National Geographic : 1948 Apr
Srinagar Carvers, Who Never Heard of Power Saws and Lathes, Do All Work by Hand With primitive tools this man and his apprentice create the most delicate designs, many of them in hard black walnut. They turn out beautiful furniture, decorative screens, and handsome boxes. yet penetrated the valley, but they played on the high, snow-covered peaks, outlining them in delicate pastel shades. Mohammed led the way through fields and forests covered with hoarfrost, upon which the sun soon shimmered with an effect like thousands of little mirrors. After about nine miles the valley seemed to come to a dead end. But Mohammed pointed high to the northeast, and above the timber line I saw a narrow trail hugging the steep mountainside. This was the approach to the Zoji La, gateway to the Tibetan pla teau. Amarnath Cave Sacred to Siva For several hundred miles in this direction the Zoji La (la in Tibetan means "pass") is the only gap in the great snowy Himalayan wall. The summit of the pass itself is at 11,580 feet, whereas the surrounding peaks average 18,000. But Ram, the Hindu, was looking south ward. "Over there," he said, "is the cave of Amarnath,* the legendary abode of our Lord Siva, the Destroyer and Re-creator. Since remote times thousands of Hindu pilgrims have wound their way annually to worship Siva, who is there incarnate in a block of ice. The sacred cave might be compared to the Mecca of the Mohammedans." With our hearts pumping heavily we toiled upward. The road now was a narrow path which clung to a precarious mountainside. Except for a few pretty silver birches, all vegetation had ceased. In this dead world we looked like some un fortunate band of beings who had been marooned on the moon or on some unin habitable planet. This other-worldly effect was heightened by a small caravan of Tibetans who met us as we rounded a sharp turn. The leader was a wizened old character in a long dirty coat of homespun wool. Over this hung one long pigtail and a series of cloth amulets strung around his neck. A floppy cap was jauntily perched on his head. He gave us a cheerful greeting. Shortly before we reached the summit we paused for a last glimpse into the rich green Sind Valley, which wound its way thousands of feet below. What a prize this Vale of Kashmir must have seemed to the rough, dirty, hard-as-nails Mongol hordes coming south from the cold heart of central Asia! And no wonder their descendants and heirs, the Moguls, sought earthly paradise in this air-conditioned Vale! f * See "Pilgrimage to Amernath, Himalayan Shrine of the Hindu Faith," by Louise Ahl Jessop, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1921. t For additional articles on India, see "NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE Cumulative Index. 1899-1947."