Monday, April 30, 2012

A Road Through the Mountains

The road sloped upward, the river that had flowed right through the village now at quite a distance below. Around the bend, a Gujjar-style house stood alone, its wooden-shingled barn attached. Pine trees became numerous on the slope below the road and those above. The road was leading me towards the mountains, whose snow appeared bleached in the bright sun and cloudless blue sky. How wonderful it was to walk here, taking in the beauty and tranquility of the area! 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Out for a Walk

With the advice of the hotel owner, I took the small road in the direction away from the village. I passed by several hotels including some touting as being luxury hotels - all built after the terrorist acts in the area ended. A man tended his sheep in the sloped field. Young men stood by their horses, eager for some tourist riders. A young woman with her child near the gate of their house invited me to come in for some tea. Eager to continue on my walk on this beautiful morning, I politely declined. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Village of the Gujjars

The following morning, the hotel owner drove me to a small village where some semi-–nomadic Gujjars stay for the winter.  The tiny road  took us past some crude shelters made out of stone, logs, and grasses -  the type of dwelling the Gujjar tribe (one of the largest ethnic tribes in Kashmir) used to build.  The house we visited was made out of brick and its interior covered with a smooth layer of mud.  With the parents away at the market, a young boy promptly gave us some tea.  A bit later,  a woman came in.  I admired  the traditional embroidered hat that she wore. Small, tight braids similar to that worn by African American people framed her face, a style typical of the Gujjars. In a couple months, the family would make their way up into the mountains where they would graze their sheep. With the mountains full of flowers and green grass, what a beautiful surrounding these shepherds must have in the summer!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chapatis in my Salt Tea

While we were taking pictures of each other, their mother returned and prepared for us a cup of the salt tea.  I watched  as they ripped a fresh chapati and placed the pieces into the tea and then did the same.  I can’t say that I cared for the salt tea, but it was quite filling.  As a token of appreciation for sharing the afternoon with them, they decorated my hand with mehendi.  Politely declining their invitation to spend the night at their place, I thanked them for their hospitality and made my way in the rain back to the hotel.  Such warm people, these Kashmiris. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Come in for some Tea

 Determined to meet some local people, I made my way gingerly on the muddy road towards some homes and small shops. Several times I was warmly greeted, engaged in a short conversation (Kashmiris often inquired about how I like Kashmir), and offered some tea.  After politely deferring some tea invitations, I finally gave in when I met a beautiful teenage girl with a vivacious, outgoing personality.  I spent several hours in their house, engaging in conversation in between cups of delicious Kashmiri tea with a cinnamon taste. Her older sister (who was much more reserved)  performed kitchen duties such as creating a useful cooking fire in their traditional stove, rolling and cooking chapatis, and preparing the salt tea in a Samovar tea pot.  Typical of Kashmiri families, neighbors and relatives stepped in for a while, had a cup of tea, and left.  The younger sister gave me a pheran to wear on this cold, rainy day (like other Kashmiri homes, theirs was not heated), but it was way too short. The woven kangri, with hot embers in its metal pot, proved to be a nice personal heater.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pahalgam Arrival

Less than 3 hours on a state–run bus, I arrived in the mountain town of Pahalgam.  Meaning Valley of the Shepherds, this picturesque area is now a popular mountain resort.  The owner of the B&B I was staying at met me at the bus station, driving us past touristy shops, hotels and signs advertising horseback riding, trekking, and white water rafting.   I breathed a sigh of relief as we entered the small village of Laripora  in which the B&B was located, as this looked more authentic and a whole lot quieter.  After the 1st of many cups of tea I’d have  during my 3 day stay here, I was escorted up  the wooden stairs to my room. The young workers made sure I was comfortable - even in this dreary, cold weather. A small electric heater was provided, and an electric blanket was already on the bed. My “deluxe” room included a viewing room area, complete with a daybed/couch, cane table & chairs, a TV with cable, and a large window.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Walnut Carvers

