The rebirth of Brookfield Lodge
The lamentable clearing away of a row of buildings on the north side of Swain's Lane in Highgate - including the site of the near legendary Cavour's hardware store, a fixture for forty years until it closed a decade back - has delivered an unexpected dividend. Peeping over the hoardings, looking out on Swain's Lane for the first time in close on a century, is a stylish early Victorian villa which had been concealed behind the later, less distinguished, commercial buildings.
This is Brookfield House and Brookfield Lodge (it's now divided into two properties), with its frontage facing out on Swain's Lane as the architect intended, and the spire of St Anne's, Highgate, looming behind. The rear of the property - the only part publicly visible until now - is about as ordinary as can be. The villa was built to face south, and I imagine the premises just demolished were constructed in what was once its front garden.
This was originally the site of the Cow and Hare inn - yet another cattle-linked pub name along the route livestock would have taken towards Smithfield market. A brewery director. Richard Barnett, bought the land and built this imposing house shortly before his death in 1851. His sister Anne inherited the property, and in memory of her brother, built St Anne's next door (nice to name a church after yourself!).
The church was completed in 1853. It's the one whose peal is memorialised in the title of John Betjeman's verse memoir, Summoned by Bells. When Anne died a few years later, she bequeathed Brookfield Lodge as the vicarage.
I fear that when the new flats come up on this site, Brookfield Lodge and House will again be hidden from view, and by far the finest aspect of this impressive villa will once more be lost to us.
A week in Kashmir: the cinema
Every time I come to Srinagar, this stump of a building in the central square seems to have crumbled still further. It's the Palladium cinema in Lal Chowk (Red Square). Or rather, it was. No movies have been screened here for almost thirty years.
Indian security forces use the ruins of the building as a bunker. It is, after all, very strategically positioned. But what a come down for one of the most historic buildings in the city centre.
Historic because of its political importance. In the turbulent autumn of 1947, the Palladium became the headquarters of the main Kashmiri nationalist party led by Sheikh Abdullah. It was a radical and secular movement, with closer links to India's Congress party than to Pakistan's Muslim League.
As an invading forces of Pakistani tribesmen approached, a men's militia and a women's self-defence corps were set up. And as part of this general mobilisation of Srinagar's population, a children's militia - the Bal Sena - drilled with wooden rifles in the shadow of the cinema building.
When in November 1947 India's prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru came to Srinagar and addressed a huge crowd alongside Sheikh Abdullah, the Palladium provided the backdrop.
After the excitement of the Maharaja's eclipse, and Kashmir's accession to India, the Palladium went back to doing what it was built to do - show films. This was the cinema in about 1980 -
With the start of the separatist insurgency in 1989, a small militant group bullied and threatened Srinagar's cinemas into closing their doors. The Palladium's key location and iconic political history also made it a target. There was an attempt to reopen some cinemas and indeed establish new ones - it didn't work. There are now no public cinemas in the city. Srinagar has lots of film enthusiasts, but they have to watch at home.
Local traders have appealed for the Palladium to be restored. However wonderful that would be, it doesn't seem likely.
When Kashmir has featured so often in Indian moves - the acclaimed 2014 film Haider being a prime example - it's a rich irony that this is the one corner of India without a cinema.
There's a good piece about the Palladium and its history here and more generally on Srinagar's cinemas here; and for a look at the reasons for the absence of cinemas in Kashmir, give this a read.
This is the last of my 'week in Kashmir' blogposts - if you want to catch up on all of them then click here.
It's humbling to realise that these ruins are thirteen-hundred years old. This is the 'surya' or 'sun' temple at Martand in south Kashmir, a Hindu temple built in the eighth century - and demolished on the orders of a Muslim ruler eight-hundred years later.
Just take a look at the ruins - and you get a sense of the majesty that this temple complex must once have radiated.
If you've not heard of the Martand temple, you can be forgiven - while it deserves to be well known, it isn't. What is less forgivable is the neglect it's been allowed to slide into.
The site is fenced - but there's basically open access, no ticket required. There's no sign of maintenance or care. There are no guides. This corroding notice board is the only information available at the site about what exactly the visitor is seeing. And whether cause or effect, they don't get that many visitors - when I went, I suspect I was the only non-local there.
