Srinagar: A Full Travel Guide for You
Srinagar is at once a collection of images: a son Lumiere that tells the story of the love of the Mughal emperors for this paradise vale; deep green rice fields and river bridges, of gardens in bloom and lakes rimmed by houseboats; at once summer capital of the state, business center and holiday resort. It lies 900 km north of Delhi.
A Shikara in the Dal lake, Srinagar. Circular residential pits around Srinagar date the settlement back to 4,000 years. Recorded history suggests the origin of Srinagar in the 3rd century B.C. under the domain of Emperor Ashok. History has shaped the development of Srinagar, but it was the lakes and the river that have always remained at the center of all activity. Initially laid out to the north-eastern bank of the river Jhelum, Srinagar soon spread across to the opposite bank, the two sides linked by cantilevered bridges. Some of these bridges still retain their builders’ names, as Zaina Kadal, named after an enlightened benevolent Afghan monarch.
The river Jhelum and the Dal and Nagin lakes dominate Srinagar and its life and activities. Here, lush wild gardens of lotus and water lily flower amidst bustling lanes. By the lakeside spread the gardens of the Mughals in patterned beauty. And the people move with a tranquility borne of a history laden pulse of activity. lf legends are to be believed, the Kashmir valley was once a lake as large as a sea, and here lived an abominable demon who was killed, after most of the lake had been drained, with the collective help of Brahma’s grandson, Kashyap, and the goddess Parvati. She it was who finally stilled the demon by dropping upon him a mountain, and thereby crushing him to death.
On the western shore of the Dal, opposite Nishat Bagh, stands Hazratbal, a monument which houses a holy relic of the Prophet. A great festival is held here annually. The oldest and largest of mosques of Kashmir are also in Srinagar. Shah Hamdan Masjid, a wooden structure with fine paper mache workmanship on its walls and ceilings, is the oldest, with five facets, each of which has five arches, signifying the daily five prayers offered to Allah. Jamia Masjid, another wooden mosque in Indo-Saracenic is the largest, built in 1400 by Sultan Sikander.
In the heart of the city, rises the 304 meters high Shankaracharya Hill. It offers a panoramic view of the city, the valley and the Pir Panjal rang. On the northeastern side is Hari Parbat, another sacred mount which has a fortification built by Emperor Akbar in 1592, surrounded by fragrant almond orchards. A Durga temple stands nearby at Chakreshwari. Then there are the Pather Masjid built in l620 by the Empress Noor Jehan, the Madani Masjidbuilt by Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, the poet- musician-ruler of Kashmir, the single greatest influence on the artistic heritage of the land.
No destination is quite so romantic, no setting as enchanting as Srinagar. More or less in the center of Kashmir, at an altitude of 1,730 meters above sea level, Srinagar’s allure changes with the passing of each season. Srinagar is as much imagination as it is fact, for every season offers new vistas to this city of great antiquity.
Spring breathes life again into a frozen world, and the air is heady with the fragrance of a million flowers that blossom on trees, shrubs and creepers. Summer heightens the effect, and autumn is poignant in its colors of warm introspection. Winter brings with it snow, sometimes the Dal Lake freezes, and beneath a leaden sky, roasted chestnuts turn the atmosphere aromatic with the promise of warmth and comfort. Spring, which extends roughly from March to early May, is when a million blossoms carpet the ground. The weather during this time can be gloriously pleasant at 23C deg. chilly and windy at 6C deg. This is the season when Srinagar experiences its rains, but showers are brief.
Summer extends from May until the end of August. In higher altitudes night temperatures drop slightly. Srinagar at this time experiences day temperatures of between 21C deg. and 30C deg. At this time, the whole valley is a mosaic of varying shades of green rice fields, meadows, trees and Srinagar with its lakes and waterways is a haven after the scorching heat of the plains.
The onset of autumn, perhaps Kashmir’s loveliest season, is towards September, when green turns to gold and then to russet and red. The highest day temperatures in September are around 23C deg. and night temperatures dip to 10C deg. by about October, lower by November when heavy woolens are essential.
December through to the beginning of March is yet another mood of Srinagar. Bare snow covered landscapes being watched from beside the warmth of a fire is a joy that cannot be described to anyone who has not experienced it. Some houseboats and hotels remain open throughout winter these are either centrally heated or heated with bukharis, a typical Kashmiri stove kept alight with embers of wood, marvelously effective in the winter. In the luxurious living room of a houseboat.
