Book Review: Travels in Kashmir


Frederick Drew pointed out emphatically –

‘from Kashmir AND FROM NO OTHER SPOT IN ASIA one may go westward through countries entirely Muhammadan, as far as Constantinople; eastward among none but Buddhists to China; and southward over lands where the Hindu religion prevails, to the extremity of the Indian peninsula.’

What can be more enticing than the above lines about Kashmir, a kind of dreamland that it has been since centuries. In this gem of a book, Brigid Keenan explores Kashmir through its history, unlike most books. The blurb says rightly – this book is presented in parts pertaining to Kashmir’s history, its people, places and crafts. Brigid was born in India and she has been to Kashmir quite a few times. While she basically wanted to write a book on the papier-mâché craft of the Kashmiris, during research, she stumbled onto a lot of facts and beautiful snippets of history that she accumulated in a book.

Brigid begins with a personal account of her visit to Kashmir with family, how she had been there as a child and later, as a grown woman with her own children. She delves deep into describing the ancient architecture of Kashmir, some of which are ruins now. Her account of temples like Pandrethan and Martand are a delight to read on. There is  much more to Kashmir than just the Shalimar Garden that regular tourists visit after consulting travel guides, says Brigid. She speaks of the place and it’s people with such affection, which is not just of a traveller, but of a lover of Kashmir.

It is heartening to know about the Mughals, who considered Kashmir as their summer capital, and built a lot of structures to make it more beautiful. Not only emperors like Jahangir or Shah Jahan, Prince Dara Shikoh also built the Pari Mahal, a unique school and Akhund Mulla Shah Mosque, in memory of his spiritual guru. There have been doctors like Bernier, travellers like Huen Tsang, and a lot of British officials who have visited and lauded Kashmir’s beauty through centuries.

Did you know an Irish poet Thomas Moore wrote a poem ‘Lalla Rookh’ (about a Kashmiri princess who is about to get married), without ever visiting the place?

Such is the fame and power of our serene Kashmir. Brigid Keenan has done an amazing job in writing this book; it is one of the best I have ever read about Kashmir. She also writes about the papier-mâché and other crafts like making the kangri (an earthen pot filled with burning coal to keep warm) that the people of Kashmir carry under their robes in winter.

The book is lucid; it has a certain rhyme and reason in its pages and chapters, guiding you slowly through the valleys of Kashmir. Highly recommended not only for travel-lovers, but also anyone who has a bit of interest in history. It will make you yearn to visit Kashmir (if you haven’t already, like me).

Title : Travels in Kashmir
Author : Brigid Keenan
Publisher : Hachette India
Pages : 320
Genre : Non-Fiction/ Travel
Rating : 4.50 of 5
Reviewed for : The Tales Pensieve Pick of the month – November 2015

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