Category Archives: News

Kashmir: Nageen Lake – leaving

It has taken months of work to rescue the hull of an old houseboat which now lies in a cut and restore it. It’s nearly finished and our friend is very keen that we should see it before we go. The whole boat is made from Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodara) noted for its rot resistant characteristics. The carpenters quickly make a neat bridge between these two boats that parted in the storm.
It is truly fantastic. The num or verandah leads to a huge lounge which will have a chandelier in the ceiling backed by a six-foot diameter ornate dish, then a dining room followed by four magnificent bedroom suites. But the most remarkable feature is the carving, every panel is carved and each room features something special, a chinar tree, paisley design and my favourite the Kashmir garden. The last will have a massive four-poster bed. And there is a suite above. Putting the flood behind them everyone is working flat out to get this unique masterpiece into use. Hopefully pictures to follow.

Nageen lake after the rain

Nageen Lake

The water is going down fast even though the sluices at Dal Gate are damaged. The emotional tension is easing and we have booked a flight from the reopened Srinagar airport. It’s time to get ready which means a bucket bath (water boiled in a giant pan on the roof) and some casual packing. We have got to know this family very well in a short time and feel part of it. But we are leaving for safer places whilst they have to rebuild their lives and business. Several have ant bites that have become infected, a damaged shoulder when saving someone from drowning, spectacles lost in the water just after an eye operation, bruises from a fall and so on. We leave what medication we can. As ever they are cheerful and we are sad to be leaving.

In the morning we are taken by a canoe boat along the lake and slide into the mud bank, climb up to a waiting car. Our journey involves a few detours and the true impact of this disaster becomes clear; a small sunlit vegetable market on dry land is reassuring, a dual carriageway with the wide central reservation full of makeshift tarpaulin and polythene tents, the people look numb. No sanitation, no water, unmanned first aid posts, no local officials etc. Everything seems to have been left to the Indian Army. Two wheels on the kerb and two in deep water but on the road. The Hospital seems just about open, a cemetery washed open and bodies exposed, a sheep wanders about and the stench of death is unbearable. Many housing areas in the city are flooded and these parts are low-lying which will need pumping out. Lots of teenagers wandering around and not knowing what to do, just wait until the floods go down.

After twenty years of militancy and uncertain political power, economic recovery was underway. This catastrophe is a cruel blow. We will go back in November nonetheless.

From my diary – 17 September 2014

Kashmir: Nageen Lake – waiting

Yaseen and me on the HB - Sept 14

Searching for any IT connection

It hasn’t rained for a couple of days, clothes, carpets, shawls dry in the sun on the roof and then are carefully folded and stored with other salvage from the house, which is now a wet wrecked shell. It’s bright and there are things to do but there is a feeling of emptiness, waiting for more rain or perhaps even the waters to go down.

A brother has returned from New Delhi wading for 2km chest high to reach his family, he is shocked. He has seen it all on TV, the aerial shots, submerged cars, rescue centres, makeshift camps, and the rusty red floodwater. We have seen nothing of this and have just heard rumours and a few helicopters. At last the generator kicks in and everyone gathers to watch NDTV News, in silence and disbelief. There are over one million people in Srinagar city and the sinuous Jhelum River has just burst its banks at Lal Chowk and thrust water right into its heart.
Next day Nageen looks beautiful. The chinar tree trunks look shorter, the children’s’ swings on the other bank are missing, some houseboats have rolled over but ours follows the water level. Noah knew about this.

The resourceful cook has found an obscure link to a phone network which can only be reached by sitting high on the ridge of the boat. At last we get a message to one daughter to say ‘we are safe’ and then it cuts out. Satellite is used by the Indian Army only; we are too near the Pakistan border. They are doing a fantastic job though and no doubt this will annoy the militant separatists. At the moment though it is a matter of survival.
Perhaps the water has peaked. There is time for the head of the family to tell us how he is descended from the Muslim prisoner and later emperor Timur and a marriage to a beautiful woman who migrated to Kashmir centuries ago. He talks beautifully.
There is a call “Come on the roof deck”. There is an exceptionally fine full moon in an inky blue sky with puffy clouds sliding past. In England this would be a Harvest Moon but here the crops are largely ruined, apple orchards lost, no saffron fields, and rice paddies washed away.

