Fabrics and Sarees of India Part 1

A flowing six-yard drape of beauty and grace, the saree can be called India’s national dress for women. Every state and community has their fabrics and materials that are unique to the region and drapes that instantly brings a specific community to mind. The saree consists of an un-stitched stretch of woven fabric arranged over the body as a robe, with one end tied to the waist, while the other end rests over one shoulder as a stole or shawl, with a part of the midriff showing. It may vary from 4.1 to 8.2 metres or 4.5 to 9 yards in length, and 60 to 120 cm in breadth. The saree is part of the traditional wear of women of the Indian subcontinent in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & Nepal. There are various names and styles of sari manufacture and draping, the most common being the Nivi style. The sari is worn with a fitted bodice commonly called a blouse and a petticoat.

This post started as my ode to the different fabrics and sarees available in the country and I soon realised this is much larger than just naming the various fabrics in the country. So this is now a three-part short series because I wanted to showcase as much as I can of the amazing fabrics available. And on a personal note, this is also a repository for me to refer to because one of my dreams is to have a saree from every Indian state.

Sadee is a Hindustani word that means a strip of cloth that evolved to sāṛī in modern Indian languages. The word śāṭika is mentioned as describing women’s dharmic attire in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist literature called Jatakas which could be equivalent to the modern-day saree. The term for female bodice, the choli evolved from ancient stanapaṭṭa. Rajatarangini, a tenth-century literary work by Kalhana, states that the choli from the Deccan was introduced under the royal order in Kashmir. The petticoat is called sāyā in Hindi and Urdu, parkar in Marathi, ulpavadai in Tamil, sāẏā in Bengali and eastern India, and sāya in Sinhalese. Apart from the standard petticoat, it may also be called an inner skirt or an inskirt.

The history of a sari-like drapery is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, which flourished during 2800–1800 BC around the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. Cotton was first cultivated and woven in the Indian subcontinent around the 5th millennium BC and dyes used during this period are still in use, particularly indigo, lac, red madder, and turmeric. Silk was woven around 2450 BCE and 2000 BCE.

The word sari evolved from śāṭikā a Sanskrit word mentioned in earliest Hindu literature as women’s attire. The sari or śāṭikā evolved from a three-piece ensemble comprising the antarīya or the lower garment; the uttarīya which was a a veil worn over the shoulder or the head; and the stanapatta, a chestband. This ensemble is mentioned in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist Pali literature during the 6th century BCE. This complete three-piece dress was known as poshak, a generic term for a costume. The ancient antariya closely resembled the dhoti wrap in the fishtail” version which was passed through legs, covered the legs loosely and then flowed into a long, decorative pleats at front of the legs. It further evolved into the Bhairnivasani skirt, today known as ghagri and lehenga. The  Uttariya was a shawl-like veil worn over the shoulder or head, and evolved into what is known today known as dupatta and ghoonghat. Likewise, the stanapaṭṭa evolved into the choli by the 1st century CE.

It is generally accepted that wrapped sari-like garments for the lower body and sometimes shawls or scarf like garments called uttariya for the upper body, have been worn by Indian women for a long time, and that they have been worn in their current form for hundreds of years. Based on sculptures and paintings, tight bodices or cholis are believed to have evolved between the 2nd century BCE and the 6th century CE in various regional styles.

After this short history about the saree, let’s take a trip around the country to see the various fabrics and sarees available in the different states of India. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I have probably missed many regional varieties, so apologies in advance if I have missed something I should not have.

Andhra Pradesh

Chirala: A coastal town also known as Kshiraputi, Chirala, which means saree in Telugu is renowned for its handlooms that are soft and durable. With more than 60% of the town’s population belonging to the weaving community, the looms used in the town are mostly pit or fly shuttle looms and the motifs in the fabrics and sarees are usually geometrical designs. The weavers of Chirala produce, cotton sarees, seico sarees that are a fine blend of cotton and silk fibres and kuppadam or the Gadwal type. The hand butta is another fascinating design feature of Chirala sarees, where colours are manually added in-between the zari design. Kalamkari printing is also a speciality of the Chirala saree.

Dharmavaram: Handloom silk sarees, Dharmavaram fabrics are textiles woven by hand with mulberry silk and zari which is fine thread traditionally made from gold or silver. The Dharmavaram fabric has a GI or Geographical Indications tag.  Kriya Shakthi Vodavaru Swamy named Dharmavaram after the name of his mother, Dharmambai around 1153–54 and by the 19th century, the silk handloom industry emerged as the main occupation. Paintings on the roof wall of Lepakshi temple and the Latha Mandapam depict the designs of Dharmavaram sarees. These saris are worn in the winter months or when it is cold and on special occasions and are mostly used by dancers of Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi.

