What to Buy in Kashmir
What I love most about Kashmir is its stunning atmosphere around the year with countless shopping options. Kashmir isn’t just about the tourism but also well known for Kashmiri gift items. Kashmiri handicrafts are well known worldwide for its unique artistic work and the grandeur. While you are planning a trip to Kashmir and interested in buying items as a token of memory then it is important that you must have some prior information about the famous shopping items to buy here. Reading my blog would help you to some extent in differentiating among real and fake items by yourself. So let’s start to know about few Kashmiri items in detail so that you would be able to understand which item is good for spending your precious money.
1) Kashmiri Shawls
Let’s start shopping with one of my favourite and the most famous item of Kashmir. There would be hardly any people who visit Kashmir and don’t buy Kashmiri Shawls. By the way, I am not a shopaholic person but still I like to buy famous things from the places I visit, to fill my special souvenir wardrobe with memories.
Kashmiri Shawls are produced by two techniques that are Loom Woven (or Kani Shawls) and other one is Needle Embroidered (or Sozni Shawls). Kashmiri shawls are made up from three fibers that are Shahtoosh, Pashmina and Wool. The prices of Shahtoosh and Pashmina shawls are on higher side as compared to Woolen shawls. In this blog, I will try to discuss about these shawls one by one.
Shahtoosh (a Persian word meaning King of fine wools) is a luxury shawl and once in a lifetime purchase. It is also known as Ring Shawl because they can be passed through a wedding ring. It is incredible for its ultra softness and ultra warmth. The big-budget of these shawls is due to the scarcity of the raw material. Shahtoosh comes from the short and warm fleece of the rare Pantholops Hodgsoni (also known as the Tibetan antelope or Chiru). These species found exclusively in the Changtang area of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh. It takes about four animals to provide enough wool for just one Shahtoosh shawl or a scarf. Because the antelope are wild animals that can’t be domesticated and shorn, the only way to get the wool is to kill them and strip it from their carcasses. Their pelts are converted into Shahtoosh and horns of the males are taken as trophies. Yes sadly it is true!
There were many rumors about how Shahtoosh is collected. One common myth was that it came from the down of a “Siberian goose.” Another one was that the Tibetan antelope naturally shed its wool, and those hair clumps were then gathered up by nomads to make shawls. I saw few Shahtoosh shawls in Srinagar and also wrapped one of the shawls around my shoulders and felt its delicate weave and buttery softness. After that I could see why people wanted to buy a Shahtoosh shawl but they were not aware of the fact that how many animals are killed for making it.
Next one is Pashmina, it is probably one of the most sought after during the winter season as it represents royalties and luxury. The name comes from the Persian word Pashmina which means Made from wool. Pashmina is the local name in India for the Cashmere goat as it comes from different breeds of Cashmere goat. Often cashmere wool is hand spun or woven to produce pure pashmina shawls. It is a fine type of cashmere wool famous for their warmth and softness. Pashmina is usually a blend of 70% cashmere and 30% silk. Pure pashmina is quite expensive so sometimes its cost is brought down by blending it with rabbit fur or with wool.
Kashmir’s most exquisite embroidery Jamawar, is done over Pashmina shawls by sometimes covering the entire surface of shawls. A Jamavar shawl can increase the value of a shawl to three-fold by virtue of its embroidery. Every pashmina shawls doesn’t have such lavish embroidery. Some shawls have embroidery on narrow panel borders only on all four sides of it or just narrow strips running diagonally through it. Chashm-e-bulbul or Eye of the bulbul is also less frequently seen weave. It is done only on pashmina which covers the surface with tiny lozenge shaped squares.
Woollen shawls are other famous shawls in Kashmir which are popular because of its embroidery work. Wool woven in Kashmir is known as Raffel, which is always 100% pure. Sometimes blends from other parts of the country are used and Kashmiri embroidery is worked on them. These blends contain either cashmilon or cotton or both.
Now we will talk about another type of embroidery that is The Needle Embroidered or Sozni. It is generally done in a panel along the sides of the shawl. Sozni is often done so skilfully that the design appears on both sides of the shawl, each side having a different colour scheme.
Another type of needle embroidery is popularly known as Papier Mache work. It is done either in broad panels on both side of the breadth of a shawl or by covering the entire surface of a shawl. In this embroidery flowers and leaves are designed with bright colors and each design is then outlined in black.
