would go on to conquer Kangra and Kishtwar regions of the valley.
Jahangir built the exquisite Shalimar Garden at the far end of the Dal Lake, for his beloved Queen Nur Jehan. It’s the most eminent of the Mughal Gardens. It’s flanked by giant Chinars. Persian lilac myriad kinds of roses are a major tourist attraction during summers, following the floration of the cherry trees. The stepping stones paving the way across the brook are wonderfully pleasurable.
Jahangir was trying to restore his health by visiting Kashmir and Kabul. The emperor perished on the fro trip from Kashmir to Lahore, near Sarai Saadabad in Bhimber in 1627. In order to embalm and preserve his body, his entrails were excised and subsequently buried inside Baghsar Fort near Bhimber in Kashmir. The body was then relayed via palanquin to Lahore and, was buried there.
Led Zeppelin, Kashmir
“Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace
Like thoughts inside a dream.
Heed the path that led me to that place,
Yellow desert stream.
My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon
Will return again.
Sure as the dust that floats b’hind you
When movin’ through Kashmir.”
Kashmir is a song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. It was composed over the course of three years and instated in their sixth album Physical Graffiti. It became an utmost staple for their concert performances, a veritable mandatory mainstay ever since, and has been described as one of Led Zeppelin’s two most overtly progressive epics.
The eight and a half minute composition heavily draws upon Arabic and Oriental mystic, primarily modal tunings.
Sir Walter Lawrence, The Valley of Kashmir (1895)
“The valley is an emerald set in pearls… where men are strong, and women vie with the soil in fruitfulness.”
The first Settlement Commissioner of Kashmir and English writer Sir Walter Roper Lawrence’s Fin-de-siecle travelogue is a summary of his Vale visit. It elucidates the rhythms of life in, and the culture of the Kashmiri folk, and the multifaceted hardships endured on veritable daily basis by them, predominantly directly or indirectly owing to the absolutist Dogras who then reigned the land.
It briefly introduces the geography, climate, scenery and flora and fauna of Kashmir before delving deeply and elaborately into the suffering, plight and predicament of the common subjects of the tyrannical Dogra regime, under which locals were subjugated and routinely oppressed. Lawrence’s book is recognised as the masterpiece of the history of the Kashmir Valley.
“Gar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.”
“If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this.”
The essence of Kashmir is immortalisingly captured in this Persian Sufi couplet by the 13th century mystic, bard, scholar and polymath Amir Khusro Dehlavi. Inscribed in the top terrace of the Shalimar Bagh, Srinagar, this din is echoed by numerous Mughal monuments across North India, bearing it.
The extraordinarily learned and artistically-inclined Khusro was attracted to the land as it resonated with his subjective, mystic and aesthetic sense. In his eyes, the land abounded with spiritualism, esotericism, and natural pulchritude.
“The place [Kashmir] is more beautiful than the heaven and is the benefactor of supreme bliss and happiness. It seems to me that I am taking a bath in the lake of nectar here.”
The great antiquinarian Sanskrit poet Kalidasa wrote of the place. Lakshmi Dhar Kalla, a Sanskrit scholar and a Kashmiri Pandit, wrote a book titled The birth-place of Kalidasa (1926), which attempts to trace the birthplace of Kalidasa based on his compositions and writings. He inferred that Kalidasa was born in Kashmir, but moved southwards, as he sought the patronage of local rulers to prosper.
Kalidasa conspicuously mentions endemic Kashmiri flora and fauna such as the saffron crocus (Kesar), the deodar trees, and the musk deer (Kasturi Mrig). Salient relief such as Tarns and glades are vividly described, which are not found elsewhere in India, beyond the Himalayas. He also mentions several Kashmiri folk legends, and was thus responsible for their popularisation outside of the valley.
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