Kalamkari: A type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, Kalamkari is produced in Isfahan in Iran and Andhra Pradesh. Only natural dyes are used in Kalamkari, which involves twenty-three steps. There are two distinctive styles of Kalamkari art in India, the Srikalahasti style and the Machilipatnam style. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari is where the kalam or pen is used for freehand drawing of the subject and filling in the colours and is entirely hand-worked. This style flourished in temples centred on creating unique religious identities, appearing on scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners as well as depictions of deities and scenes taken from the Hindu epics like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari involves vegetable-dyed block painting, where the dye is applied to the fabric with the help of wooden blocks. The natural dyes for the cloth are obtained by extracting colours from various roots, leaves, and mineral salts of iron, tin, copper, and alum and mixing them with cow dung, seeds, flowers, and milk.  Historically, Kalamkari used to be termed Pattachitra, an art form still found in neighbouring Odisha and other parts of India and Nepal. The term Pattachitra translates to patta, meaning a cloth, with picture or chitra. Paintings made on fabric and fabric scrolls are mentioned in ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Jain literature. Under medieval Islamic rule, the term Kalamkari is derived from the words kalam, which means pen in Telugu, and kari, which means craftmanship and this style became popular under the patronage of the Golconda sultanate.

Mangalagiri: Mangalagiri Sarees and fabrics are produced by handloom weaving in Mangalagiri, a town in Andhra Pradesh. Mangalagiri cotton silk sarees are a unique variety, woven from cotton, and feature characteristic features such as zari on the border and no woven pattern on the body. Borders in thick gold thread or zari, traditional patterns in Nizam, and simple mono or multicoloured striped pallus adorn the fabric. The sarees have various designs like leaves, mango, parrot, and gold coins. The soft and comfortable all-weather fabric generally has no pattern on the body and is known to have no gaps in its weaving with missing saree threads rarely found. As the town is also the abode of Lord Narasimha Temple, the saris are also used by the devotees for devotional purposes.

Uppada: The Uppada Jamdani Sari is a silk sari style woven in the town of Uppada in Andhra Pradesh and is known for its light weight. The saree was also accorded the Geographical Indication tag from Andhra Pradesh. The name Jamdani is a Persian terminology, in which Jam means flower and Dani means a vase. The Jamdani style of weaving originated in Bangladesh and was brought to the south and Uppada village in the 18th century and recreated with a local flavour. old The Jamdani style of weaving is about 300 years old and in 1972, Uppada weavers were recognised by the Indian government with the President’s award. The Uppada Jamdani saree is a beautiful textile with a silk-like texture and is lightweight. The weaving of the saree takes between 10 to 60 days for which least 2-3 weavers spend 10 hours a day. There are around 3000 looms producing Jamdani sarees in and around the Uppada and Kothapalli area. Around 40% of the local weavers are women. The saree consists of a cotton body with a silk pallu and is completely handwoven. The saree is woven in such a way that it can be folded and fit inside a matchbox. The speciality of the Jamdani saree is that the design is shown on both sides of the fabric.

Venkatagiri: Woven in Venkatagiri near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, this fabric has also been accorded the GI tag and is known for its fine weaving. The history of the saree dates back to the early 1700s in the Venkatagiri village and were encouraged by the Velugoti dynasty of Nellore and also by the Bobbili and Pithapuram dynasties. In those days, they were mostly woven fabrics for royalty and landowners.

Assam

Assam Silk: Assam silk refers to the three major types of indigenous wild silks produced in Assam —golden muga, white pat and warm eri silk. Assam was well known for the production of high-quality silk since ancient times. The knowledge of sericulture probably arrived with the Tibeto-Burman groups which arrived from China around 3000-2000 BC. Genetic research on silkworms shows that Assam silk originated in two specific regions of Assam, the Garo Hills in the ancient Kamrupa Kingdom and Dhakuakhana in the ancient Chutia kingdom.

Muga silk is the product of the silkworm Antheraea assamensis endemic to Assam. The silk produced is known for its glossy, fine texture and durability and has a natural yellowish-golden tint. It was previously reserved for the use of royalty. This silk can be hand washed with its lustre increasing after every wash. Very often the silk outlives its owner. The silk has been given the Geographical Indication (GI) status since 2007.

Pat silk is produced by the Bombyx textor silkworms which feed on mulberry leaves. It is usually brilliant white or off-white and must be dried in the shadows and not in direct sunlight. Eri silk is made by the Samia cynthia ricini which feed on leaves of castor oil plant. It is also known as endi or errandi silk. Because the manufacturing process of eri allows the pupae to develop into adults and only the open-ended cocoons are used for turning into silk, it is also popularly known as non-violent silk which is soft and warm and is popular used as shawls and quilts.

Bihar

The Bhagalpuri or Kosa or Tussar Saree is Tussar silk that is valued for its rich texture and natural deep gold colour. The tussar silk weaving industry in Bhagalpur is more than a century old and has about 30,000 handloom weavers working in producing the sarees. Bhagalpuri silk is made from cocoons of Antheraea paphia silkworms which are only found in India and is processed at Nathnagar at Bhagalpur. The unique dyeing technique of these Bhagalpuri silk sarees sets them apart from the art silk sarees. The saree was supposed to have been produced in ancient times and even Mughal rulers patronised the weavers. But the technique soon got extinct and was revived about 200 years back by the weavers. The silk fabric is extremely soft and lightweight and is known as the queen of fabrics.

Chhatisgarh

The Chattisgarh Kosa saree is Tussar silk similar to the Bhagalpuri Kosa. Kosa silk is mainly derived from Antheraea mylitta, an Indian silkworm and is special type of tussar silk that is drawn out of the cocoons grown on trees like Saja, Sal, and Arjun mostly grown in Chattisgarh. The silk is widely popular owing to its sturdiness, purity and soft texture. The dull golden brownish texture of the silk is its signature trait, but can also be found in natural shades of dark honey, fawn, orange, pale golden and cream. The actual colour of kosa is a dull gold, but the finished fabric is dyed with natural dyes extracted from natural dyes. The towns of Champa and Korba are known for their production of Kosa Silk, and the silk produced in Champa is considered to be the best silk.