Kani Shawl is another rare item which is also produced for art lovers. Especially for the people who understand that craftsman putted his heart and soul to produce such shawls.
Last type of embroidery that we will discuss is Ari or Hook Embroidery. It has flower design finely worked in concentric rings of chain stitch.
Tips: If you are buying Pashmina for the first time, the basic question occurs your mind is how to identify if I am buying a real one or not. Here is the best test to identify real Pashmina which is the Burn Test! Am I kidding!! No, I am not kidding! I meant by burn test is just to pick up a single thread from the fringes for testing, not to burn the entire shawl. All you have to do is to take a thread on a plate and burn it. Smell the odour of the burnt fabric and check the ashes carefully with fingertips. If you get burnt hair smell and the ash turns out to be like a powdery substance then it is likely to be a real Pashmina. As Pashmina is made from real natural hairs and therefore after burning it should give burnt hair smell. Another thing to note is that in spite of the burning, a real Pashmina material feels like matte which is quite similar to what it was before burning. If it feels like viscose then you know it is not the real one!
Pashmina is not limited to shawls, many other items of it are available in the market such as you can look at pashmina stoles or even pashmina scarves to spice up your wardrobe! Always remember that fineness of the workmanship and the amount of embroidery determines the value of the shawl.
The allure of enchanting Kashmiri valley is inseparable from the exquisite workmanship of handmade and hand-knotted carpets. They are available in astonish collection of diverse colors, designs and sizes. They are primarily made by using pure wool, pure silk and occasionally wool and silk blends.
Carpet making is a unique art and its quality depends on the number of knots used in its making. They use very simple tools to thread these knots. A wood or metal comb is used to push knots and weft tightly together. Finally, some set of short scissors are used to cut the pile of carpet evenly. Carpets of 18×18 or 20×20 knots per sq. inch are commonly made in Kashmir.
The completion of one carpet alone requires approximately eight to ten months. From growing silk to deciding the patterns to be drawn on a carpet and then treating, dyeing and rendering finishing touches, the art of carpet weaving is laborious.
Kashmiri carpets are perfect for bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, corridors, entryways, children rooms or under a coffee table. It may well be the most expensive purchase from your trip but it is a lifelong investment. Very light in weight, these carpets might appear to be highly priced, but considering the number of efforts and time invested by craftsmen in weaving these carpets, the prices are justified. However if your budget is low, you can buy a mix fabric carpet that is usually low quality and includes a blend of wool, silk and rayon.
Points to keep in mind when buying a Carpet from Kashmir
Check the material: Carpets are made with lots of different materials. Silk pile on silk base, silk pile on cotton base, wool pile on cotton base or silk and wool pile on cotton base. Pile is how deep the fibers of the carpet are. Low pile means that the carpet will be stiffer and less plush, while deep or high pile means the fibers are long and soft.
Silk rugs are shiny and smooth. The only problem is their fabric is delicate. Wool is a classic and has been used to make rugs for centuries because it is warm, soft and resists spills. Cotton, like wool, is a time-honored carpet material. It’s more affordable, too. The only problem is that it isn’t as durable as wool. It is really easy to clean, though. Occasionally, carpets are made on a cotton base, mainly of woolen pile with silk yarn used as highlights on certain motifs.
Design pattern: The size and shape of a design pattern (motif) must be of equal size on every locations of a carpet otherwise it is wrongly woven. For example, if one motif (design pattern) is larger or smaller at one end than the corresponding motif at another end then it is not a good option to buy.
Clarity of Design: Every motif (element of design) must be clear. Blurred edges indicate a fault in the weaving.
Number of knots on the reverse side of the carpet: Check the backside of a carpet, if one or more than one lines in the design has been omitted completely. In this case you will see that the pattern looks lopsided.
Unequal Designs: If carpet edges looks crooked, it means that carpet has been incorrectly mounted on a frame that causes one end is broader than another.
Knots in a carpet: The number of knots is directly proportional to the durability of a carpet.
Kashmiri Rugs are also known as Namdas. Due to their small size they are less in price as compared to carpets. They are basically made from woollen and cotton fiber which has been manually pressed into shape. Their cost may vary with the percentage of wool used. For example a Namda is more expensive that contains 80% of wool as compared to 20% of wool.
4) Wood Carving Objects
Kashmir is a place in India famous for growing walnut trees also. Walnut wood is hard and durable, it’s close grain and even texture facilitating fine and detailed work. Carved walnut wood work is among the most important crafts of Kashmir.
