Sunday, 24 May 2015

Mughals' Gardens in Srinagar & Tulips

Four Mughal Emperor gardens situated on the lower slopes of the Himalayan foothills, Kashmir
Shalimar was built by Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan in 1619 - it is considered a high point in Mughal horticulture

A garden of waterways, fountains and marble pavilions with a Himalayan snow capped backdrop 
Nishat is a terraced garden built in 1633 by ruler Asif Khan with descending water courses running down to Dal Lake. The garden originally had 12 water terraces representing 12 zodiacal signs in keeping with the concepts of a Persian garden. Due to road building around Dal Lake the garden has now lost 3 of its original water terraces.
This garden with its wonderful water cascades enjoys  the Zabarwan Mountains as a backdrop
and views down to Dal Lake
Two million tulips adorn the Kashmiri landscape at an altitude of 5600 feet for two weeks each April - Asia's largest tulip festival
Chashma Shahi is the smallest of the Mughal gardens and was commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan for his eldest son, Dara Sikoh. If you have read my other posts you may recall that Shah Jahan was the Emperor who built the Taj Mahal, and was detained by one of his sons in the Red Fort at Agra
This garden is higher up in the Zabarwan Mountains
This little pavilion sits over a spring which supplies all of the water to the garden and is the source of its name - Chashma Shahi translates as Royal Spring
Pari Mahal meaning 'Fairies Abode' is highest mountain garden with terraces and magnificent views. It was commissioned by the Emperor's eldest son Dara Sikoh in 1650, the owner of the previous garden. He followed the Qadiri order of Sufi Islam and had this garden made for his tutor who used it as an observatory for teaching astronomy.
Being so high up on the slopes of the Zabarwan Mountains my little camera could not cope with the views across Dal Lake to the snowcapped Himalayas - I definitely need a new camera
I took few photographs in this garden as I was waylaid by this lovely lady and her family.  We spent time talking, and ended up photographing each other.
It is in this garden that I finally discovered the story surrounding Emperor Shah Jahan's detention by his son at the Red Fort in Agra.
The Emperor's eldest son, Dara Sikoh, was an intellectual who patronised the fine arts, music and dancing. He was seen as a heretic in the eyes of his younger orthodox brother Aurangzeb who detained his father, the Emperor Shah Jahan, in the Red Fort. Aurangzeb had his brother Dara murdered leaving the way clear for him to ascend the throne following his father's death.  It is now widely acknowledged that Aurangzeb was responsible for the eventual downfall of the Mughal Empire.
It is time to shut the door on India, not completely, I'm leaving it ajar in case I return one day! I do regret that I did not purchase myself one of the exquisite handwoven Kashmir shawls. Given another opportunity, a shawl will definitely return home with me! 
I have just been reading The Kashmir Shawl which features Dal Lake, Srinagar, and a houseboat similar to the one we stayed on - it is a good read  
Since writing this post I now have a new camera 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Srinagar and its Traditional Crafts

Hand embroidered Kashmiri Crewel work is a very long standing traditional craft in Srinagar. It is very similar to that seen in England commonly used during the Jacobean period for bed and wall hangings, and on the clothing worn by the rich. The Bayeux Tapestry was also made using hand embroidered crewel work. Crewel work was reintroduced in England by Wm Morris during the Arts and Crafts period, and it experienced another revival during the 1960s. The Crewel embroidery style and designs are thought to have travelled from Persia (Iran) to Kashmir then to Egypt, Greece and Rome, before travelling to England during the Roman conquest. 
I wrote a post here about the actual origins of the generic term 'Paisley' in connection with Kashmiri shawls and stoles but never imaged that one day I would visit Kashmir.
For 20 years, until 2012, Srinagar and Jammu have been closed areas to British visitors. Srinagar is Kashmir's summer capital, their winter capital being Jammu. Travel was not permitted by the British Foreign Office due to Kashmirs position next to several borders of unrest and conflict - Pakistan, China/Tibet and Afghanistan. Although others can travel up into the mountains, for us, it is still not permitted by our government.
Shah Hamdan is a richly coloured beautiful old Srinagar Mosque made of wood, built in 1400 with a distinctly Nepalese feel to it. Non Muslims are not allowed inside but we were permitted to take photographs through the grills 

An old lithograph of Shah Hamdan Mosque dated 1847

Mosque Chowkidars (watchmen)
The Mughal emperors who ruled India for nearly 300 years arrived in 1346 from Samarkand, Uzbekistan and Central Asia. They greatly favoured the Persian art of Papier-mâché and introduced the craft to Kashmir - a rich tradition of craftsmanship which continues today
I have looked up the history of Papier-mâché and believe that Shah Hamdan Mosque in Srinagar is unique. It is possibly the only building in the world to be covered with Papier-mâché both inside and out. 
The entrance porch ceiling
In Kashmir they decorate with designs of small flowers and foliage favouring what we know as the 'Florentine' style
Carved wooden entrance door
The Papier-mâché inside the mosque has far brighter colours than my photos indicate
The weaving of pure silk and fine pure wool carpets is another long standing tradition in Kashmir also introduced from Persia (Iran). Only Kashmiri men weave the rugs and carpets in contrast to Turkey where all the weaving is done by women
Srinagar stands on the Jhelum River and has a distinctly Central Asian flavour; when heading south from Srinagar it is often referred to as 'returning to India'. Two weeks before we arrived they had severe flooding and you can still see the debris caught up around the bridge
 Time to return back along the waterways to our houseboat 

Monday, 18 May 2015

A May Day in Oxford

Cercis siliquastrum - Judas Tree
Aesculus hippocastanum - Horse chestnut
Syringa vulgaris 'Congo" - a rich purple single Lilac
 'Baby blue' skies over head and Oxford's trees were blooming as
we make our way to the Sheldonian Theatre. 
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1664 for the University of Oxford and the venue for granddaughter's degree ceremony
Following graduation in the Sheldonian, the students await the departure of the Deans and Professors, doffing their caps as tradition dictates when they leave. Then its off to their various colleges for a celebration lunch together with members of their immediate family
Dining Hall at Keble - granddaughter's college
How can it be that our much loved and adorable first born grandchild has grown up so very quickly
to become the lovely young woman that we are all so proud of?
Congratulations dear granddaughter - it was a memorable and special family day