Gujarat

Bandhini: A type of tie-dye textile decorated by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design, Bandini or Bandhani dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization where dyeing was done as early as 4000 BC. The earliest example of the most pervasive type of Bandhani dots can be seen in the 6th-century paintings depicting the life of Buddha found on the wall of Cave 1 at Ajanta. The main colours used in Bandhana are natural. As Bandhani is a tie and dye process, dying is done by hand and hence best colours and combinations are possible in Bandhanis. The fabric used for making Bandhani sarees and dupattas are loosely woven silk called Georgette, or cotton known as Malmal. The knots are tightly tied, and the rest of the fabric is dyed in multiple stages. This leaves the knots undyed and hence a beautiful flower-like pattern appears all over the cloth as a design.

The term bandhani is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root bandh which means to bind or to tie. Today, most Bandhani can be found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Sindh, Punjab and Tamil Nadu where it is known as Sungudi and is known as chunri in Pakistan. The art of Bandhani is a highly skilled process with the technique involving dyeing a fabric which is tied tightly with a thread at several points, thus producing a variety of patterns, depending on how the cloth is tied. The main colours used in Bandhana are yellow, red, blue, green and black.

The Bandhani work has been exclusively carried out by the Khatri community of Kutchh and Saurashtra. Bandhani work is also done in Rajasthan, where different colours and designs are used than in the Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat. Establishments of varying sizes in the entire Kutch belt in Gujarat produce many varieties of Bandhani. This Bandhani style is called Kutchi Bandhani. Bandhani tying is often a family trade, and the women of these families work at home to tie patterns.

Patola: A double ikat woven sari, usually made from silk, the Patola saree comes from the town of Patan. Similar to Bandhani, Patola sarees are also a type of tie and dye process and are well known for not losing their colour at all. They are very expensive, once worn only by those belonging to royal and aristocratic families. Patola sarees are found in two different types – the Rajkot Patola and the Patan Patola. These two are differentiated with the Rajkot Patola having a single ikat weave that is dyed vertically, while the Patan Patola has a double ikat weave and is dyed horizontally. The word patola is the plural form; the singular is patolu.

To create a patola sari, both the warp and weft threads are wrapped to resist the dye according to the desired pattern of the final woven fabric. This tying is repeated for each colour that is to be included in the finished cloth. The technique of dyeing the warp and weft before weaving is called double ikat. The bundles of thread are strategically knotted before dyeing. Patola saris from Surat, Ahmedabad and Patan are renowned for their colourful diversity and geometrical style.

Silk weavers of the Salvi community from Maharashtra chose Gujarat as the home for their renowned patola fabric. It is believed that the Salvis went to Gujarat in the 12th century to acquire the patronage of the Chaulukyas Rajputs, who ruled Gujarat and parts of Malva and south Rajasthan, with Anahiwad Patan as their capital. Legend says that over 700 patola weavers came to the palace of Raja Kumarpal, at the personal request of the king. The Solanki or Chalukya rulers used to dress in patola silk on special occasions. The art of Patola weaving is an ancient one. According to some historians, the art of Patola weaving was known also in the 4th century as seen by the carvings at the Ajanta caves. After the decline of the Solanki empire, the Salvis founded a rich trade in Gujarat. Patola saris quickly became a sign of social status among Gujarati women and girls, especially as part of streedhan or the items that a woman can claim as her wealth.

There are four distinct patterns which are woven primarily in Gujarat by the Salvi community. In Jain and Hindu communities, double ikat saris with entire designs of parrots, flowers, elephants and dancing figures are generally used. In Muslim communities, saris with geometric designs and floral patterns are typical, being worn mostly for weddings and other special occasions. Maharashtrian Brahmins wear saris woven with plain, dark-coloured borders and body and a bird design called Nari Kunj.

Tanchoi: Tanchoi sarees are one of a kind, having spots all over the surface and woven with a dual colour warp. The stand-alone feature of the Tanchoi saree is that the fabric texture background has a satin finish. Extra threads are added to give these sarees the appearance of being embroidered. Famed for the intricate and small weaving patterns over the fabric, the commonly used motifs are those of flowers, small birds in flight, peacocks and parrots. Tanchoi silk is said to have been brought to India by Chinese traders in the 19th century and later adapted to suit the preferences of the Indian market. Three Parsi brothers are said to have travelled from India to China in the 19th century and were enamoured by the technique. After learning the skill, they came back to Surat, Gujarat and trained the weavers in the technique and then evolved the Tanchoi weaving technique into Indian versions.