Four main types of carving are usually practised in Kashmir -Raised, Engraved, Undercut and Plain which is done with the help of small indigenous tools. A variety of things including decorative and utilitarian ranging from small items to larger items of furniture are carved in walnut wood. You can see interesting effects with mere plain polished surfaces and small carvings on tray, table and bowls. While choosing walnut wood objects, always keep in mind that the type of carving and part of the tree used will affects the price.
The carving of furniture and smaller items is an elaborate process and involves high degree of skill and craftsmanship. The art of wood carving is centred in the city of Srinagar. Tray, table, bowl, fridge magnets, keychain, key holder, photo frames and much more walnut wood furniture are one of the hot selling items in Kashmir.
5) Kashmiri Pherans
You can also opt for Kashmiri traditional dress which is specially designed for the use of Kashmiri residents called Pherans. It is a two piece dress having long and wide sleeves with striped border. Summer Pheran are made of cotton but Winter Pheran is made of wool that covers and protects body from cold especially during snow. Its shapelessness provides facility for people to carry a Kangri(an earthen pot filed with burning coals) inside the pheran to keep their body warm in sub-zero temperatures. Men’s pherans are always made of tweed or coarse wool whereas women’s pherans are made from raffel having embroidery at the neck, cuffs and edges. If you are not interested to buy this dress then you can take it on rent to click a picture in Kashmiri style dress.
6) Traditional Jewellery and Copper Materials
Kashmiri ornaments are crafted with the highest precision to offer a sheer luxurious and astonishing traditional looks. Srinagar is the biggest abode of precious gemstones. These stones are inserted into jewellery to enhancing the ornament’s aesthetics. You can buy Kundals, Nupura, Chaunk Phool, Tika, Balu or Kada from jewellers in Srinagar.
The old city has several shops where objects are made with copper line for walls, floors and ceiling. Different types of floral, leaves and sometimes geometric or calligraphic designs are engraved or embossed on copper or silver that is commonly known as Naqash. Craftsmen also engrave objects of household utility in large amount including samovars, bowls, plates, trays, flower vases, tea sets, cigarette cases and decorative picture frames that can be a good option to buy from Kashmir.
7) Papier-Mâché Products
Firstly, we understand the meaning of word Papier-mâché. It is also known as chewed paper, pulped paper or mashed paper. It is basically a composite material that is made up from pieces of paper by mixing with water, glue, and other substances and it gets harden when dries. In short, it is an art of converting waste papers into beautiful decorative items.
There are two methods to prepare papier-mâché. In first method, several paper strips are glued together with each other. Whereas in second method pulp obtained from soaking or boiling of paper is glued together. After this step, it is moulded into the desired shapes and different sizes. And finally product finishing is done and after that these objects are painted bright fully with different shimmery colours.
You can buy some of the attractive items made up of waste papers like boxes, flower vases, coaster set and other decorative items while shopping at Srinagar. It is hard to believe that paper wastes can be converted into such astonishing artefacts which are good for home decorations or even for gifting purpose.
8) Kashmiri Kahwa
Kashmiri Kahwa (Saffron Tea) is a classic soul warming drink that resonates with the power of Indian spices. Saffron tea is made by infusing a range of spices including cinnamon and cardamom in the green tea, which is served with a touch of saffron and garnished with chopped almonds. Indeed, this is one exciting cuppa that you will love to smell, sip and bite too!
It has bundle of health benefits too. It helps in improving digestion, builds immunity, rich in antioxidants, provides remedy for cold, improves skin health and it also helps to make you feel relaxed and reduces anxiety levels. You can drink this saffron tea on cold weather to keep your body warm and you can also take this special tea to your home. Saffron tea will remind you of Kashmir and always perked you up with its amazing aroma and flavour.
World’s most expensive spice Saffron is derived from crocus sativus or the purple saffron flower. Real saffron is the stigma of the autumn crocus flower. Its flower is purple and its stigma is of red colour. Saffron is difficult to harvest and expensive to purchase because each crocus bulb produces only one flower and each flower produces 3 stigma only.
Jammu and Kashmir’s four districts “Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar” grow saffron. Among these four, Pulwama district’s Pampore grows the best quality of saffron and has earned the title of Kashmir’s Saffron Town. Its saffron is considered to be of superior quality because of the presence of a higher concentration of crocin present in soil here.
