|Wood is just everywhere in Kashmir, but something is special at most places!|
Last week I told you about how the heart of a city was dying in Kashmir, so today I decided to show you how and entire local industry of Kashmir has survived the test of time!
|So much to see and so much to admire!|
On my way back from Sonmarg to Srinagar, I stopped midway to click photos in the middle of nowhere, there - a small stream cascaded through a huge groove of seemingly dead old trees. While gazing around I noticed a group of three Shikaras loaded with pieces of wood trunks and two men unloading then from the shikara and transporting them in a small truck. Out of curiosity I asked out driver what that was? And if it was wood for bats – wooden bats are manufactured in great numbers in Kashmir. He said it was a ‘Budha Wontkul’ which meant old walnut tree and he said ‘Yeah Dal ya Baramulla jaega.’ (This will go to Dal Lake or Baramulla)
|Walnut wood carving!|
On our way back he told us how most of the carving work we see inside the famous houseboats is actually walnut wood carving all done locally. Since Jammu and Kashmir is the only place in India where you find walnut trees, it made sense that the locals preferred walnut to teak or saal for carving and making wooden furniture. Walnut carving in Kashmir dates back to the early 15th century and is believed to have come with Uzbek Missionaries to the Mughal period.
|Some silently worked on the cold winter morning|
Luckily the very next day I got to visit Dijoo Art Emporium in Dal lake which is one of the oldest lake based walnut wood carpentry centres of Srinagar. I saw a few logs outside and the huge boat and a man working diligently, creating objects delicately carved, chiseled and designed out of walnut wood. I saw it and I went inside without any hesitation to know more about the work on walnut wood. The Shop head at that time was more than eager to answer my fifty or so curious questions. He told me that they sell their material to outside Kashmir and their major buyers are from Delhi and Mumbai.
|While some showed us what they were making.|
He laughed at my naïve queries around why walnut and why not any other local trees or teak that is used to build the houseboats. He replied to me with a proud smile – ‘Yeh Teak Weak humare ghar ka nahi na, hum toh akhrot ke pedos se kamaal karna jaante hain!’ (Teak is not a local tree here. We are skilled enough to work with walnut trees then why compromise with wood quality – meaning walnut wood was of higher quality.) When I asked him if due to demand a lot of walnut grooves were being destroyed and that was bad since it is very rare in India as it is – he told me that locals cut a walnut tree only after it is 250 to 300 years old and that too if the tree doesn’t yield well for straight 3 years or so.
|A relative of mine had got this walnut wood clock ages ago|
He also told me that the oldest walnut grooves were in the Sonmarg area but the area has thinned down due to the demand. (Which told me why there was so little wood on those shikaras) The locals apparently plan 2 shrubs in spring for every tree cut during winters but since they do not cut the trees before age, walnut wood work has been getting expensive with time. He told me the costliest wood work were the ones made from the wood closest to the roots because they are darker and more durable compared to the trunks or the branches but due to shortage of raw materials lot of manufacturers have started using the bark and branches of younger trees extensively for they work leaving the tree still in place to grow, because exporting walnuts is also a big part of Kashmir’s economy.
|Table full of art|
With so much information to process and so many artifacts to admire, I was one happy traveler that day, proud to know how locals value their produce and nature. He offered me to visit their main factory in town just outside Srinagar the next day but unfortunately, due to my travel plans I had to give that a miss. I collected a number of Shikaras and branch carved maple leaves from the man at work just outside the store and left happy to have known more about a local art that has survived the test of time and is still strong in the Kashmir Valley.