Tangaliya: A handwoven, GI-protected textile, made by the Dangasia community, the 700-year-old indigenous Tangaliya is native to the Surendranagar district in the Saurashtra region. The textile was usually used as a shawl or wraparound skirt by women of the Bharwad shepherd community. Woven on pit looms at homes, the technique involves weaving knots in colours contrasting to the warp colour to create the effect of raised dots. The weaving is based on precise mathematical calculations. The weaver has to count the warp yarns each time, before hand-knotting the dot in acrylic yarn, to produce geometric patterns. A single mistake can lead to the final design looking faulty. The effect of the pattern also has a tactile feel, similar to braille, because of the raised surface of the dots. This has become the signature style of the textile. Another important aspect is the visual effect of dots, which is most striking and appealing on dark colour bases, especially black. The graphic quality of white dots mixed with other bright coloured dots gives the craft its special appeal. Moreover, due to the ease of knotting the white colour yarn compared to coloured yarns, white dots were common. Traditionally, most woollen shawls featured graphic patterns of white and maroon coloured dots on a black base. With every wash, the cotton textile tends to become denser and integrates the dots even more finely between the warp and weft. Today, there are only fifteen families in Surendranagar pursuing this craft.

Jammu & Kashmir

Jamawar: Jamawar is believed to have been derived from the word jam which means a shawl or robe and war, which implies the chest, in either Persian or Kashmiri. The fabric is believed to have found its way to Kashmir from Persia and reached its peak during the heyday of the Mughal dynasty in India. Owing to the elaborateness that goes into the making of the weave, it takes months on end to craft a finished Jamawar piece, and sometimes, even years, depending on the level of intricacy involved. Jamawar is traditionally woven with a rich blend of Pashmina wool, cotton and silk. Given the generous use of colours and motifs, the finished weave is highly iridescent. One of the many distinguishing factors of the Jamawar is that it is so intricately woven that its front and back, both look identical, with no stray thread sticking out of its surface. A dominating design element of the weave is the paisley, which derives inspiration from Persia; other motifs of flora and fauna, too, are seen. Jamawars also feature a wide use of hand embroidery and traditionally, a single jamawar piece was woven with up to 50 varying hues.

Kani: The Kani weave is said to have originated in Kanihama village of Jammu and Kashmir, and its exquisiteness earned it the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2008. The word Kani translates to bobbins in Kashmiri because the weave involves extensive use of wooden bobbins on which varicoloured threads are wound. Legend has it that the art of weaving Kani shawls was first brought to Kashmir in the 15th century by Persian and Turkish weavers, who introduced this art to Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin, the eighth sultan of Kashmir. One of the most defining characteristics of the Kani weave, colloquially known as Kaniwar, is its impeccably patterned motifs. These motifs, which include flowers, gardens, creepers and paisleys are brought to life through a technique called twill tapestry featuring double interlocking, wherein both the warp and weft yarns are mounted diagonally onto each other on the loom.

Traditionally, Kanis are crafted from the pashmina wool of the local Changthangi goat. At the time of weaving, the loom is packed with bobbins or kanis, through which the craftsmen carry out the fashioning of the weave; a total of nearly a thousand bobbins or more can be used for a single weave. Each colour is woven in individually, with the help of bobbins wound with threads of that particular colour. The designs are first drafted in the form of sketches, in a grid-like format called naksh, after which each step from the draft is dictated to the weaver. An elaborately woven Kani shawl can take anywhere from 9 months to a year to be made, with two artisans working on it.

Pashmina Silk: A fine variant of spun cashmere, the animal hair fibre forming the downy undercoat of the Changthangi goat, Pashmina today may refer either to the material or to the variant of the Kashmir shawl that is made from it. The word pashm means wool in Persian, but in Kashmir, pashm referred to the raw unspun wool of the domesticated Changthangi goats. Both generic cashmere and pashmina come from the same goat, but generic cashmere ranges from 12 to 21 microns in diameter, whereas pashmina refers only to those fibres that range from 12 to 16 microns.

Samples of wool fibres discovered from corroded copper artefacts from Harappa dating back to the Indus valley civilization are extremely fine and resemble Pashmina and Shatoosh. In Mughal times, this was used as an indicator of rank and nobility. Pashmina blankets were also vital additions to a wealthy woman’s dowry in India, Pakistan and Nepal. The wool for pashmina is collected by combing the undercoat of the goat, and not by shearing, as in other fine wools. The entire process is carried out by hand by specialised craftsmen. The approximate time put into producing a single traditional pashmina stole is about 180 hours. Kashmiri embroidery or Kashida as it is known, employs bright and colourful designs, with motifs of floral borders, paisley and chinar leaves and other inspirational settings of nature. The patterns and the colours of Pashmina silk saree harmonises with nature. A heavily adorned pashmina silk sari with zardozi aari embroidery is a must in any bride’s trousseau. China accounts for 70% of the world’s cashmere production.

In the next part, we’ll see more fabrics and sarees from other states.

Travel Bucket List – India: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh Part 2

After visiting Kashmir, let’s go slightly south to visit the province of Jammu.

Jammu
The winter capital of the erstwhile state and protected and blessed by Mata Vaishno Devi, who seems to have found her earthly abode on the Trikuta Hills, Jammu City is almost a sacred place to visit. Dubbed the city of temples, this city brims with grand ancient temples and beautiful palaces.