Each flower contains three strands of thread and each thread must be carefully separated from its flower. After that these threads are dried in the sunlight which is another tricky step because they need to be spread evenly at a certain thickness on a white sheet. These strands are then preserved in a cotton cloth so air can continuously pass through it to avoid accumulation of moisture and rot. This entire process is done by women farmers.
Kashmiri saffron is the rarest and the most expensive form of saffron available in the world. Sealed jars of Saffron, with the government laboratory stamp of approval, are available all over Srinagar. If you want to buy loose saffron then you must sample one strand for its purity.
Five methods to identify Real/Pure Saffron
Smell: Many authorities described the aroma of saffron as sweet. I would say that it is literally a blend of hay and honey smells.
Appearance: Saffron threads are trumpet shaped. If a thread does not bulge at one end then it’s not real. If you rub real saffron between your fingers, your skin will turn yellow/orange.
Taste: While saffron smells sweet, it tastes slightly bitter, not sweet.
Colour: Put few threads of saffron in a small container filled with lukewarm water and wait at least 15 minutes. Real saffron slowly turns the water yellow. It can take up to an hour to change water color. During this process saffron threads retain their red color. If water changes its color immediately or turns red or does not change its color at all, or threads lose their color then let me tell you that this substance is not real saffron. After soaking try to rub them between your fingers, if threads remain intact then this is real saffron and if the threads tends to fall apart then it is surely not real saffron.
Baking Soda Test: Mix saffron and baking soda in a small container then pour water over this mixture. If it turns yellow, the substance is real saffron. The fake one will turn dark red.
Few Impressive Health Benefits of Saffron
- A Powerful Antioxidant, it helps in protecting your cells against oxidative stress.
- Women use saffron for mensural cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
- It may also reduce appetite and aid weight loss.
- It promotes learning and memory retention.
- It may have Cancer fighting properties.
- Provides protection against cold and fever.
- It is also used to increase vitality.
10) Popular Fruits
Jammu and Kashmir is well known for its Apple and Saffron Cultivation. But do you know there are many fruits other than apples that are very common in here? Yes! Kashmir enriches numerous supplies of delicious and rare fruits also and known as Land of Fruits. Various fruits like apple (Tsoonth), pear (Tsung), mulberry, peach, plum, kiwi, and cherry (Gilaas) are cultivated here.
Cherry is majorly grown in Kashmir for commercial purpose. Makhmai and Mishri are the prominent varieties of Cherry which are exported to other states of India. You can also buy cherries and apples in large amount to eat at your home. Mulberry is a sweet and sour fruit which turns dark red and sweet when fully ripen. Its shelf life is very less which makes it unsuitable for commercial purposes. So you can eat it fresh only.
11) Dry Fruits
Kashmir produces premium quality organic almonds (badam), walnuts (akhort), pistachio (pista), raisins (kishmish), cashews (kaju), dates (khajur) and dried figs (anjeer) which are very famous in India.
Almonds are one of the most purchased dry fruits of Kashmir. There are various varieties of Almonds produced in here: Shalimar, Waris, Makced, Makdoon and California Paper Shell.
If you are buying almonds then you must be aware of how to find a good quality almond. During journey, our driver told us an easy way to find the purity of almond.
Here are Few Tips to Buy Almonds of Good Quality
Some salesmen do polishing on almonds with red-ochre colour to beautify almond’s appearance and hide its broken ends. A very simple method to find this adulteration is, take 10-15 almonds in your hand and rub it with both palms. If your palms become colourful that means don’t buy it.
One more tip, when an almond kernel is pressed on a paper or a tissue, it will leave traces of oil. Almond which contains more oil is fresh. In most cases, shopkeepers store almonds around water to retain moisture in almond. When these moist almonds are pressed on a paper they lead to double the appearance of oil traces. In such a situation, the oil starts coming out even when slightly pressed.
Another tip is that, if you are taking almonds in a packet then note that the packet should be transparent. So that you can check whether red-ochre colour particles are present in the packet or not, if present then avoid buying it. Trick to identify moisture in almonds is take 8-10 almonds in a steel vessel and shake well. If its sound resembles a stone hitting a steel surface that means the almonds are fine. But if a suppressed sound occurs, it means the almonds are adulterated.
Carefully look at the almonds size. If they vary in size, consider that the almonds have been adulterated.
