A pictorial tribute to the beauty and culture of the Valley. By SHUJAAT BUKHARI

THE celebrated French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson had set a benchmark for photographing Kashmir. His realistic and captivating black-and-white pictures of Kashmir taken in the 1940s are considered the best ever to depict its beauty and culture. His most memorable images of Srinagar are the ones that capture burqa-clad Muslim women standing on the slopes of Hari Parbat as they pray facing the Hazratbal shrine and women offering Friday prayers at the Mahdum Shah Ziarat mosque.

In this age of digital and click-and-post smartphone photography, which seem to lack creative potential, recording a decisive moment in a way that will leave a lasting impression on the viewer is a real challenge, especially when the subject is the picturesque Kashmir. A photographer with a passion for the medium can make the difference. And if the pictures are accompanied by “human stories”, they make for a pictorial travelogue.

In Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit, Irfan Nabi and Nilosree Biswas, explore the concept of “beautiful Kashmir” and its visual and emotional appeal by rightfully opening their work with the story of almond blossoms (which, along with the Himalayan bulbul, features on the cover) and the Badamwari, a spring festival celebrating the blossoming of almonds).

Nabi, who hails from Kashmir, is an acclaimed photographer, and Nilosree Biswas from Mumbai is a film-maker who divides her time between producing photo books and developing screenplays. Their collaboration has been this perfect tribute to the inner spirit of Kashmir.

The 342-page coffee-table book is printed on glossy paper, which has enhanced the quality of the photographs. It is very thoughtful of the publisher to have placed a leaf of chinar, the tree with its myriad autumn colours, which epitomises the subtle beauty of the hills, at the start of the captions that accompany the pictures. What makes the book different from other coffee-table books is the way the authors have woven the narrative around the pictures, beginning with locations and landscapes, moving on to architecture, places of worship, and finally to the art and craft of Kashmir, presenting a kaleidoscopic view of the Valley.

While the older generation was familiar with the exotic locales of Kashmir thanks to Indian cinema, particularly Bollywood films, in the past two decades, the world outside the Valley has only been exposed to pictures that reflect its political turmoil. The books written in this period focus more on the history, politics and the competitive narratives that have dominated the place than on its splendour. While the real picture of the daily routine of violence and human rights violations cannot be ignored, what Kashmir offers other than images of violence has been completely ignored or left to be told by government agencies.

Of late, documentaries based on official narratives or the ones the State Tourism Department dishes out to promote tourism have been the only representations of the culture, art and ethos that Kashmir has been proud of for centuries. The government’s twisted narrative becomes the hallmark of a place ridden with conflict.

Alluring Kashmir is refreshingly beautiful, providing a perfect package of eye-catching images, and heart-warming narration on the lives of Kashmris, such as the daily grind of vegetable farmers who open their market on the Dal Lake around 4:30 a.m.

The religious and spiritual diversity of the land is brought out in the description of places such as Awantipora temple, Hari Parbat Fort, the Mughal gardens, Sugandhesha temple, Parihaspora, the Tomb of Zain-ul-Abidin’s mother, the mosque of Akhund Mulla Shah, the Hazratbal shrine, Ziarat Charar-e-Sharif, Dastgeer Sahib, churches, Gurudwara Shri Chatti Padshahi, Hazrat Makhdoom Sahib, Shah-Hamdan Sahib, Kheer Bhawani temple, Shankaracharya temple and Sharika Devi temple.

Describing Kashmir as a magic land, the authors brilliantly focus on the meadows of Dhoodpathri (rivalled only by Gulmarg and Pahalgam), the cultural diversity of the land, its food, the spoken language, dialect and the famous Kashmiri silk carpet weaving.

In her introduction, Nilosree Biswas says that the book is the outcome of her “intense passion and love for Kashmir”. “Kashmir is the trinket box that I treasure, in which my experiences are stored like jewellery. Each time that I collect one, my collection grows and I know that I have many more to gather,” she writes.

Nabi says the book “is a compilation of a narrative of Kashmir interweaving images and text in an attempt to take the reader on a journey of Kashmir, portrayed not only as a beautiful destination but also providing and engaging insight and understanding of the local culture, the people and the travellers to the Valley”.

The book was released at the World Book Fair in New Delhi in January 2017.