Nestled against the backdrop of the snow-capped Pir Panjal Mountains, the region of Jammu constitutes the southernmost unit of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It forms part of the transition between the Himalayan range in the north and the dusty plains of Punjab in the south. Between these two extremities lie a series of scrub-covered hills, forested mountain ranges and river valleys, encompassing several microclimatic regions that extend from Kishtawar in the north-east to Akhnoor in the south-west, and the historic town of Poonch in the north-west to the borders of Kangra (Himachal Pradesh) in the south-east. The Shivalik hills cut across the area from the east to the west while the rivers Ravi, Tawi and Chenab cut their way through the region.

The unmatched divinity at Raghunath temple, Ranbireshwar temple, Mahamaya temple, Peer Baba and Peer Khoh invigorates visitors. One must visit the Bahu temple, which is situated inside the majestic Bahu Fort. The temple is dedicated to presiding deity of Jammu, Goddess Kali or Bawe Wali Mata as she is popularly called in the region. Besides the temple, a travel enthusiast can witness architectural grandeur of Bahu Fort and Mubarak Mandi Palace. The Aquarium at Bagh-e-Bahu (Bahu Fort) also catches the eyes of the tourists as it is the largest underground aquarium in the country.

Jammu was founded by Raja Jambu Lochan in 14th century, when he constructed Bahu fort on the banks of river Tawi. There also have been excavations found 32 km away from Jammu, in the city of Akhnoor which suggest that Jammu was once a part of Harappan Civilization as well. Remains from Maurya and Gupta dynasties have been found, followed by the invasions by Mughals and Sikhs. The Dogra rule brought back the glory to the city. After the partition of India, Jammu continued to be the official winter capital of the state.

Patnitop
Perched on a hilltop at an altitude of 2024m, with endless meadows and panoramic views of the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas, Patnitop is the best place to experience nature at its picturesque best. With views of the Shivalik Range, the area has a plethora of activities like skiing and trekking as well as water springs.

Visit Gaurikund, which not only holds great spiritual value, but you can also see the holy Kailash Mountain. A leisure walk to the Pine forest is ideal for the nature lovers. At Shivgarh, you can enjoy a spot of trekking at Shivgarh and paragliding, abseiling (rappelling), rock climbing and camping at Sanasar. At a little distance from Patnitop, there is a village called Kud that is famed for multitude varieties of sweets, so enjoy and don’t worry about calories!

Rajouri
The refuge of several Gujjars and Bakerwalas, Rajouri is situated around 154kms away from Jammu. The district shares border with Pakistan and is blessed with many charming places to visit; Dehra Ki Gali, Thanamandi and Kotranka Budhal are few places that are apt for sightseeing. One can retire to these remote places in summers as the weather remains pleasant here all year round. The magnificent Rajauri Fort, Balidan Bhavan, Dhanidhar Fort and Rama Temple are few places that can be visited in the vicinity of Rajouri.

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Udhampur
Named after Raja Udham Singh, Udhampur city is the second-largest city in Jammu region. Set amidst lush green surroundings and fringed by eucalyptus trees, Udhampur is one of the best tourist attractions in Jammu & Kashmir. A delight for history lovers, the city offers many relics dating back to the time of epic of Mahabharata. The Krimachi group of temples are said to be the oldest structures in the city. Udhampur is also famous for the underground river Devika, which is considered the sister of Ganga. Visit the Ramnagar fort, located approximately 40kms from Udhampur and built by Raja Suchet Singh. Moungri Cave shrine, Pingla Mata and Sudh Mahadev temple are other prominent places that must be visited in Udhampur.

Kathua
Owing to the existence of a large number of Sufi shrines, Kathua is dubbed as the City of Sufis. True to its title, Kathua houses several religious places including Jasrota temple (inside Jasrota fort), Mata Sundrikote, Mata Bala Sundri, Sapt Sarober and Airwan temple. It is ideal to pay homage to one of these sacred places as in to understand the spirituality prevailing in Kathua. A recreation park called Dream has also been set up in Kathua promising an enthralling rafting experience. The Ujh Barrage located 20kms away from Kathua is an idyllic picnic spot. History buffs can also visit the Jasrota Fort to witness the grandeur built by Maharaja Ranbir Singh. Also the temple of Maha Kali in the Jasrota village has emerged as a popular pilgrimage centre in the region.

Katra and Vaishno Devi
It is often seen that whenever Katra is discussed; it is referred merely as a base camp for devotees who visit Vaishno Devi. Katra is worth visiting, even if you are not on a pilgrimage, because attractions like the Banganga, the Chenab river, and a large amount of peaks around offer great places for mountain climbing and family outings.

The shrine of Vaishno Devi, one of the most important places of worship in India calls the little town of Katra its home. Located in Trikuta hills, 13 km from Katra at the height of 1560 m above sea level this town is the holy cave temple of Mata Vaishnodevi. This famous shrine is a beacon for millions of devotees from all over the world. Popularly known as Mata Rani, Vaishno Goddess is a manifestation of the Hindu Goddess Durga. It is believed that during the pooja and Aarti, Goddesses arrive at the Holy cave to pay their respect to Mata Rani. Devotees believe goddess herself calls the devotees to reach here.

Thousands of pilgrims visit each year to seek blessings and show unflinching faith in this temple. Vaishno Devi is a religious trekking destination where pilgrims walk about 13 km uphill to reach the little caves which are among one of the 108 Shakti Peetha. It takes about 6 to 9 hours depending on the fitness, age and weather conditions. Ponies and palanquins, as well as helicopter services, are available by various vendors to take you there at the top.