Srinagar’s chief distinction is the great body of water, the Dal Lake, which forms its focal point. The Dal has, within its area, two enormous sheet-like expanses of water – Lokutdal and Boddal, the rest of its surface being broken up alternatively by man-made strips of land inhabited by whole colonies of people and vegetation. Thus the lake is not a flat, unbroken mass of water, but a labyrinth of waterways, awash with a lifestyle not encountered elsewhere in the world. The Dal is Srinagar’s major life-support system with its wide variety of marine life: fish, lotus roots, plants and floating gardens. The hospitable boat people of Kashmir trace their descent from Noah. Entire families live on boats, accepting a way of life that was bequeathed to them by their ancestors and clinging stubbornly to their traditional culture.
Leading from the Dal is the smaller Nagin Lake. Here too, the waters are edged by trees of willow and poplar whose reflection is mirrored in the lake. ‘Bathing boats’ here, as well as on the Dal, hire out water-skis and motor launches. The waters of the lakes are pleasantly cool from mid-May to mid-September.
Shikaras can be hired from any of the steps called Ghats leading to the lake. Shikaras are a refreshingly novel way of seeing Srinagar by day; and at twilight, the gentle soothing motion of the boat as it glides along the water is unbelievably romantic. Mughal Gardens and Pari Mahal:terraced lawns, cascading fountains, paint-box bright flower beds with the panorama of the Dal in front of them the three Mughal Gardens of Cheshmashahi, Nishat and Shalimar are the Mughal emperors’ concept of paradise and are today very popular places for picnics. Pari Mahal, once the royal observatory, also has a charmingly laid out garden and is a five minute drive from Cheshmashahi. Every evening in the summer a sound and light show at Shalimar Gardens recreates the era of Emperor Jehangir’s court in Kashmir. Timings vary slightly, but the first show is soon after dark and there are two shows in Urdu and English. Hari Parbat Fort: to the west of the Dal lies the Hari Parbat Hill, sacred to the Goddess Sharika in whose honor a temple has been consecrated on the western slopes of the hill. Further up, on the crest of the hill is Hari ParhatFort which dates to the 18th century. Shri Pratap Singh Museum at Lal Mandi: on the banks of the river Jhelum, ahead of Raj Bagh, is a treasure trove of Kashmiri culture. Shankaracharya Temple: the antiquity of Shankaracharya temple is akin to that of Vaishno Devi in Jammu. The temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, has legends dating back to 200 BC. Built to overlook the valley, situated atop the Hill it has the devout climb the hill with offerings in their hands, a motor able road has been built leading to the TV Tower on the hill. The sacred temple is situated to the south east of Srinagar. However, neither the hill nor the temple retain their pre-historic names, Gopadari and Jyeshtheswara respectively. The temple is built on a high octagonal plinth approached by a flight of steps.
Gardens and parks
Srinagar is justly famed for its Mughal Gardens, vast acres of hillsides, terraced with water bodies and rimmed with flowering shrubs and trees, laid in formal quadrangles by the Mughal emperors whose love for the valley is legendary.
Are the piece de resistance of Srinagar’s many gardens and parks. This royal garden was laid out four hundred years ago by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir for his wife.
Though smaller than Shalimar, is more intensely beautiful. Descending in tiers to the Dal’s edge, Nishat is well known for its stately chinar (plane) trees, imported to Kashmir from distant Persia by the Mughals. Many of the giant chinar trees have been planted by the Mughals. Shah Jehan is reputed, also, to have laid out the gardens of Chashma Shahi, so named because of a mountain spring that waters it.
Is as much a monument as garden. This was initially a garden built by Dara Shiko for his Sufi teacher, Mulla Shah. Once punctuated wth several springs that have since dried up, the Pari Mahal gardens are now the pride of the state. Pari Mahal is illuminated at night, and can he seen, located on the spur of a hill, from most places in Srinagar
Mosques and Mausoleums
The antiquity of Shankaracharya temple is akin to that of Vaishno Devi in Jammu. The temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, has legends dating back to 200 BC. Built to overlook the valley, situated atop the Hill it has the devout climb the hill with offerings in their hands, a motor able road has been built leading to the TV Tower on the hill. The sacred temple is situated to the south east of Srinagar. However, neither the hill nor the temple retain their pre-historic names, Gopadari and Jyeshtheswara respectively. The temple is built on a high octagonal plinth approached by a flight of steps.
Hari Parbat Fort:
To the west of the Dal lies the Hari Parbat Hill, sacred to the Goddess Sharika in whose honor a temple has been consecrated on the western slopes of the hill. Further up, on the crest of the hill is Hari Parhat Fort which dates to the 18th century.