I was fortunate that a local youngster, Azhar, showed me some key aspects of the ruins. He says the ancient script he pointed out has not been deciphered. I'm not entirely convinced about that but it was another interesting aspect to a completely absorbing location.
And another delight at Martand, my favourite bird was there: the hoopoe, or 'breg' in Kashmiri. It comes to Kashmir with the spring sunshine - not that the sun was much in evidence today. But I did manage to photograph a hoopoe on top of a temple pillar, no doubt praying for a bit of sun..
After more than twenty years of coming to Kashmir from time-to-time, I thought I knew Srinagar tolerably well. But today I discovered an aspect of the city that's completely new to me.
Srinagar is home to the biggest community of Tibetan Muslims anywhere. More than 200 families - that's about 2,ooo people - have made their home here since the early 1960s, They live mainly in an area known as the Tibetan colony, near the wondrous almond gardens (Badamwari) and within the shadow of Hari Parbat fort. There are smaller Tibetan communities, I was told, in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in north-east India and in the Nepalese capital, Katmandu, There's also about a hundred families still living in Lhasa.
The story of this tiny community reflects the ancient trade routes across this part of the world - and the way in which modern nation states have disrupted these patterns of commerce and migration.
If you go back far enough - a few centuries, that is - Tibetan Muslims are of Kashmiri (and Ladakhi Muslim) origin. Kashmiri traders travelling to Lhasa sometimes settled there, married Tibetan women and brought their children up as Muslims. They became a distinct community - known in Tibetan as 'Kachee', which means simply Kashmiri. And although there was no overt discrimiation, they were always regarded in Tibet as outsiders, even though they spoke Tibetan and ate Tibetan cuisine.
In 1959, when many Tibetans escaped from Chinese rule, the Muslim community was given a choice by Beijing: stay if you want to, go if you want to. Unlike the many Buddhists who made their way amid great hardships across the Himalayas, the Muslims who left - the greater part of the community - were allowed to take their possessions.
Once in India, they were regarded not as refugees, but as returning Indians. Unlike Tibetan Buddhist refugees, Tibetan Muslims are Indian passport holders and have full voting and other rights. They arrived in Kalimpong, but resisted efforts by the Indian authorities to resettle them alongside other Tibetans in south India. They argued that as Tibetans of Kashmiri origin they should be allowed to return to Kashmir - and they also preferred to go to an area in which Islam is the majority faith.
"We belong to this soil", Nasir Qazi told me. He's a Srinagar-based businessman who heads the Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation. He was born in Kashmir and has never been able to travel to Lhasa and meet his few remaining relatives inside Tibet.
Many Tibetan Muslims in Srinagar work in embroidery - decorating burqas and women's garments in traditional Kashmiri style, or embroidering the top-end T-shirts sold to tourists visiting the remote Ladakh region (sometimes called Indian Tibet).
The Tibetan Muslim community does not regard the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader but reveres him as Tibet's onetime king. "We honour and respect him", Qazi says, "and he loves us a lot". With the help of the Tibetan government-in-exile, the community has established its own well regarded school in Srinagar, the Tibetan Public School.
Of the 700 pupils, boys and girls up to the age of about fifteen, under a third are Tibetans, the rest being local Kashmiris. The principal and most of the teaching staff are Kashmiri. But the school is run by the Tibetan Muslim community.
"I feel proud that this is something we have offered to our Kashmiri brothers and sisters", says Qazi. He's also pleased that the school has managed to keep fees down to an affordable 600 rupees (£7.50) a month. The Dalai Lama visited five years ago, and photos of that occasion or on display.
So is the pledge which the students made in the presence of the Dalai Lama: 'I shall uphold all human values through my words and deeds and shall not be a cause of suffering of any other being.'
It's not the obvious spot for a bookshop - in the middle of a lake, and only accessible by boat. But that's where Gulshan Books has chose to open its new branch - amid Srinagar's Dal Lake (the area is called Nehru Park, but it's a small island about a hundred metres from the lakeside Boulevard). The two-minute shikara ride costs fifty rupees each way (so about 65p) and it takes you to one of the best bookshops not simply in Kashmir (no, there's not a lot of competition) but in South Asia.
The shop also has a small but charming open-air cafe overlooking the lake - is there any book store anywhere which can beat this for a view?