The pilgrimage route is only complete when Shiv Khori, 1.6 km away from Vaishno Devi is also visited. Shiv Khori is second to Vaishno Devi in religious value and is famed for its 4ft tall naturally formed Shiva Linga.

Kishtwar
Kishtwar is another gem from the crown of Jammu & Kashmir. Situated approximately 255kms away from Jammu city, Kishtwar is surrounded with lofty mountains and dense deodar and pine forests. Situated on a plateau above chenab river and below the nagin sheer glacier, Kishtwar has saffron growth in a limited time and its harvesting is accompanied by ceremonies and festivals, this is typically during summer.

There is a 400 sq km National Park in Kishtwar called Kishtwar National Park. Spread over an area of 400 sq.km the park contains 15 mammal species including the musk deer and Himalayan black and brown bear. Even though Kishtwar is not the only high altitude wildlife sanctuary, it is made special because of its large variety of flora and fauna. There are also two sacred voyages namely, Machail Yatra and Sarthal Yatra that begins from Kishtwar.

Travel Bucket List – India: Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh Part 1

After having visit the north-eastern and western parts of India, let’s turn to another of India’s frontiers, this time the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir.

This state has been in the news lately as everyone probably knows why. When I started work on this blog post, the state was still intact, but the abolition of Article 370 of the Indian constitution means that the original state of Jammu & Kashmir or J&K as it is known is now bifurcated into two separate union territories, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. I will however, go by the original state as it were before August 5 and continue with the post.

This state has always been on my bucket list, but events in the past, including terrorism has deterred tourists from visiting the valley. Just when I would think things were settling down, something would happen to return things to status quo. Now with this new law, I really don’t know how it will affect life in the valley. I sincerely hope things change for the better in the state and I can soon visit this paradise. If I do make it, here’s where I want to visit.

“Agar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto, hami asto hami ast”

Traslated to as, “If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here. These words attributed to the Persian poet, Amir-e-Khusru Dehluvi beautifully says it all about the beauty of this region.

Jammu and Kashmir is located in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, and a part of the larger region of Kashmir, which has been the subject of dispute between India, Pakistan, and China since 1947.

The underlying region of this state was the southern and eastern part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, whose western districts, now known as Azad Kashmir, and northern territories, now known as Gilgit-Baltistan, are administered by Pakistan. The Aksai Chin region in the east, bordering Tibet, has been under Chinese control since 1962.

Jammu and Kashmir consists of three regions – the Kashmir Valley, which accounts for 54.93% of the population of Jammu and Kashmir, and 15.7% of the area; the Jammu Division, which accounts for 42.89% of the population of Jammu and Kashmir, and 25.9% of its area; and Ladakh, which accounts for 2.8% of the population of Jammu and Kashmir and 58.4% of its area. Srinagar is the summer capital, and Jammu is the winter capital.

We start our journey from the north of the state, which is Kashmir and its capital of Srinagar.

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Srinagar
The summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar is one of the most beautiful places in Kashmir. Lying on the banks of the Jhelum river and known as ‘Heaven on Earth’, the name Srinagar originated from two Sanskrit words – ‘Sri’ meaning wealth and ‘Nagar’ which means city. Prehistoric people used to refer Srinagar as ‘Siri – nagar’ which was a local alteration of ‘Surya – nagar’ or City of Sun. King Pravarasena II found this city 2000 years ago, formerly named Parvasenpur. Soon it became a part of the Mughal Empire, one of the largest Empires on India at that time. After the disintegration of Mughals, Srinagar was under the control of Durranis who ruled for several decades on the valley. In 1947, the struggle to gain dominance over Srinagar started between India and Pakistan. This led to the beginning of the Indo – Pak War.

Visiting Srinagar is like living in a beautiful painting. The fresh mountain air plus the novelty of living in a houseboat all add to the surrealness of the city.

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Dal Lake
Dal Lake is everything you could ask for in a hillside lake, and more. Considered the jewel of Srinagar and an attraction associated with Srinagar, the beauty of this pristine lake, spread over 26 square kilometres, only grows around every corner. It is not one lake but a combination of three separated by causeways that in itself becomes an attraction. Be it the beautiful wooden houseboats drifting casually through the waters, the colourful Shikharas that cruise by with awestruck passengers, the floating markets at the crack of dawn, or the manicured lush gardens from the Mughal era along the shore, Dal lake is practically a representation of the Srinagar itself. The Dal lake consists of four main char chinars in the middle of the lake which is a means of its recognition. The Mughals saw the potential in the Dal lake and surrounded it with beautiful gardens and pavilions and also built the Shalimar and Nilshad Gardens exactly at a place where the beautiful outstretched lake can be seen in all its glory. The Britishers brought forward the concept of boat houses in the Dal Lake, which further promoted tourism to the lake. A tourist hub, one should not miss the pristine beauty of Dal Lake.