It is located in a village of the same name on the banks of the Dal, its pristine white marble elegance is reflected in the waters of the lake. Hazratbal’s special significance is derived from the fact that it contains a hair of the Prophet Muhammad. This is displayed to the public on religious occasions, usually accompanied by fairs with street side stalls.
Khanoah of Shah Hamadan:
The Khanoah stands between the third and fourth bridges on river Jhelum which flows through the city of Srinagar. To the north west corner of the complex is the tomb of Shah Hamadan. The mosque of Shah Hamadan is a pagoda-like structure built entirely of wood. Only the faithful may enter its precincts, others having to satisfy themselves With a look through the door. The interiors are intricately carved and flamboyantly painted and decorated with large chandeliers.
It is said that Sikandar But-Shikon laid the foundation of the Jama Masjid in 1398 AD and completed it in 1402. He ruled from 1390-91 to 1414 AD while his son, Zain-ul-Abidin, improved it Aesthetically. It was re-built after a fire ravaged it in 1479 AD. In 1620, during Emperor Jehangir’s reign, yet another fire destroyed it. In 1674, a third conflagration razed it down and it was left to Emperor Aurangzeb to rebuild it. Its principal features are the four miners and eight wooden columns as supports.
Was a Shrine holy to both Muslims and Hindus. It was burnt down by the Islamic militants in 1995 at the behest of Pakistan. Sheikh Nooruddin, after all, was arguably the greatest mystic-saint of Kashmir.
Nothing could better exemplify the composite culture of Kashmir than the life of Sheikh Naruddin himself. The Sheikh was born as Nund Reshi or Sahazanand in 1377 AD. His ancestors came from Kishtwar and had migrated to the Valley. His father, Salar Sanz, a pious man, came under the spiritual influence of Sufi Saint. Yasman Reshi who arranged his marriage to Sadra Maji. For three days, the infant Nund is said to have refused to be breast-fed. The third day, the Yogini, Lal Ded (a very well known saint) entered the house and put the child’s mouth to her own breast. While leaving, she is said to have called the infant her spiritual heir. While personifying the Hindu-Muslim culture of the Valley, Nund, later named Naruddin, ‘the light of faith’, fully believed in the immanence and transcendence of God, hoped for a society based on moral values and preached against indulgence. All his life he wore a coarse pheran. Within two days of his death in 1438 at Charar, nine lakh people are said to have gathered at the Shrine, including the King, Sultan Zainul Abdin.
He preached against communal hatred and wrote: “We belong to the same parents.
Then why this difference?
Let Hindus and Muslims together worship God alone. We came to this world like partners. We should have shared our joys and sorrows together.
Dangers & Annoyances
Kashmir has come a long way since the war torn 1980s, but political violence is an on going problem – see the boxed text, opposite . Touts are another hassle in Kashmir. From the moment you arrive, hangers-on will try to steer you towards a commission-paying houseboat. Be polite but firm and they will usually move on to another candidate. Travelers should also be wary of houseboat packages booked in Delhi
Srinagar has a range of land-based accommodation options, but houseboats are the main attraction.
The houseboats of Dal Lake offer a window back in time. These flat-bottomed pine barges are basically floating villas, with bedrooms, lounges, kitchens, staff quarters and gorgeous verandas leaning out over the water, decorated with carved walnut panels. Interiors fall somewhere between Mughal splendor and English chintz. Most houseboats are run by individual families, who provide home-cooked meals and shikara trips to shore and around the lake. Standards of houseboats vary – some are damp and gloomy, others are palatial – and the level of luxury is not always clear from the price. Officially, houseboats are divided into five classes and rates are set by the government, but prices vary hugely and massive discounts (up to 70%) can be negotiated.
By far the best way to find a houseboat is to rent a shikara for an hour and visit several houseboats to see what is on offer. Touts will try to steer you towards a commission-paying boat, but these are rarely the best or friendliest places to stay. Under no circumstances should you book a houseboat in advance with a travel agent outside Kashmir. We receive regular letters from travelers who have been scammed for hundreds of dollars by unscrupulous operators.
When choosing a houseboat, make sure you know exactly what you are getting. Meals, hot water and shikara lifts from boat to shore should be included in the price. If not, you may end up paying a hefty surcharge later. Look for houseboats that offer a choice of meals rather than three daily portions of dhal and rice. Most boats charge an extra Rs 300 in winter to cover the costs of heating oil. Wherever you stay, expect frequent visits from souvenir sellers in shikaras– an unavoidable irritation.
