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A journey from Bombay to Kashmir via Ahmadabad, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, Amritsar, and Lahore affords, especially to a Purdahnasheen, all the new experiences that she may wish, and reveals many of India’s varied interests, ancient and modern. Among the latter, I may mention that a Jaipuri lady lavished upon me the utmost commiseration because she thought that both my hands had been terribly burnt. I was wearing dark gloves, and she had never seen gloves before.
At Rawal Pindi the fire-carriage is exchanged for the donga, and it is in these strong, serviceable vehicles that we penetrate into the heart of Kashmir. It struck me that the ladies of Rawal Pindi possess great personal attraction and charm of manner. I was present at a large gathering of ladies, and I noticed that they dresses their hair in a very becoming fashion: it was parted in the middle, and the ripples fell low on the forehead; they were drawn back and coiled effectively in ringlets round the long, sweeping earrings. The slippers worn by these ladies were of solid silver, decorated with clusters of tiny bells.
But, to come back to the tonga drive. The distance from Rawal Pindi to Srinagar is two hundred miles. The scenery is bold and mountainous. The snow-clad heights seem to pierce the very heavens; the road is cut deep into this side of the mountains, and there is always a fear of landslips and crumbling rocks, especially during the monsoon; far below the Jhelum roars and rushes on its way. The Happy Valley is one of the most beautiful of God’s earthly creations; there is the glory of water and wood, of delicious fruit in such abundance that the poorest of the people scarcely heed it; of choice blossom and noble “chinars.”
A vale of purple glens and snow-clad peaks,
Broad meadows, lush with verdure, flower, and fruit,
The broad-leafed maple, towering in his pride,
The temple’s noble ruin on the height.
The poplar lines that mark the homestead there,
Calm lakes that bear the lotus on their breast;
A hundred miles of snow-clad mountain peaks
On eighter side uprear their heads to Heaven;
And, flecked with light and shade and yellow foam,
Broad-bosomed Jhelum winds her stately way.
Fair as the beauties of the harem are the pleasure gardens of Kashmir, where the Emperor Jehangir and the beautiful Nur Jehan roamed along shady walks, bordered by silver poplar and gigantic Chinar. From the height above, successive terraces, ornamented with marble pavilions, and stretches of flower-besprinkled turf, lead gently down to the water’s edge; a clear stream, forming cascades and expanding into tanks, runs through the centre of the gardens. The fountains, too, are beautiful, and quite worthy to take rank those at Versailles. We were fortunate enough to visit the Shalimar Gardens on the day when a wife of one of the high officials halted there en route to the sacred Amarnath (13,000 feet high). We were much amused to see the distinguished lady and her attendants undress and enter the water, where they frolicked like children while they ate the varied fruits that were offered to them.
The Kashmir women are renowned throughout the world for their beauty; they have the fabled large, black, almond-shaped eyes, creamy complexions of delicate transparency, long raven tresses, and pearly teeth. I longed to see an ugly face just for variety, but did not find one. I believe that among the lower classes the women of Kashmir age quickly. Their dress is far from becoming: it is merely a loose gown, just like a sack, and cannot be considered artistic in the slightest degree.
A favourite resort of the residents of Srinagar is Gulmari [Gulmarg], or the Meadow of Roses. The forests are fringed with scented pines; views from ridges are magnificent: high above is the hoary “Nanga Parbat,” and down below, the valley, smiling in its verdure, seems to embrace the silvery waters of the Jhelum. Towards sunset this Elysian world becomes enveloped in a fleecy veil of soft violet and pale saffron, and the hazy clouds lighted up as by a flame.
This extract was published as: A.H. Fyzee, ‘Some Reminiscences of Kashmir’, The Indian Magazine and Review, no. 432 (Dec. 1906), pp. 314-16. This magazine can be consulted in the India Office collections of the British Library, London.