Kashmir: The land of streams & solitudes
Illustrations by H.R. Pierie
Printer: WM. Brendon and Sons, Ltd Plymouth
Up the river
From the desolation of Pandrinthan, its hoary temple, and traces of a vanished city, one returns to the river and is met by its sparkling, breeze-stirred surface, the brilliance of the sun of May, and the sweet singing of many larks overhead; while the clear liquid note of the golden oriole, in the branch of a chinar tree, reminds one that this cool, song-filled morning is not, after all, of Europe, but a part of the most romantic region of the mysterious East.
Going up the river by boat is a mode of progress that combines many attractions. To begin with, all considerations of time are forgotten. It is as if Time were not.
This is not because the speed is such as to annihilate space and time, for the average pace of a boat going up-stream might, perhaps, be described as glacial. But because time simply does not exist on the river, and ‘non numero nisi Serenas’ might well be one’s motto almost anywhere in this charmed Valley.
Near Sringar, it is true, the midday gun from Akbar’s Fort on the hill of Hari Parbat knocks at the gate of consciousness with a fleeting reminder of the trammelled world you have left behind you; the poor deluded world which thinks itself so progressive and enlightened, fettered by time-tables and bound to a dreary treadmill of either pleasure or duty. Besides, no person of sense remains in Srinagar, since there are so many hundred miles of alluring jungle in which to forget Time.
On the river-raod one may learn with the French philosopher, “quelle petite place il faut pour la Joie, et combine peu son lodgement coute a meubler.”
If we have no Time we are rich in sunrise and sunsets, glorious noondays, golden afternoons, and nights filled with the bewitching sadness of moonlight or the glittering mystery of start-lit skies. The days uncounted by measured and classified hours are a majestic procession of changing skies and lovely landscapes, whose beauty seems to be heightened by each varying effect of cloud or sunlight that passes over them in this magic atmosphere.
The Kashmiris themselves have a picturesque way of talking, which shows that are for them the true divisions of Time. Official calendars and rigid limitations of months and dates are little heeded by them, and the months are counted by the flowers or fruit that come in them.
“In the time of flowers, “ meaning apple and pear blossom, says the boatman, “it is always like this, clouds and rain, and sometimes, also, sunshine.”
“in the time of mulberries,” says the fisherman, “ you will catch many fish at Sumbal.”
“when the maize is ripe,” says the shikari, “the bears come down from the jungle.”
No one hurries on the river. The boat is towed up-stream at an average rate of something under two miles an hour, so I am told by those who have not lost the habit of measuring things by ordinary standards even in Kashmir. But this lack of haste is one of the great charms of the journey. To most people the idea of travel is fraught with tiresome associations of hurry and dust and noise, added to the desolated certainty that one will be snatched relentlessly away from all the charming places one has brief glimpses of, and where on longs to linger. The contrast of this leisured progress, without dust, without hurry, without noise, one’s own pleasure its only law, its only sound the ripple of the water under the prow of the advancing boat as it glides smoothly on, is as delightful as it is at first bewildering. For its seems hardly natural to get so near to lofty snow covered peaks and into the heart of the hills without exertion or labour.