And I have to declare an interest: Gulshan not only sells books, it publishes them. In particular it republishes volumes ancient and modern about Kashmir. Among its dozens of titles is my book A Mission in Kashmir. I am happy to report that it was in stock!
Gulshan Books' main Srinagar branch, on Residency Road in the city centre, has bounced back from the 2014 floods, which put the store out of action for months. It's as welcoming and well stocked as ever.
A week in Kashmir: the church
Christian missionaries established several of Kashmir's best schools and hospitals. But they achieved vanishingly few converts. Christianity is a marginal force in the Kashmir valley. The minister of All Saints, the church featured above (and which is loosely in the Anglican tradition), says his congregation consists largely of twenty-seven local Christian families, along with some Punjabi Christians who are living or working in the valley. There's also a Catholic church in Srinagar - I suspect its congregation is of a similar scale.
All Saints church dates from the 1890s - at the time when the opening of the Jhelum Valley road, and the establishment of a British Residency in Kashmir, prompted an increasing number of Brits to come to Srinagar. It was a hill station - a place to escape the heat of the plains. And for a few hundred among the British, it became their home. There was a club, a posh hotel (Nedou's), a social scene, lots of houseboats - and also, in time, a church. (indeed, there were two Protestant churches in Srinagar at one time, and one in Gulmarg, and perhaps a few smaller missionary chapels too).
All Saints has changed hugely over the past 120 years. Only the base of the tower remains from the original construction. The current minister - not a Kashmiri but from Himachal Pradesh - told me that the church had been burnt down during protests in the 1960s and again in the 1970s. It was rebuilt using a Russian design, and making less use of wood to make it less vulnerable to fire. It was badly hit - along with so much of riverside Srinagar - in the 2014 floods. But it has recovered and is well maintained.
Half-a-mile from the church, in Sheikh Bagh in the centre of town, is the Christian cemetery. This too was badly affected by the floods. Part of the boundary wall collapsed and has been crudely repaired with corrugated sheeting. There's no caretaker or gardener and I wasn't able to gain access. But looking over the walls, and through holes in the sheeting, I got glimpses of a beautifully tranquil burial ground of several acres - I do hope the resources can be found to ensure its upkeep. What an asset to the city this could be.
There's more about Srinagar's churches on the excellent Chinar Shades blog.
A week in Kashmir: the cafe
Whisper it quietly, but there are the first stirrings of a cafe culture in the Kashmiri capital. The renowned Coffea Arabica - which boasted of being Srinagar's first cappuccino bar - was swept away in the devastating floods of September 2014. The building remains forlorn and abandoned - the word is it will become a bank (just what Srinagar needs!) But the good news is that Books and Bricks in Gogji Bagh - which I visited last evening - is not just a worthy replacement ... it's distinctly better.
It's a funky sort of place - small, but well designed - a smart interior with lots of books to browse and read - and it does a really good cappuccino. And the waffles and ice cream wasn't bad either. No it's not the place for Kashmiri cuisine (and I am happy to report that Ahdoo's, quite a bit smarter and busier than I remember it from years back, remains the venue for traditional 'wazwan' dishes) but there's nothing wrong with burgers!
Books and Bricks was opened a year or so ago by two England-returned Kashmiris. It's had a tough time. In the turbulence and protests in the second-half of last year, the cafe was obliged to close for four months. But it now seems to be doing well - yesterday evening most tables were taken. And much like Coffea Arabica, it's the sort of place where women feel comfortable having a coffee and a chat.
Just next door to Goodfellas is a really interesting new venture - an up-market tea house. Chai Jaii has again a wonderful location, overlooking the river. It does both traditional English and Kashmiri teas - and, with notice, full high teas. The decor is sumptuous and it's a very relaxing place to spend an hour - though it is a touch (alright, more than a touch) expensive.
This weekend, Chai Jaii has organised a small spring festival on the park just outside - with food stalls from the old city, arts and crafts and live music. I popped by yesterday - attendance was modest, and largely (as far as I could tell) the Srinagar elite, but there was a nice feel to the event. It's something new. It doesn't change life for ordinary Kashmiris - it can't paper over the profound sense of anger here. But Srinagar is the better for all these new businesses and initiatives.
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