To scratch beneath the surface of Kashmir is to reveal astonishing surprises. It is like a fragrant garden of many colors, where nightingales sing and pure mountain wind blows—where one can easily fall under a spell and lose his mind to beauty.
It has been only two weeks, but I now have steadfast friends in Kashmir. We have trekked, rode horses, and visited villages together in the Himalayan Mountains, attended weddings with lavish feasting and singing, taken boat rides and negotiated city traffic in rickshaws. I went to a big feast where six cooks began a day in advance and prepared the food outside in big kettles over burning logs. In Muslim societies, men and women are segregated and mostly stay separate in public. Sitting crosslegged with other men on a carpet laid on the ground under a big tent, we were served delicious Kashmiri food. I was politely given a fork, knife and spoon, but broke through my cultural reticence and ate like the others—balling my rice and lamb, saucy vegetables and sticky treats together and then shoveling the handful into my mouth with a flick of my thumb. It is messier than eating with utensils, but I enjoyed the experience.
It is astonishing the high quality of handcrafts here and I have done something new: borrowed against my savings and bought a considerable amount of goods as investment for resale. Some of the special items are silk on silk rugs that took six weavers three years to make, ornately carved walnut boxes that can only be opened with a secret twist, mesmerizing jewelry in gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, emeralds and more, pure cashmere sweaters and handmade shawls with intricate needlework, and coats of sheepskin and lambs wool with embroidery. All this, and I don’t have a home of my own—I am sending it all to my assistant in Santa Fe. I will not see any of it for at least another three months. It has felt good because many families here are benefiting from the money going into the economy, and I am able to share these remarkable goods with people who are not accustomed to seeing such fineness.
I leave Kashmir tomorrow and go to Agra, where the Taj Majal awaits my eyes. It is with some regret I leave, and others too have expressed remorse. For certain I will return, and when I do, friends will be waiting.