Walnuts are one of the most preferred dry fruits since they are considered beneficial for skin and hair. You can use them in chocolates, cookies, cakes or with any dessert of your choice. It is a good dry fruit to buy from Kashmir which can be used as gifting purpose also.
Cashews are my most favourite nuts. They are very commonly used in Indian cuisine to garnish on sweets or curries and can be ground into a paste that forms a base of sauces for curries like Korma. It is also used in powdered form in the preparation of several Indian sweets and desserts.
Figs are delicious dry fruit from Kashmir that can be devouring either dry or fresh. Along with a sweet taste, they surely provide innumerable health benefits. They are rich in fibre, calcium, iron, potassium and other nutrients.
Dry fruits are durable and healthy items perfect to munch any time. These little delights are perfect gifts for your loved ones on any occasion.
12) Kashmir Willow Bat
If you are interested in playing cricket and buying a bat then it is the best place to explore the wide variety of Kashmir willow bat. They are popular across the world for their quality and durability, available at pocket-friendly rates. They have light pick up with outstanding grip. Anantnag, Baramulla, and Pahalgam are the districts in Kashmir where these bat are made.
In making of Kashmiri bat, constant knocking is required so that their fibres kept compress together. This step helps a bat to bear various impacts from balls. Constant knocking for several hours ensures that the edges of the bats have been well shaped. As a final step, oil is applied on every part of a bat which gives a perfect look and also increases its durability. The Kashmiri craftsman works toil hard on the bat to ensure that the fibers knitting have been done properly. Although these bat are available at cheap prices but the hard work involved in its formation is tremendously commendable.
13) Kashmiri Spices
Kashmir offers many delicious cuisines in India, their handmade spices fills everyone’s mouth with water. Kashmiri red chilli powder, black cumin (Shah Jeera), Aniseed (Suwa or Shopa), Asafoetida (Hing), white pepper (white mirchi) is some of the famous spices. These spices are easily available over all parts of Kashmir. You can wander the local market of Kashmir which will helps you to explore their culture and allows you to taste their delicious food.
Famous Markets in Srinagar
Lal Chowk is one of the best markets in Srinagar. Here several vendors sell exquisite items crafted out of walnut wood. Get rich quality pashmina shawls, Kashmiri clothing and handicraft items from one of my favourite local market in Srinagar.
Zaina Kadal Road is perfect for street shopping in Srinagar. These small shops display a plethora of goods that are available at very lower price in abundance amount.
Floating market is a wholesale market, around the world famous lake “Dal Lake”. It is also known as Meena Bazar, that offers a wide range of shopping options with a wonderful sight of Kashmiri mountains. The market starts early in the morning. It is an essential part of the life of locals who buy and sell fresh vegetables and fruits. People comes in a huge amount every day also to see selling of flowers, fruits and vegetables over here.
Residency Road is the busiest road in Srinagar and one of the famous Shopper’s paradises. Heap your bags with supreme quality dry fruits in large quantity. It is also famous for Dogra jewellery and Kashmir handicrafts.
The Kashmir Government Arts Emporium has a motive of promoting local art and crafts. Here you will find distinct forms of art that reflects the rich culture of Kashmir.
Fair Deal Shopping Complex is located at the Regal Chowk area, it offers a vast choice range in Kashmiri clothing. From Kashmiri clothing to wooden artefacts, this shopping complex offers everything you would want to take home to reminisce the good times in Srinagar. Kashmiri shawls are a great hit here, do buy a couple of them. The unmatchable skills of the Kashmiri artisans can be seen in the artefacts sold here.
Polo view market is considered as the market hub of Kashmir. The area is packed with shops that sell almost everything ranging from authentic Kashmiri Handicrafts and clothes to papier-mache and pashmina shawls. It is one of the best places to buy souvenirs for your loved ones.
Sangarmaal City Center, it’s a Shopping Mall in Srinagar. There are several stores in the mall that offer a wide array of goods from clothing to spices and souvenirs.
Other than that there are many more markets like Aftab Market which is famous for mobile, accessories and computer peripherals, Goni-Khan Market situated in the heart of Srinagar Lal chowk, Nishat Market Which is located at the famous Mughal Garden “Nishat”, Sonwar Main Market and Dargah Market.
Now you got an idea about how and what to shop in Kashmir so you can easily buy these items whenever you go to Kashmir. If you’re anything like me, you will notice that my trips involve a little more exploration by going beyond the boundaries. After all, that’s what makes travel so freaking special. Happy Shopping and have a great trip!