Category Archives: Travel

The True Source of the Jehlum

Published / by Jehangir

Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia (which I somehow managed to recommend and put-down in the same post) also helped to clear up a quandary regarding the origin of the Jehlum.

Most historical and modern traditions consider the Verinag pool as the source of the Jehlum (except for a handful of purists who maintain that the honour belongs to the nearby Vyethvathur spring).

The outflow from Verinag forms a small stream that flows for around three kilometres before merging with the more sizeable Sandrin stream near Chinigund. Near Khanabal the Sandrin stream meets the confluent flow of the Bringi and Arpath streams before merging with the Lidder near Sifan to give rise to the Jehlum river.

The headwaters of the Sandrin, however, lie many miles further away from the sangam (confluence) of the Verinag and Sandrin streams. Numerous nars (mountain streams), arising from the snowfields of the mountainous ring between the Hansraj, Kaukut and Sundar Kanthi peaks, merge to form the Sandrin stream which flows in a north-westerly direction for more than 20 kilometres till it meets the Verinag stream.

So why is the Sandrin, or rather its first and farthest tributary, the Chhitar Nar, not traditionally considered to be the source of the Jehlum?

Alice Albinia faced a similar conundrum on reaching Senge Khabab (The Lion’s Mouth – the traditional source of the Indus) at the end of her quest, and wondered why the Dorjungla or other tributaries arising farther away were not considered to be the source of the Indus.

The explanation comes via Sven Hedin – the Swedish adventurer-explorer who explored the Transhimalaya and discovered the source of the Indus. Alice Albinia relates that Sven Hedin was told by his Tibetan guides that the Senge Khabab, arising from underground springs, was considered the true source as it emitted the same amount of water in summer and winter (unlike the other snowmelt-dependent tributaries that waxed and waned from season to season).

This fits in well with our own tradition that the reliable Verinag spring is considered to be the actual source of the Jehlum and not the snowmelt-dependent mountain streams rising farther away in the hills. I am inclined to agree.

Rivers of Confusion

Published / by Jehangir

The best travelogues narrate the experiences of a stranger travelling to a faraway land, detailing snapshots of the local wonders, and recording the culture of the people encountered along the way. ‘The journey is the destination‘ is the traveller’s credo that elevates him/her above the mere tourist.

Faiz thi raah sarbasar manzil, hum jahaan pahunche kamyaab aaye

In an earlier post, I neglected to mention that Zaffar Ahmed Khan was an accomplished poet with published collections in Urdu. Our quest, however, was to gather English travelogues related to Kashmir to collect material for a comparative anthology of travel writing by visitors to the valley.

While that manuscript is, alas, lost to us forever, my interest remains undiminished and I have scoured the gamut of travel writing from good to bad, touristy to cringe-worthy. This post is about a travelogue that records a journey so fascinating that for the longest time I could not decide whether the author’s experiences were based on fact or fiction.

The book is Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia. Adventure (to the point of foolhardiness), history, and culture meld into a scarcely-believable travel diary. It is the preface to the newer edition where Ms Albinia explains how she was able to negotiate her impossible itinerary that finally convinced me that her experiences were authentic.

As per the author’s website, Empires of the Indus has won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Prize, the Dolman Travel Prize, La Toison d’Or du livre d’aventure vécue, a Sufi Shah Inayat Writer Award and the Premio Hemingway Reportage award.

To western readers Empires of the Indus is a much-acclaimed anthropological narrative by a first-time author traipsing along the Indus from its delta at Karachi to its headwaters in Tibet, time-travelling through historical eras while physically crisscrossing borders between Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and China.

We, being native to these lands, can however sense that besides the barely-supressed islamophobia that runs like the eponymous river throughout the book, the author inadvertently reveals whiffs of other outdated -isms like colonialism, (western?) feminism, and just-fake-it-ism. Other reviewers have pointed out the inaccuracies related to their own areas of expertise but let me reveal two glaring examples of Ms Albinia transmogrifying geography to suit her chosen narrative.

