One of the few essential attractions for the tourists visiting the valley of Kashmir apart from the sceneries, are the handicrafts of the valley. A few among these handicrafts are the pashmina shawls, carpets and walnut wood-carvings. The walnut wood work by Kashmiri artisans is one of the most interesting and praiseworthy work that has earned the valley a distinction among other parts of the country and the world. Such is the craftsmanship, that great kings and rulers here favoured the form and also tried to showcase it to the outside world. In fact, evryone visiting the valley makes sure to take at least one artefact for their homes. The streets of Srinagar are full of walnut wood shops, where you can see artisans bent over a piece of wood chiselling designs and moulding them into master pieces.

One such artisan is Mohammad Sultan Dar aka Sultan from Trehgam, Kupwara. He is the youngest of the four sons born to GulamRasool Dar. Sultan was just into his teens when  his father was injured and could no longer provide for the family. That is when Sultan, at  15,  decided to work under a  carpenter for a meagre salary of  Rs 60 per month. To become an artisan of wood carving, a novice has to acquire the skills required of a carver, carpenter and polisher. Like any other craft, knowledge of walnut wood carving is transferred through apprenticeship. This is where the novice closely observes and learns to imitate his master (ustaad). Similarly, Sultan took to learning carpentry and slowly but steadily Sultan began honing his skills under his ustaad.

At the age of 20 Sultan decided that he should set up his own shop in his hometown. With help from his brothers Sultan managed to buy a log of  wood for Rs 5000/-. He began working on this wood and in a month or so, he had his artefacts ready but he could not find any buyers. He could not sell any products till the next four months. Sultan had all, but given up hope, one day a few army jawans walked into his shop and appreciated his work. They bought a few of his items. Word of the mouth spread and soon he had sold all of his merchandise. He even had demand for more.

Hard work and perseverance paid off and Sultan could grow his business. He then decided to open a shop in Srinagar with the help of his brother. This proved to be a wise decision for him, as it being the hub of tourism, helped in the sale of his merchandise. He was able to improve his business and look after his family. Over the years, with steadily increasing customer base his business has grown by leaps and bounds.

The abrogation of Article 370 followed by the Covid-19 had crippled the business of the state due to the decline in the number of tourists visiting the valley. However, things are now starting to look up once again with the tourism industry on the rise. Sultan is hopefull that one day he will undertake an apprentice and pass down all the knowledge imparted to him by his ustaad.

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