 A friend then led us to the home of a Wood Carver he knew.  In a room with unpainted cement walls, two men in their gray–brown wool pherans (wool overcoats worn both indoors and outdoors) were nearly camouflaged.  Sitting  on low stools, the men were deeply engrossed in their work, using simple chisels and carving tools to create works of art in walnut wood.  The work table  of the older man was formed from a thick board, naturally polished over the years the pot marked from use. As Master Carver, he quickly drew an undulating Maple leaf design on a chair leg and confidently  began carving.  The younger worker  was working on a bed headboard, further refining and deepening the cuts, resulting in a sculptural low–relief. As my friend showed me some of the completed works meaning against a wall, he commented that walnut hand carving is gradually disappearing in Kashmir, due to cheaper machine carved pieces, a ban on cutting down walnut trees, and fewer young people willing to engage in the craft. Taking a closer look at the works of art before me, I appreciated the variations of depth and texture only possible through handwork.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Srinagar Lunch

  Back in Srinagar,  we were invited for lunch at the home of our driver.   We were led through a narrow street of old Srinagar  to the home he shared with his sister’s family.  Immediately  we were warmly greeted and were asked to make ourselves comfortable in the living room, to sit against the cushions along the edge of the carpeted room.  While lunch was being prepared, we were given cookies and tea. A long cloth runner was rolled out and plates sets for us and members of the family. Copious amounts of rice was dished out, along with mutton curry, pickled vegetables, and a few other items. As can many other parts of India, meals are traditionally eaten with the right-hand.  Conversations switched back and forth between Kashmiri and English.  As the sister’s three children arrived from school, they joined in the conversation while eating. In Kashmiri, the driver said to his friend, “she’s not like other tourists.” As we stood up, I thanked the family for the wonderful meal. Standing together as a family, they  invited me to stay as a guest in their home. What a wonderful opportunity to meet and learn from local people!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Wisconsinite in Gulmarg

Since we were less than an hour away  from the hill station Gulmarg, we decided to make the journey up the narrow roads.  As we drove upward  in elevation, we began to see patches of snow.  In some places,  delicate tiny yellow flowers had poked through.  Pine trees  dominated the steep hillsides. Parking our car next to a plethora of tourist buses, SUVs, and cars, we stepped out to observe the happenings. Indian tourists appeared giddy with excitement, many of whom were likely seeing snow for the first time.  Bundled warmly with winter jackets and rubber boots (winter wear was available for rent), families happily pulled clunky looking wooden sleighs down the hill towards the area that still had quite a bit of snow. To me, a Wisconsinite,  the already melting snow was hardly ideal for sledding, but no one here seemed to mind. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Embroidering the Shawl

 In the upper room of a wooden house nearby, two young men wearing nearly identical dark brown pherans  were involved in another textile craft. Hunched slightly over, one man stitched in yet another color of a highly detailed embroidery border on a shawl. The other, equally engrossed in his work, worked on an all–over embroidery design. An older gray-bearded  gentlemen came in and was identified by my friend as the master embroidery person.  His eyes too weak to embroider, he still was able to guide the young men on the overall design.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From Kashmir to Japan

Warmed up with the tea, we headed to a modest wooden building and climbed the stairs to an upper room.  There we met three men, all wearing long, woolen outer garments called a pheran.  Each man was busy doing hook work stitching on colorful pieces of cloth, including some scarves destined for a Japanese boutique shop. The fine work resembling the chain stitch was highly detailed and rather tedious, so the men would only work on this for part of a day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kashmiri Tea and Biscuits

In typical Kashmiri fashion, we were offered tea and cookies  at a home.  These sweet treats were served in a large carpeted room devoid of furniture, but with pillows neatly distributed against the wall.  
Our gracious, but shy hostesses in Kaoosa

Monday, April 16, 2012

Kashmir village of Kaoosa

My Kashmiri friend offered to take me to the village of Kaoosa to see some Kashmiri textile work in progress. He is involved in the wholesale business of select handicrafts, and some of the craftsmen he works with reside in this small village. We had to park the SUV closer to the entrance of the village, since its inner roads became too narrow. Women washed their dishes and clothing in the small creek. A horse waited patiently, its cart piled with manure. Women walked on the narrow path, expertly balancing large aluminum pots on their heads.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring break to Kashmir

Although I have traveled quite extensively through India, one area of lasting intrigue that I had not yet reached was Kashmir. Located in the north and sharing a border with Pakistan and China, this area has long been disputed area. Wanting to keep my itinerary simple and relaxing, I chose to focus on the Kashmir Valley region, an area nicknamed “Heaven on Earth.” Still very early in this mountainous region, I knew that spring wouldn’t be in full swing yet, but I was keen to experience whatever natural, human, and artistic beauty this area could offer.

