Rich is the history, serene are the traditions & unique are the customs, it’s the land none other than the heaven on earth, welcome to the gorgeous valley of Kashmir. Kashmir has been the bedrock of beauty since ages. Unmatchable is the nature here with abundant flora and fauna. Welcoming is the Awaam with healthy traditions filled with ample warmth. Eccentric is the local language, Kashmiri or Koshur is a language from the Dardic subgroup of Indo-Aryan languages, spoken by around 7 million Kashmiris. It is also among the 22 scheduled languages of India.

            Surrounded by mountain peaks, lush green valleys, glistening lakes, temples, and spectacular Mughal-era gardens, Kashmir has inspired poets through the centuries. There are about 6.8 million speakers of Kashmiri and related dialects in Jammu and Kashmir and amongst the Kashmiri diaspora in other states of India. Most Kashmiri speakers are located in the Kashmir Valley and Chenab Valley of Jammu and Kashmir.

            Kashmiri cuisine is the cuisine of the Valley. Rice is the staple food of Kashmiris and has been so since ancient times. Meat, along with rice, some vegetables, and salad are prepared on special occasions like Eid only. Kashmiris consume meat voraciously. Despite being Brahmin, most Kashmiri Hindus are meat-eaters.

            The staple food of the Muslims of Kashmir is plain cooked rice. They are typically not vegetarian, with very few exceptions. The cooking methods of vegetables, mutton, homemade cheese (paneer), and legumes are somewhat similar to those of Kashmiri Pandits, except in the use of onions, garlic, and shallots by Muslims in place of asafoetida.

            In Muslim cuisine, spices are used lesser as compared with the dishes of Pandits. Cockscomb flower, called “moaval” in Kashmiri, is boiled to prepare a red food coloring, as used in certain dishes. Pandits use the mildly pungent Kashmiri red chili powder as a spice, as well as to impart color to certain dishes. Muslims use chilies in moderate quantity, and avoid hot dishes at large meals.

            There is also a notable difference in the mode of service and eating between Pandits and Muslims, especially in the case of feasts. Amongst Muslims usually, four persons eat together, in one big copper platter, called a “traem” in Kashmiri, which is a round vessel, typically beautifully embossed.

            Wazwan is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is considered an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity. In the Kashmiri language, waz means ‘cook’ or ‘cooking’ and wan means ‘shop’. The ultimate formal banquet in Kashmir is the royal wazwan.

            Kashmir has its style of dance performances and music that is simple and fabulous. Almost every festival and fair consists of dance and music that is a big attraction for tourists also. There is a wide variety of dance and music that is performed according to the occasion. One of the popular dance forms is the Mask dance that is performed during the Hemis Festival. The dancers wear colorful costumes, wear face masks and brocade robes and do ceremonial dances. Other major dance forms are Chakri, Ladishah, Ruf dance, and Dandaras dance. Roul, Dogri, and Wuegi-Nachun are some of the forms of folk dance. Kashmiri people love folk music and tap their feet on the most famous Rabab music. The common instruments played in this music are Sitar, Dukra, and Nagara. Wanawun, Ghazals, Sufi, and Choral are some major music forms in Kashmir that are sung during wedding ceremonies and festivals. The more we speak of Kashmir, the more needs to be known. Shikara ride has its uniqueness. Cherry and plum fruits are most delicious when tasted in the summers of the ‘Jannat’. Let us endeavor to pay a visit without fail to this heaven on earth before the almighty plans our exit from here.

Maj Veeresh S Lonimath

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