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

Friday, 15 May 2015

Kitchen & Garden

I had completely forgotten about this luscious patch of Red Veined Sorrel hidden away in the garden until my blog friend Gina mentioned Sorrel in one of her recent posts. 
This week we have been enjoying its lemony flavour mixed with other delights also currently growing in our garden. I shred the sorrel adding chopped chives, sage, pineapple mint and then dress with an olive oil, lemon and balsamic dressing adding a sprinkle of parmesan cheese at the end. You can use this sorrel like spinach, make a soup from it, and also make a sorrel cream to pour over poached salmon - so thank you Gina for the timely reminder

"Life has given me lots of lemons" (not the literal meaning) so this week I have made lemon curd.
Many recipes are unnecessarily complicated - mine is easy & delicious
Simply take 
zest and juice of 4 large wax free lemons,
250g caster sugar
125g salt free butter
4 large free range eggs lightly beaten
put lemon zest, juice, sugar and butter in heatproof bowl
place over simmering water i.e. bain marie
(I use a large saucepan & place a ovenproof dish in it)
stir with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves
Add beaten eggs, continue to gently cook in the bain marie until thick enough to coat the back of spoon - approx 20 mins
Pour into sterilised jars
Use in sponge cakes, on scones, pancakes, topping for yogurt or liberally spread on crusty bread or toast
I have neglected photographing the garden this year - a quick run-around with the camera reveals
Convallaria majalis - Lily of the valley filling the kitchen with its sweet perfume
Prinula veris - cowslips -
lots of these have migrated to our garden from the common land surrounding us 
I love this Geranium phaeum - mourning or black widow - so much detail in such a tiny flower  

Clematis montana Elizabeth
Forget-me-nots are looking lovely at the moment but soon they will be pulled out - they return year after year having left hundreds of seeds in the ground
Clematis Freda
Paeonia Tree - Yellow crown
Cartmanii Avalanche
Muscari Grape hyacinth - past their best
Cultivar Tree P. delavayi
 Tree P. lutea var. ludlowii
Allium - Purple sensation
Paeonia Tree - Ballerina - almost open

Sunday, 10 May 2015

People of the Lake in Kashmir

Dal Lake, Srinagar, in the Himalayan foothills is home to people who have a unique lifestyle spent living on its waters - it is where they work, shop, raise their families, and grow flowers and vegetables on floating gardens.

Their shallow shakira boats are like a fifth limb as they skim seamlessly across the water; their children learn to paddle a boat like ours learn to walk. The lake people paddle on one side of the boat only but always travel in a straight line. If we did that we would go round and round in endless circles. Elderly men sit crossed legged on the very ends of the shakira's bow or stern and can even been seen standing up in the middle of their shallow shakira's paddling effortlessly along

How they get up from these positions without rolling themselves and the boat over is a mystery to me; their limbs and balance must be incredibly

From our veranda I counted at least 30 people clambering into this boat
I have already bought several packets of special Kashmiri tea, made with local saffron and cardamon, from this young man, but he is ever hopeful that I will buy some more.
The coat he is wearing is called a Pheran - it has a zip at the top and goes over the head like a cloak. In the winter time the men of Srinagar wear a longer loose fitting one made from kashmir (cashmere). Under the cloak they hold an earthenware container covered with wickerwork, called a Kangri, it is filled with hot embers to keep them warm during the bitterly cold snowy days. According to the owner of our houseboat  all the men wander around in the winter months looking as if they are pregnant. 
Do you know where cashmere comes from? I always assumed that it came from the wool of sheep. It actually comes from the downy undercoat of the Kashmiri mountain goat, only products from the Kashmiri goat are considered to be true cashmere.
A Kangri seller
When we first arrived at the lake the water was relatively clear, but within days, and following all the sunshine, the lake bloomed with weed. The men and women worked all day long pulling it from the water into their boats to keep the waterways clear. It was then placed in large piles, and left to rot into a rich compost to fertilise their floating gardens. The way the lake bloomed so quickly indicates, I believe, a very serious and ongoing problem for the people of the lake. 
The lake is an ornithologists delight - several types of Kingfisher, Herons, Swallows, Bitterns, Egrets, numerous water birds, and the ever present Kites patrolling the skies. The lake must look stunning in July and August when it is filled with Lotus flowers floating on top of the water.

Here the main lake is clear of weed we saw it being harvested with large water machines especially designed for the job
Our Boat-boy is resting in the back of his shakira chatting to the vegetable seller - he is waiting to see if we want to go ashore
A shopkeeper pulls alongside our shakira -
you can buy anything on the water - jewellery, Kashmir shawls, fruit, vegetables, flowers, chocolate, biscuits, nuts
That's the money changer, sim card, and camera battery seller heading off home - business is finished for today