In the next several weeks, I'll be sharing some of my experiences through photos and writing. You can view more of my photos of Kashmir on my Flickr Site

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Puthaandu!

Ah, yes. Another festival here in India. According to the Tamil calendar based on the solar cycle, today marks the Tamil New Year. (Of interest, the Tamil calendar has a sixty year cycle and each year has twelve months. Once a sixty year cycle is completed, a century has been achieved and the first year begins again). According to Hindu mythology, it is on this day that creation was initiated by Brahma the Creator.

Although I didn't see any particularly fancy kolams this morning on my walk, homes are traditionally decorated with beautiful kolams, along with mango leaves. Seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with money would be placed in the puja closet or altar in a Hindu's home. Their homes may be cleaned and even repainted in anticipation of this festivity. A Hindu colleague of mine described how she was anxious to return home after school, so she could make the special sweet food and take it to the temple for distribution to the poor and needy. Food prepared on this day would include equal portions of sweet and bitter flavors - a reminder that we need to take the good and bad in life. Her family (most Hindu festivities involve gathering with one's family members, particularly one's elders) would gather in the evening at the temple and partake of a special chant that would last for nearly an hour. Along with reminding devotees that bad must be taken with the good, they also look at the year now before them. Puthaandu ushers in the summer season (although it's been hot & humid like summer for many weeks now). Perhaps because it's too hot to do much celebration after this point, the Tamil Hindu festivity calendar is in a lull until July/August.

resource: THE HINDU newspaper, April 13, 2012.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Bosnia - 20 years Later

April 6 marks a grim day in the lives of citizens in Bosnia. Twenty years ago, civil war erupted in this former province of Yugoslavia. In the following 3 1/2 years, over 100,000 people were killed and nearly half fled their homes. The picturesque city of Sarajevo faced a particularly brutal siege, with over 11,000 civilians losing their lives.

While living in Serbia, I visited Bosnia twice. The first time was with my housekeeper, who took me to her beloved city of Mostar. Tanja, a Bosnian Serb, showed me where her home once stood, from which she fled before it was burned by Bosnian Muslims. Other places also showed violence, drawn on ethnic/religious lines. (Read more about this on my 2006 blog post on Mostar and Nevesijne). In 2008, I visited Sarajevo (read more in my June 2008 posts) and couldn't help but be moved by the many reminders of the brutal war that took place there. The white gravestones (Muslim and Christian) dotting nearly every green plot of this hilly town was particularly poignant.

An article I read this evening wrote from a very biased view, painting the Bosnian Serbs as the sole perpetrators. Realize that all sides were guilty of terrible things during the Bosnian War, as well as the general fighting that took place in former Yugoslavia. Nor did the Bosnian War occur in isolation.

Standing on a hill high above the old town section of Sarajevo or by the former Olympics grounds, I can't help but be moved. 

Srinagar, Kashmir

Docked Shikaras.jpgJama Masjid Gate with symmetrical bushesSrinagar balconyboathouse roomTraditional Kashmiri Guest RoomKashmiri kitchen
Old decorative windowHari Parbat FortressShikara boatsPrayer Room, Jama MasjidSikh temple gateMelissa by Ruins.jpg
Old Srinagar Rooftops and MinaretsBuilding below FortSrinagar Overlook with Dal LakeDal Lake and Distant BoaterOld buildings along Jehlum RiverBaskets Seller
Hindu TempleOld Lattice work Windows.jpgPigeons and ornate work.jpgFloral Designs Kaka Molaa.jpgKanka Molaa wood patterns.jpgWood Peak and Pigeon.jpg

Srinagar, Kashmir, a set on Flickr.

In late March 2012 I visited the summer capital of Kashmir, staying in a house boat for one night and in the home of a Kashmiri family on the others. Although the shikaras and houseboats on Dal Lake are undoubtedly important symbols of Srinagar, there is so much more to this old, but beautiful city.