Houseboats and Shikara are synonymous with the Dal Lake, especially since the Shikaras are a cultural symbol and seen only in Srinagar. These are wooden boats pointed at both ends and have beautifully decorated canopies overhead. It is the favoured means of transport for local people, and you can see them ferrying a variety of goods across the lake to the mainland. A ride in a Shikara is a must have. A unique shopping experience in the Dal Lake is that of the lake market, which includes a number of shops located right on the midst of the lake. Much like a roadside market would have, hawkers are present here as well. They have Shikaras of their own and have all sorts of good for sale, which include Kashmir’s specialities such as wooden artwork, hand made earrings, saffron and even Kashmiri ponchos. The other attraction in the waters of Dal Lake is the houseboat, which are stationary boats meant to serve as accommodation for visitors. Overlooking the Dal Lake, they provide the most exquisite views of the lake and its surrounding mountains. They are made of good quality wood with intricate carvings and floral motifs. These could range from a simple one-room affair to huge luxurious suites and are graded accordingly by the Department of Tourism. Often, the interiors are beautifully decorated with Kashmiri carpets, crystal chandeliers and plush furniture.

Mughal Gardens
The Mughal Gardens are one of the most popular and the most visited tourist attractions of Srinagar. During their rule, the Mughals began to build several types of gardens in Persian architecture, and the combination of these gardens is referred to as the Mughal Gardens. The natural beauty of the place filled with lush green grass and the scented flowers is a stress-buster and pleasing to the eyes. The Mughal Gardens in Srinagar comprise of Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, Chashme Shahi, Pari Mahal, Achabal and Verinag Garden. The grandeur of the gardens is dedicated to Emperor Jahangir who always had an undying love for Kashmir. Jahangir was responsible for the selection of the site and planning the requirements of the paradise gardens. They follow a Persian style of architecture and have been influenced by the Persian gardens. Some typical features of Mughal Gardens which are a treat for its visitors include canals, pools and fountains.

Gulmarg
Dubbed as skiers’ paradise, Gulmarg is the snow paradise of Kashmir. Located approximately 52kms away from capital city of Srinagar, the Meadow of Flowers as it is popularly called, Gulmarg is a haven for adventure enthusiasts. Along with prominent skiing options, trekking, snowboarding, golfing, mount biking and fishing are the prime options that the town offers adventure seekers. . This skier’s paradise is popular for having one of world’s highest and largest ropeways with an aerial distance of approx. 5kms. The view from top of the mountains at 3979 metres above sea level is absolutely stunning. Snow falls are regular even during summer, giving every tourist a fair chance to enjoy snow! Places to visit near Gulmarg include Kongdori, Shark Fin and Apharwat Peak not only for skiing but also to witness the splendid natural landscape. of Gulmarg. Other places where you can see nature at her majestic best includes a trek to Nagin Valley, Khilanmarg, Frozen Lake and Bota Pathri. Baba Reshi and Gulmarg Gondola (Cable car) also makes for a must visit in Gulmarg.

Sonmarg
Sonmarg which translates to ‘Meadow of Gold’ is one of the most picturesque towns in Kashmir at an elevation of around 2,800 feet from sea level with snow-covered flower-laden fields, surrounded by majestic glaciers and serene lakes This town is also one of the base points for starting the Amarnath Yatra. River rafting, zorbing, trekking are the various events conducted around this popular tourist spot. Sonmarg is inaccessible in winters due to heavy snowfall and avalanches.

There are a large number of trek and short routes that lead to mountain lakes like Gangabal Lake, Krishansar Lake and Vishansar Lake, Other places like Naranag, Harmukh Mountain and the famous Baltal and Thajiwas Glacier are also must-see spots in Sonmarg. Baltal, which is located 15kms away from Sonmarg, is used as the base camp for pious Amarnath Yatra. Also try and visit Zojila Pass, which is situated near Sonmarg and connects Kashmir and Ladakh.

Pahalgam
Surrounded by Lidder Lake and Betaab Valley, Pahalgam is the place to experience clear water rivers and exhilarating deep valleys. This place is famous for river rafting at Lidder Lake, golfing and shopping for traditional Kashmiri items.

The green meadows and the lofty mountains are followed with tranquility and serenity in Aru Valley, Betaab Valley, Baisaran, Sheshnag lake and Tulian Lake can invigorate your senses and activities like horse riding; trekking and golf make sure that you remain engaged all through your journey. Chandanwari, which is located 16kms away from Pahalgam is the base camp for Amarnath Yatra, a trekking route of approximately 30kms lead up to the holy shrine of Amarnath from here.

Amarnath
Amarnath is one of the most important pilgrimage in India for the worshippers of Lord Shiva. The Amarnath cave is haven to an enshrined image of ice called the Shivaling formed naturally out of ice, which resembles Lord Shiva. This destination is visited by millions of tourists every year from all across the world in what is famously known as the ‘Amarnath Yatra’. The Amarnath cave situated in this town is considered to be a devout location for the pilgrims, most notably Hindus. Legend has it that, this place is regarded to be the same cave where Lord Shiva revealed the secret of life and eternity to Goddess Parvati. The Amarnath Yatra takes place once a year for a duration of 45 days, starting from somewhere in July and extending till late August. There are various means to reach the Amarnath cave; on foot, on horses, or by a helicopter. The entire rendezvous with the ice Shiva Linga does not last more than a few seconds due to a flood of people, but a mesmerizing experience, nevertheless.