The majority of Srinagar’s houseboats bob gently on Dal Lake, lined up in front of the boulevard. There are more cheap boats north of the old town on Nagin Lake. Alternatively, you can stay on one of the many boats moored on the banks of the Jhelum River – established in colonial times when the British were prohibited from owning land – which have a boardwalk directly to shore.
For many visitors to Srinagar, a stay on a houseboat is a charming experience. For others it is a waking nightmare. While most houseboat owners are perfectly honest, we receive a lot of correspondence from travelers who have been held as virtual hostages on houseboats by unscrupulous operators. Most of the complaints relate to package tours booked in Delhi. Travelers frequently arrive to find that the floating palace they booked is a creaky barge, and hidden charges amounting to hundreds of dollars have been added to their bill. Others have literally been held hostage, either through spurious claims about violence onshore or through the physical confiscation of their passports. Single women have also reported inappropriate advances from houseboat staff.
To avoid this criminal behavior, book your houseboat after you arrive in Srinagar and inspect the boat thoroughly before you agree to stay. Make sure that the fee covers everything promised, including meals and transfers (get this in writing) and make it clear that you do not want unsolicited visits from souvenir vendors. Keep your passport and other valuables with you at all times. It pays to let the Houseboat Owners Association ( above ) know where you’re staying and the proposed duration of your stay. Although run by houseboat owner
The range of Kashmiri souvenirs in Srinagar is unparalleled, but the pressure to buy can be overbearing. Elegantly painted papier-mâché boxes and Christmas-tree decorations make cheap and light souvenirs, or there are bulkier papier-mâché items like lamps and vases. Carved walnut wood is another specialty of the valley, as are cashmere and pashmina shawls, and carpets – see the boxed text, opposite. Shops in Lal Chowk sell cricket bats, saffron, dried fruit and nuts. Resist the urge to buy shahtoosh shawls and anything else made from animal fur – local furriers do a lively trade in endangered species The boulevard and Lambert Lane are lined with souvenir shops
In Srinagar you can buy unique handmade souvenirs as:
At first glance, all papier mache objects look roughly the same, and the price differential seems almost unreasonable. However, besides at least three different grades of papier mache, some is actually cardboard or wood! The idea, however. is not to hoodwink the unwary, but to provide a cheaper product for someone who wants the look of papier mache.
To make papier mache, first paper is soaked in water till it disintegrates. It is then pounded, mixed with an adhesive solution, shaped over moulds, and allowed to dry and set before being painted and varnished. Paper that has been pounded to pulp has the smoothest finish in the final product. When the pounding has not been so thorough, the finish is less smooth The designs painted on objects of papier mache are brightly colored. They vary in artistry and the choice of colors, and it is not difficult to tell a mediocre piece from an excellent one. Gold is used on most objects, either as the only color, or as a highlight for certain motifs, and besides the finish of the product, it is the quality of gold used which determines the price. Pure gold leaf, which has an unmistakable luster, is far more expensive than bronze dust or gold poster paint. It also has a much longer life and will never fade or tarnish.
Varnish, which is applied to the finished product, imparts a high gloss and smoothness which in- creases with every coat.
Cardboard, virtually indistinguishable from papier mache, gives in slightly when pressed firmly. Otherwise the only difference is in the price, cardboard being cheaper than papier mache.
Chain Stitch and Crewel Furnishing
Because of the high quality of embroidery done on wall hangings and rugs, Kashmiri crewel work is in great demand throughout the world. Chain stitch, be it in wool, silk or cotton, is done by hook rather than by needle. The hook is referred to as ari, and quality for quality, hook work covers a much larger area than needle work in the same amount of time. All the embroidery is executed on white cotton fabric, pre-shrunk by the manufacturers. The intrinsic worth of each piece lies in the size of the stitches and in the yarn used. Tiny stitches are used to cover the entire area the figure or motifs are worked in striking colors; the background in a single color, made up of a series of coin sized concentric circles which impart dynamism and a sense of movement to the design. Stitches ought to be small, even sized and neat. The background fabric should not be visible through the stitches.
Crewel is basically similar to chain stitch. It is also chain stitch done on a white background, but here the motifs, mainly stylized flowers, do not cover the entire surface, and the background is not embroidered upon. Wool is almost invariably used in crewel work and color ways are not as elaborate as in chain stitch, two or three colors being the norm here. This fabric is available in bolts, and is sold by the length. They make excellent household furnishings being hand or machine washable.
