The Outsider Kashmiris
Kashmir has for centuries has fascinated people from all around attracted by the sublime climate, the scenic settings and the genial people. Its not for nothing that its the most fabled (and the largest I might add) of the Valleys that nestle in the Himalayas. And for the same reason it had an attraction and many Conquerors, Adventurers and Refugees sought respite in this Valley. Of course most of you would be familiar with more than famous couplet by Amir Khusrau “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.”
Of course my bias towards Kashmir is apparent to anyone who follows my Posts. Thats natural as I come from Kashmir and still spend substantial time in the Valley in spite of what I call the “Troubles” like they did in Northern Ireland. Its a complicated place with a complicated History and complicated problems. And that's all I say about that. The “Troubles” I mean.
Today I would like to talk about an aspect that not many know about. Its about people who came from outside and made the Valley their home. They didn't always arrive voluntarily and they didn't always arrive in the best of conditions. But in the end they added another flavor to the Bouquet called Kashmir. For the sake of privacy I will not mention the the names or the family names but just give you an idea on their background and how they ended up in Kashmir. And now all these people are very much a part of Kashmir. I will for the sake of convenience mention three instances of people from outside Kashmir who are now a part of the Kashmiri fabric.
The first one is about the Architect from Dubrovnik in present day Croatia but in those days a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Architect was commissioned by a Maharajah in present day Gujurat to design and build his Palace. The Architect came down on the Maharajah's commission and built the Palace and at the same time fell in love with the country. Except for the hot weather. To compensate for that he moved North and established a Hotel in Lahore and Murree and eventually ended up in Kashmir. He established Hotels in Srinagar and Gulmarg as well. And boy were these places famous. The great Explorer and Soldier Sir Francis Younghusband (for those not in the know he captured Lhasa in a fight with the Tibetans) had this to say about the Hotel and Srinagar 'Srinagar is indeed a gay place for the summer months', he wrote, 'with games going on every day, dances nearly every week, dinners, garden parties and picnics.' And that's Sir Francis Younghusband speaking.
Most of you connected to Kashmir would have well made out which Hotel and which family I am talking about. And of course now they are a fully Kashmiri family in all respects. But still it makes for a fascinating story. I wish someday someone from their family would write a Book on the story of their family. The Hotel in Srinagar if you can believe it had a Chandelier presented to it by none other than Nikita Khrushchev himself. Yes Nikita Khrushchev of the “We will bury you’ infamy.
Moving on there is another family which has its roots in Afghanistan. The Afghans ruled Kashmir for a long period of time and as such there are many families that trace their origin to Afghanistan. But this particular family had an interesting story. They belonged to the ruling Barakzai clan but in a war of succession they fell on the wrong side of a family feud. Most of their relatives on their side met a brutal fate and were tied to the mouth of cannons and you know the rest of the story. However a few of them managed to escape and made their way into Kashmir. Owing to their Royal status and being Barakzais the Dogra Maharajah recognized their importance and inducted them into their service. One of the Afghan Gentlemen was appointed the Inspector General of Police of Kashmir and the family was then settled in Kashmir. The family did well and today the Great Grandson of the original migrants from Afghanistan is a friend of mine. Incidentally they also have a great Hotel in Srinagar amongst other businesses.
The two instances I gave you are of people who came voluntarily one out of choice and one out of distress and made Kashmir their home. Then there is the story of two Princes and their entourage who were taken as “Guests” (read Hostages) to Kashmir from their homelands in Gilgit and Hunza to ensure good conduct of the Rulers of Nagar and Hunza as they had rebelled against the Central authorities in Kashmir. Once they were subjugated again some guests were taken from the Royal families to Kashmir to ensure conduct compliance by the Rulers in line with what the Kashmir authorities wanted. Of course the Two Princes and their retinue could never return and settled in Mohalla in Rainawari in Kashmir which is today called the Botraj Mohalla and the descendants of the Princes still continue to live in the Mohalla. They tend to marry amongst each other and keep alive their Religious and Lingual traditions. And they still continue to be respected as descendants of a Royal family from Hunza by their Kashmiri neighbors and held in high esteem.
These are just three examples of foreigners who came in and kind of assimilated with the local population. Well almost. But most of their stories are now forgotten. Only remembered by a few who care to remember. Maybe one day all such stories would be compiled. Maybe.
Now to look for a pic to go with the story.
Nothing better than the Hari Parbat Fort. The only existing Fort in the Valley.
Pic from July 2018. Hari Parbat Fort, Srinagar, Kashmir. Pic Courtesy Ankit Gupta