Kashmir Experiences, Curated by Devika Krishnan
Our Kashmir experiences are curated by Devika Krishnan, who has been working to empower craft communities across India as a skills trainer, mentor and advisor in the “livelihood” sector since 1993. Taking into account Culture Rings’ passion for people, culture and craft, Devika has created delicate combinations weaving these three into every tour offered by us. Her ten years in Kashmir working on a powerful livelihood program for the shepherds’ community, have brought her to bury many urban and media-driven myths that affect the way we see the people of Kashmir, plan our travels to the area, understand the politics of the land, recognize its friends and foes, and discover its craft.
Ramneek Kaur, Kashmir Experiences Curator
Ramneek Kaur is a Kashmiri Sikh whose family has lived in Srinagar for several generations. Her Great Grandfather started the famous Pahalgam hotel almost a hundred years ago and her family continues to keep up unparalleled hospitality standards the hotel has always been famous for. Although trained as a Physiotherapist at a reputed Medical college in Bangalore, ramneek has always had her heart in all things handmade. She set up a small store within the hotel where she retails Kashmiri crafts of Pashmina, Papier Mache, Walnut wood, wickerwork, embroideries etc hand-picked and often commissioned by her. She has a fine eye for authenticity and a great rapport with the best of the makers of these beautiful crafts.
Ramneek heads the Shepherdcrafts Initiative which she set up along with Devika in 2010. The project works towards providing a sustainable income to women from the nomadic shepherd tribes of Gujjar and Bakarwal who have little or no access to even the most basic needs like healthcare and education due to their nomadic lifestyle in a conflict zone. Ramneek and her family are known and respected by a large number of people in Srinagar and Pahalgam as well as amongst the hoteliers in the valley. She is most happy showcasing the beauty of her valley to people from outside so that the world can see the paradise that is Kashmir despite the conflict it is mired in for three decades.
Kashmir, owing to its breath-taking mountainous landscapes and views, has long been the dream destination for Indian honeymooners, and adventure skiers alike. Its gentle people, crafts, food, and even aromatic tea, are renowned for their delicacy. It is known by many metaphors like “crown jewel of India, “Switzerland of India.” But it has also been rife with internal conflict, making it the most militarized and politicized zone in
The climate in Kashmir is rather cold with temperatures being an average of 25 o C during the peak summer. Most of the areas in Kashmir are only motorable during summer due to heavy snowfall during the winters. Kashmir has a population of 11 million people. Unfortunately, due to Kashmir being a conflict zone, unemployment is at its peak. Its GSDP stands at 25 Billion USD.
Since Kashmir is constantly a venue of conflict and is subjected to conflict management measures, there is a strong and visually intimidating presence of the military. This is unsettling to a visitor. However, the military’s presence is meant to reinforce peace, and they are there to help. Also, tourists have never been the target for any of the violence, and violence does not normally break out unexpectedly without forewarning. People are informed well in advance before protests are organised, or curfews are imposed.
The airport help desk, as well as most hotels, are helpful in informing their guests about any upcoming trouble and navigating around the programs is normally not a big ordeal. Most foreign embassies warn travellers to India to avoid Kashmir. We, however, believe Kashmir is no more dangerous than crossing a road in New Delhi.
Considering the high altitude of the state, warm clothes are a necessity. Carry an umbrella to be on the safer side, in case of rain or snowfall. Boots or trekking shoes are recommended if one is interested in trekking. Gloves and mufflers or a scarf are preferred for the colder months (October- February).
Carry all anti-allergic and any other medication that is prescribed for you. Basic medication is available in Srinagar and other places, but you may not find the brand you are looking for.
Berries and nuts are popular garnishes, adding sweetness and warmth into the cuisine of the Kashmir valley. Mutton is a popular dish on the table (Traditional dishes like Yakhni and Roghan Josh are mutton-based delights), but vegetarian food too comes in a good variety. Rice, roti and yogurt most often accompany mains.
Kashmiri street food is delicious. But sensitive stomachs, as always, must watch out. Some of the prominent eating joints are Sunset Boulevard (on the way to Shalimar Bagh) which is known for its Roghan Josh. Another popular restaurant is Lahsa (at the Dal Lake Promenade). Keep your heart and body warm by drinking the spiced Kahwa, or the Kashmiri Gulabi (pink) Chai. These are so heart-warming that you will be looking for a ready-mix to take home!
The natives of Kashmir are known as Kashmiris. Some believe Kashmiris to be descents from the migratory (Central Asian / European) Indo-Aryan tribe, while others believe that they hold their origins in Israel.
They speak in Kashmiri, an Indo-Dardic dialect, and Koshu which is a mix of Hindi and Sanskrit with Persian influences. The religious demographic varies, with the Ladakh area having a largely Buddhist population, the Jammu area with a Hindu majority, and the Kashmir valley with a 95 % Muslim population. The people culture, in spite of religious variety, seems to be harmonised, with blended influences.
Kashmir is also home to people like Anupam Kher, Kunal Khemu and Om Prakash who are famous Bollywood actors.
Historically, Kashmir is referred to as the ‘Kashmiri Valley’, however, today Kashmir denotes a much larger area that is administered by the state of Jammu and Kashmir. During the first half of the millennium, Kashmir was a hub for the growth of Hinduism and later Buddhism.
From the start of the Mir Dynasty in 1339, Muslim monarchs ruled Kashmir until 1819 when it was taken over by the Sikhs under the rule of Ranjit Singh. In 1846 after the defeat of the Sikhs in the Anglo-Sikh war, it was taken over by the British.
Apart from the beautiful landscapes in the Kashmiri Valley, Kashmir is also known for its ‘Indie’ art and craft which is inspired by the valley itself. The place is known for its thick pashmina shawls, carpets, handicrafts and woodwork. The fine workmanship in the crafts and the Kashmiri eye for detail is what makes the Kashmiri art and craft stand out.
The increase in tourism in this region has also led to a boom in the art and craft industry, giving it recognition worldwide. There are several stores one can shop from. Many places in Pehelgam and Srinagar are hubs for shopaholics. The J&K art and craft emporium opposite Dal Lake is one of the many places one can find quality Kashmiri art and crafts. However, since Kashmir is a conflict zone, people are shy to establish business or invest in the future of business in Kashmir. The crafts people are hopeful that this will change.