Saffron, Walnuts, Almond, Honey.
Pampore, outside Srinagar, is the only place in the world besides Spain where saffron is grown. The crocus sativus which blooms for a brief month in the year, has six golden stamens and one crimson one. It is the crimson stamen which when collected and dried is referred to as the most expensive spice in the world. Sealed jars of this spice, with the government laboratory’s stamp of approval, are available all over Srinagar. When buying loose saffron, sampling one strand is enough, for the flavor and fragrance of saffron are unmistakable. The climate of Kashmir is ideal for walnut and almond trees which grow here in abundance. Natural honey too, is a produce of the apiaries which abound in the state.
Seri culture and tweed weaving are important industries in Kashmir, with departments of the state government closely monitoring the process. Interestingly, just as little or no raw material for tweed comes from Kashmir, almost no weaving and printing of silk is done in the state. However, the cocoon reared in Kashmir is of a superior quality, yielding an extremely fine fiber, and any silk woven from this thread becomes known, quite legitimately, as Kashmiri silk. The fineness of the yarn lends itself particularly well to the weaves known as chinon and crepe de chine. in addition to the universally recognized silk weave. The cost of silk fabric goes up with its weight per meter, 30 grams being at one end of the scale and 80 grams at the other. Fabric is generally sold by the length as saris and its lightness and softness lends itself well to shirting and dress material. Tweed on the other hand is woven in Kashmir with pure, never blended, wool . The resultant fabric, made with imported know-how, compares favorably with the best in the world. It is available by the length; occasionally as ready to wear garments.
This garment, somewhere between a coat and a cloak, is eminently suited to the Kashmiri way of life,being loose enough to admit the inevitable brazier of live coals which is carried around in much the same way as a hot water bottle. Men’s pherans are always made of tweed or coarse wool: women’s pherans, somewhat more stylized. are most commonly made of raffel. with splashes of ari or hook embroidery at the throat, cuffs and edges. The quality of embroidery and thickness of the raffel determines the price.
There are three fibers from which Kashmiri shawls are made wool, pashmina and shahtoosh. The prices of the three cannot be compared woollen shawls being within the reach of the most modest budget, and shahtoosh being a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Woollen shawls are popular because of the embroidery worked on them which is special to Kashmir. Both embroidery and the type of wool used causes differences in the price. Wool woven in Kashmir is known as raffel and is always 100 per cent pure. Sometimes blends from other parts of the country are used and Kashmiri embroidery is worked on them. These blends contain either cashmilon, cotton, or a mixture of both. Many kinds of embroidery are worked on shawls ‘sozni’ or needlework is generally done in a panel along the sides of the shawl. Motifs, usually abstract designs or stylized paisleys and flowers are worked in one or two, occasionally three colors, all subdued. The stitch employed is not unlike stem stitch, and only the outline of the design is embroidered. The fineness of the workmanship and the amount of embroidery determines the value of the shawl.
Sozni is often done so skillfully that the motif appears on both sides of the shawl each side having a different color way. This naturally has a bearing on the cost.
Another type of needle embroidery is popularly known as ‘papier mache’ work because of the design and the style in which it is executed. This is done either in broad panels on either side of the breadth of a shawl, or covering the entire surface of a stole. Flowers and leaves are worked in satin stitch in bright colors such as those of papier mache and each motif is then outlined in black. A third type of embroidery is ari or hook embroidery; motifs here are the well-known flower design finely worked in concentric rings of chain stitch.
Pashmina is unmistakable for its softness. Pashmina yarn is spun from the hair of the ibex found at 14,000 ft above sea level. Although pure pashmina is expensive, the cost is sometimes brought down by blending it with rabbit fur or with wool. It is on. pashmina shawls that Kashmir’s most exquisite embroidery is worked, sometimes covering the entire surface, earning it the name of ‘jamawar’. A jamavar shawl can, by virtue of the embroidery, increase the value of a shawl three-fold. Not all pashmina shawls, however, have such lavish embroidery some are embroidered on a narrow panel bordering the four sides of a shawl, others in narrow strips running diagonally through the shawl.
A second, less frequently seen weave, done only on pashmina, covers the surface with tiny lozenge shaped squares, earning it the delightful name of ‘chashme bulbul,’ or eye of the bulbul. As this weave is a masterpiece of the weaver’s art, it is normally not embroidered upon.