Pulwama
Also known as the city of colour burst, Pulwama is best known for its saffron fields. A picturesque terrain, pleasant weather and a rich culture means that Pulwama describes Kashmir to a T. It is almost 40 km from summer capital of Srinagar and is often called ‘Anand of Kashmir’ or ‘Dudha-Kul of Kashmir’ due to its high milk production. A lot of trekking trails are also available from the city into the beautiful valley of Kashmir. Pulwama gives you quite a large number of places for sightseeing including Nagberan, Tarsar Lake, Marsar Lake, Shikargarh and Aripal Nag. Where, Nagberan is a small scenic town that draws lot of nature lovers to it, there Shikargarh is known for attracting wildlife lovers. On the other side, Tarsar and Marsar are two legendary lakes that must be visited for its unmatched beauty. Another allure of Pulwama is Aripal Nag, which is situated 11kms from Tral town and is famed for natural water springs. If you cherish visiting historical places and shrines then the Avantishwar Temple is a must visit for you.

Kupwara
Knowns as the ‘Crown of Kashmir’, the beautiful city of Kupwara is filled with lush, alpine mountains, gushing clear waters and mountains. Boasting of lofty mountain peaks like Shamsbari (12000ft above sea level), Nastachun (10273ft above sea level) and Dajalonjun (16000ft above sea level), this district exemplifies the beauty of Kashmir. The Ainch Mountain offers the opportunity to get a panoramic view of the Vale of Kashmir from its top. There are also many historical villages that allow the history lovers to contemplate including Gushi (Built by Kashi Shah), Karnah (mentioned in Raj Tarangini written by Kalhana) and Keran. However, the Lolab Valley steals the limelight and Kheer Bhawani Asthapan, Hazrat Mehmood Shah Shrine, Shaloora shrine and many other make for other brilliant option for sightseeing in Kupwara.

Poonch
Located in the border of India and Pakistan, this place is frequently in the news for news of fighting. Fringed by Pir Panjal range, it is one of the most scenic places that we encounter in Kashmir. The waterfall at Behram Galla named as Noori Chhamb, the seven lakes (Sukhsar, Neelsar, Bhagsar, Katorasar, Kaldachnisar and Nandansar) at Girgan Dhok, the 18th century Poonch Fort and small villages like Mandi and Surankote are the highlights of the valley. There are many shrines and temples like Budha Amarnath in Mandi, Gurudwara Nangali Sahib, Gurudwara Deri Sahib, Ziarat Sain Illahi Bakash Sahib, Battalkote that are quite popular and should be visited in Poonch.

Anantnag
Strategically positioned and organized, Anantnag has some of the most picturesque towns of the valley of Kashmir. Kokernag, Pahalgam, Verinag and Daksum are few places that are places you must visit. Near Anantnag exists the confluence of three streams, Arapath, Brengi and Sandran, and the resulting river is named Veth or Jhelum. There are several larger streams such as Brengi. Another stream Lidder joins the river a little downstream and from that point the river becomes navigable. In olden times river Jhelum was the main source of transportation between Anantnag and other towns downstream. Visit Kokernag for the most interesting ‘Claw-like’ formation of the streams that divide from here, the largest fresh water springs in Kashmir. Standing at 2438m, Daksum is apt for those seeking perfect peaceful ambiance. The prominent feature of the Anantnag city is the Martand Temple, which is a must see. A few kilometers away from the city are Daksum, which is the heaven for nature lovers. Here is at solitude finds its real meaning. A tour to Verinag can leave you stunned; the variety of flowers and the sparkling Verinag springs is truly worth seeing here.

Baramulla
Reckoned to be the Gateway of Kashmir, Baramulla is another bright gem from the Kashmir’s treasure trove. Both the city and the district of Baramulla are generously blessed with natural endowments. Gulmarg, Khilanmarg and Tangmarg are also places of interest in Jammu & Kashmir tourism along with being important tourist attractions in the district. Where Gulmarg is an idyllic skiing resort, there Khilanmarg is a flower-spangled wide valley, you will get ample of opportunities to click beautiful pictures here. If in Baramulla, you must also visit Wular Lake, which is considered Asia’s largest fresh water lake and if you enjoy bird watching, you can also visit Manasbal Lake. Vijimarg, Mahalishamarg and Uri are some ideal picnic spots. However, it can rightly be said that a journey to Uri is more interesting rather than the destination.

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Dachigam National Park
The park is best known for having the rarest of species – the hangul, or Kashmir stag, the only species of red deer to be found in India. It is India’s most elevated forest reserve at an altitude of 1,700 m. to 4,300 m. above sea level and is spread over a sprawling 141 sq kms. Right from the Himalayan grey langur that feed on the barks of trees to the rare Himalayan brown bear to Pygmy Owlets to the predators, the leopards. Other inhabitants include the Himalayan black bear, species of exotic Himalayan birds. The elusive snow leopard is also found at the higher altitude. Other animals that can be spotted are rare musk deer and the Himalayan marmot. The magnificent golden eagle and vulture and seen in the soaring skies. Dachigam National Park is situated a mere 22 km from Srinagar. Dachigam literally stands for ‘ten villages’, which is kept in memory of the ten villages that had to be relocated in order to create the catchment area and the park.

I will travel more around the state to the southern parts of Jammu as well as to the exotic westen part of Ladakh in my next post.

Another thing I noted while researching for this blog post – when I searched for images, for most destinations, my first hits were images from attacks. I had to search and refine my search to look for photos on the beauty of the place. This is real sad!