OLD SRINAGAR – FLOATING SHOPS AND ROAST DUCK, KASHMIR, 1976

[Between hearty houseboat meals, we Overlanders got down to some serious shopping in old Srinagar as we were lured by shikara to view the beautiful handicrafts of Kashmir: carpets, shawls, papier mâché, jewellery, woodwork, knives …]

WEDNESDAY 1ST DECEMBER, 1976

“Porridge and omelette, toast and tea for breakfast!

Noor arranged a shikara to take us round the back of the boats and up canals to old Srinagar to see papier mâché work.  Swamp-like appearance – brown banks, bare trees, tall brick houses with wooden shutters, all rather run down.  Women beating washing by side of lake, kids playing around on shikaras; met men selling vegetables, chocolates, drinks, detergents etc all on shikaras. (Saw one man with bicycle being rowed across on shikara!)  Dead cow floating in lake.

Came in past dilapidated houseboats and got out by bridge.  Boss of papier mâché factory took us up to a small workroom where a man and two little apprentices were painting the papier mâché.  One tiny fellow was rubbing papier mâché smooth with pumice stone.  Then we were led further into town, down little backstreets, past a school (looked like a warehouse) went up some wooden steps and along past classrooms.  Room at the end was another workshop where apprentice boys were moulding papier mâché onto moulds.  Then we were taken to see a 78 year old man (in the business since age of 10) who was doing intricate work with gold filter on top of varnished paintwork.

Had 2 little boys by him, practising flower designs in their books – really good.  Boss showed us ancient Kashmir vase (lovely figures and elephants on) which was on loan from America because the base needed re-doing – old man was mending it.  Then we were taken to his showroom, also up some obscure stairway.  Really fabulous goods on show – vases, boxes, egg cups, bangles, candle holders etc.  Lovely colours, flower patterns and little eastern figures.

Having bought a few presents (!) we were taken back to the shikara and made our way back past the houseboat to the main landing, where we were taken to the jewellers.  Had been round with his rings the night before – all very big with massive stones.  Went along to funny dark bank, through a mattress-type door.  Like a gambling den inside with bright light at cash desk and man behind it wearing a cap.

Back for nice lunch – meat and veg and apples.  Afternoon were taken to carpet factory by taxi to the old town.  Shown silk carpets – gorgeous green and blue carpets (thought ordinary ones not as nice as Persian – rather dull).  Smaller white hairy ones with nice coloured embroidery  – Neva got one with alphabet on.  Saw woodwork showroom – very cluttered so not the best effect; but stuff too ornately carved for me.  Also went to fur shop – wolf, fox coats and hats etc.

Taken to funny old post office to get stamps.  Hair-raising journey back in taxi – got into traffic jam – bicyclists everywhere, cars coming from all directions.  Driver had his hand permanently on horn!  Sent women scattering; was like the dodgems.

Superb meal – soup, duck and roast potatoes followed by stewed pears.  Tea served in sittingroom round the stove.  That evening, a man (friend of Noor’s) came to show his gorgeous Kashmir shawls.  Kept telling us to relax in our home and view his shawls.  Lights were not working, so oil lamps lit the room.  Also had lovely tablecloths and dressing-gowns to sell.  Tried on a red dressing-gown and a green cape – must come back with money some day!  (Shawl man said I should come back for my honeymoon!)

Then man with knives came – really hideous looking carving sets in shape of fish, and other things like nut crackers.  Later on, man with jewel stones came – most of our money spent so not much trade from us.  I bought a garnet for 11 rupees (70!) – my big purchase of the evening.”

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