Shahtoosh, the legendary ‘ring shawl’ is incredible for its tightness, softness and warmth. The astronomical price it commands in the market is due to the scarcity of the raw material. High in the plateaus of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude of above 5,000 meters, roam Pantholops Hodgsoni, or Tibetan antelope. During grazing, a few strands of the downy hair from the throat are shed and it is these which are painstakingly collected until there are enough for a shawl.
Yarn is spun either from shahtoosh alone, or with pashmina, bringing down the cost somewhat. In the case of pure shahtoosh too, there are many qualities the yarn can be spun so skillfully as to resemble a strand of silk. Not only are shawls made from such fine yarn extremely expensive, they can only be loosely woven and are too flimsy for embroidery to be done on them. Unlike woollen and pashmina shawls, shahtoosh is seldom dyed that would be rather like dyeing gold! Its natural color is mousy brown, and it is, at the most, sparsely embroidered.
Willow rushes that grow plentifully in marshes and lakes in Kashmir are used to make charmingly quaint objects, ranging from shopping baskets and lampshades to tables and chairs, all generally inexpensive. To increase their life-span, unvarnished products should be chosen and frequently sprayed with water, particularly in hot, dry climates, to prevent them becoming brittle. Walnut Wood Kashmir is the only part of India where the walnut tree grows. Its color, grains and inherent sheen are unique and unmistakable, and the carving and fretwork that is done on this wood is of a very superior quality.
There are two types of walnut trees the fruit bearing species whose wood is so well-known, and one which bears no fruit and is locally known as ‘zangul.’ Zangul has none of the beauty of walnut wood, being much less strong and possessing no grain, and will not be dealt with here. The walnut root is almost black, and the grain here is much more pronounced than the wood of the trunk which is lighter in color. The branches have the lightest color, being almost blonde, and have no noticeable grain. The intrinsic worth of the wood from each part of the tree differs that from the root being the most expensive, and the branches having the lowest value.
Often, when a tree is sawn, a marked difference in color is noticed between one part of the trunk and the other. This is overcome by dyeing the lighter part to the exact shade of the darker. Dye is prepared from the outer covering of the fruit of the walnut. Sometimes small objects of utility trays, bowls and the like are left with the natural variation of color for customers who find it appealing. As the grain on any wood is its distinguishing feature, when a walnut tree is sawn, the prime motive is to display to full advantage its densely packed rings. After a tree is felled, the ideal period for which it should be left to season is two years. The advantage of seasoning is that molecules of moisture which are entrapped in the wood of the live tree evaporate so that shrinking takes place before the wood is cut and fashioned into objects for sale.
When a dealer buys a whole tree and leaves it to season, a part of his capital becomes blocked for that period and this will naturally be reflected in the cost of his product. A cheaper product, on the other hand, is liable to warp, or in case it is taken to warmer climes, will crack or shrink. Knots on any tree are natural and inevitable, but as their appearance is commonly thought to mar the beauty and smoothness of the finished product, knots are usually concealed skillfully in the sawing, as it is difficult, though not impossible, to mask them while carving.
Carving is a demonstration o. the carver’s skill, and walnut is eminently suitable for this, being one of the strongest varieties of wood. There are several varieties of carving deep carving, usually with dragon and lotus flower motifs, two inches deep or more; shallow carving, half an inch deep done all over the flat surface; open or lattice work, usually depicting the chinar motif: and most popularly, semi carving, which is a thin panel along the rim of the surface, with perhaps a center motif. The advantage of semi-carving is that it allows the grain of the wood to be displayed, together with the carver’s skill. Naturally deep carving with all the skill and labor required, is the most expensive. Wax polishing brings out the sheen inherent in walnut wood, and is by far the most popular finish. Because varnish obscures the grain of the wood and alters its hue, it is seldom used.
When choosing objects made from walnut wood, keep in mind that the type of carving and part of the tree used will affect the price. The optimum thickness for items of furniture is one inch. Anything less than that will naturally be less expensive as it shortens the life of the object. Furniture which makes exclusive use of walnut wood will naturally cost more than articles in which zangul has been used for surfaces normally hidden from view.
Copper and Silverware
The old city abounds with shops where objects of copper line the walls, the floor and even the ceiling, made generally for the local market. Craftsmen can often be seen engraving objects of household utility samovars, bowls, plates and trays. Floral, stylized, geometric, leaf and sometimes calligraphic motifs are engraved or embossed on copper, and occasionally silver, to cover the entire surface with intricate designs which are then oxidized, the better to stand out from the background. The work, known as ‘naqash’, determines the price of the object, as does the weight.