Firstly though, a little geography recap. The Punjab is named after five rivers – Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab and Jehlum (east to west) – that ultimately flow into the Indus. Empires of the Indus itself contains an excellent map of the Indus Valley for ready reference. We will have to make do with this simple one:

Alice Albinia claims that the people of Harrapa traded beads, pots, pins, bangles and arrowheads with the neolithic community at Burzahom (Burzhama) in Kashmir in exchange for himalayan cedar floated downstream to Harappa through a trading post established at Manda (Akhnoor) in Jammu. Unfortunately Burzahom, Manda and Harappa just happen to be situated on three different rivers – Jehlum, Chenab and Ravi respectively! Ms Albinia apparently forgot to consult her own map 😉

At the culmination of her journey, the author declares in a definitive paragraph that from the watershed of the sacred mountain of Kailash, four great rivers of South Asia (Indus, Sutlej, Karnali, and Brahmaputra) arise and four faiths (Bon, Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism) congregate in pilgrimage. It is an impressive passage but sadly innaccurate as the Sutlej is described as flowing north-west through Kashmir. If we refer to her map again, the Sutlej is the easternmost of the five rivers of the Punjab – far, far away from Kashmir – while the one that flows (hundreds of miles away) through the valley is the Jehlum, situated furthest to the west!

Overall though, notwithstanding all its inaccuracies and biases, Empires of the Indus is a fascinating account of a daredevil journey through our part of the world.

P.S: Alice Albinia tragicomically criticising L. K. Advani for ‘his poor sense of geography’ made me smile.

Historical Monuments of Srinagar

Published / by Jehangir presents a 2021 calendar featuring digital art from the Kashmir ReImaginedseries depicting visit-worthy monuments of Srinagar built during successive historical periods of Kashmir.

Monuments in Kashmir may be broadly divided into the ancient stone monuments of the Buddhist-Hindu period, the wooden architecture of the Sultans of Kashmir and the resurgence of stone during the heyday of the Mughals.

The most prominent stone monument, visible from anywhere in Srinagar, is the Shankracharya Temple on the Takht-e-Suleiman hill.

Shankracharya Temple

Initially the Sultans of Kashmir built a few unique monuments – the tomb of Zain-ul-Abidin’s mother with its predominant use of brickwork, domed roofs and tile-studded walls, and the tomb of Madin Sahib exhibiting coloured tile-work representing ‘Al Kaus’ or Sagittarius depicted as a leopard-human figure shooting an arrow at its own dragon-headed tail.

The classic monuments of the Sultanate era, however, are predominantly wooden – inspired mainly by the architecture of Central Asia. The Khanqah-e-Moula is the archetypal example of the style. Other notable monuments are the Jama Masjid, the Aali Masjid and the Jama Masjid at Pampore.

The tomb of Zain-ul-Abidin’s mother at Zaina Kadal

Reconstruction of the tile-work at Madin Sahib. Highly unusual for the Indian subcontinent, the tiled figure of Sagittarius is a common horoscopic motif in medieval Persian architecture. Curiously, most observers fail to realise that the tiles were originally mounted on the inner walls of the tomb.


The Mughals brought to Kashmir the perfection of their garden-building and stone-working skills. Mughal craftsmen worked the local limestone to a degree comparable to marble, most notably at the ‘Black Pavilion’ at Shalimar. Shalimar, Nishat and Cheshma Shahi are a series of exquisite gardens laid out by the Great Mughals on the foothills of the Zabarvan Hills overlooking the Dal Lake in Srinagar.

Limestone pillars at Shalimar

Other remarkable Mughal monuments include the Pathar Masjid built by Empress Nur Jahan, and the ruined Mosque on the Hari Parbat and spiritual retreat at Pari Mahal built by Dara Shikoh for his Sufi guide Akhund Mullah Shah.

The Hari Parbat fort may be the only noteworthy contribution of the Afghan rulers while nothing quite memorable has survived in Kashmir from the Dogra period. (In Jammu, they did build the exquisite Amar Mahal).

In Srinagar, beyond these three styles, monuments of archaeological interest are the menhirs at Burzhama (the remnants of a stonehenge from prehistory) and the the ruins of the ancient Buddhist stupa at Harwan which exhibit uniquely painstaking styles of using pebbles as the basic material for construction. The latter is also notable for its extensive use of embossed terracotta tiles.

The immensely important neolithic site of Burzhama is currently being ‘vandalised’ (for want of a better term) as an improptu cricket stadium while the Harwan site fortunately seems to have escaped encroachment due to its relative inaccessibility.

Present-day Burzhama

Reconstruction showing a cutaway of a pit dwelling with a dolmen and menhirs in the background

Present-day Harwan

Schematic reconstruction of the apsidal stupa at Harwan

As for the native houses, let us quote from the ‘Jehangirnama‘:
The buildings of Kashmir are all of wood; they make them two, three or four-storied, and covering the roofs with earth, they plant bulbs of the chaughashi tulip, which blooms year after year in the spring season, and is exceedingly beautiful

You can download the calendar here:

Hope you enjoy a healthy 2021 !

Disclaimer: You are encouraged to share this calendar but please note that all rights to these images are retained by Dr Bakshi Jehangir. Commercial usage of these images is strictly forbidden.