From my diary – September 2014

Kashmir – from Nageen Lake – Post 2

At 8am there is a single thunderclap. A couple of minutes later there are two more then suddenly the whole valley is rumbling as thunder rolls ominously round the hills. This must mean rain. And just after the water level has dropped two feet down to ten above normal. Things have been just about under control which is to say the house and garden completely flooded and about a dozen of the family are living in a tiny house just above flood level. The houseboat goes up and down with the water and travel is by a paddled canoe boat. This is now Kashmir’s worst flood for a 100 years.

I look out and there are a few expanding rings on Nageen. A moment later there is a deluge and it is impossible to see the other side of the lake. The noise on the roof is colossal, it’s hailstones. The Hanji (boatpeople) have come from the house as the wind whips up and pulls at the steel ties. One of the props has snapped and the new boat thumps into ours which is shunted along; it’s serious now in spite of all the precautions.

New props are placed, both boats re-tethered, and fingers crossed. There are waves on the lake now and the houseboat is starting to roll. After nearly an hour the storm moves east and we are all safe. It is time for breakfast, fruit juice and birthday cake left over from last night.

My admiration for these resourceful, caring and friendly people is beyond words.

Nageen Lake, Kashmir, 14 September 2014

Kashmir – from Nageen Lake

The view across the lake is idyllic, coloured houseboats, chinar trees, shimmering willows, vivid blue kingfishers, grebes, calm water with just a ripple from the breeze. Misty clouds and beyond to the mountains, even the sun is trying to get through. But something is wrong.

There are shrill agitated anxious voices and a baby cries from across the water. Small buildings that were fixed yesterday have gone. An elegant canoe passes silently but the woman with her spade paddle is not smiling and the boat is laden with huge knotted bundles of clothes, no lotus flowers today.

Now Kashmir is flooded. Five days and nights of continuous rain have run into the Jhelum River, a cloudburst way upstream has run into Sindh River; the pressure is relieved by sluices that flow into Dal and Nageen lakes. The clay stratum that contains the lakes now stops natural drainage; there is no natural outfall.

Our delightful Kashmiri hosts have had to leave their house, two more feet of water since midnight, some possessions salvaged, no electricity not even the generator, cell phone and Wi-Fi networks cut off, no mains water, and storage tanks empty. The children have long since been moved to cousins, no school of course. Laughter, another canoe goes by and our friend tells us that the cook who yesterday was still working up to his knees in water has been bitten by ants; “God must be really angry with him”.

The rain, the worst for 27 years, has stopped.

Kashmir, 8 September 2014

Vedanta’s refinery: six-fold expansion

Dongria Kondh group

Dongria Kondhs – threatened?

Anyone who has followed my old blog and this news column will know that the Indian Government refused permission for Vedanta to chop 30 metres off the bauxite laden Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha. This was a landmark judgment to secure the forested environment and the future of the Dongria Kondh tribe.
At a recent public hearing Vedanta proposed a six-fold expansion of their large nearby Lanjigarh refinery. This begs many questions and here are just three: Where will the bauxite come from and what about the vast quanties of water needed for processing with resultant pollution? What about the indigenous people?

To read about the long and complex background look at Survival International’s web site. If you feel that Vedanta’s new aggressive proposal is entirely wrong please make your point to the Environment Minister by following the guidance at the bottom of Survival’s page. Thanks and act now.

Modi sworn in: 26 May 2014

Fifty years after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death India has a new charismatic, strong and controversial Prime Minister. The journalist John Elliott in his blog Riding the Elephant gives an interesting commentary and the latest news about Narendra Modi’s 23 cabinet members. This is worth a look.

I mentioned below the importance of Kashmir’s relationship with Pakistan and India. Just a month ago The Hindustan Times published a report of a ‘war of words‘ between Modi and Kashmir’s Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah. It was OA’s grandfather who chose the secularism of India rather than Muslim Pakistan and suffered twenty years of incarceration. So there are tensions here still and no invitation was sent to Omar to attend today’s ceremony until the last moment. Strange.

Numbers interest me and it is odd that No. 26 marks significant events in India. Republic Day is on 26 January (1950 was the first), on 26 January 2001 Kutch in Gujarat suffered the massive earthquake, 26 November 2008, the Mumbai terrorist attacks, and today the first Prime Minister to win with an outright majority for 30 years.

India, Pakistan and Kashmir

After a week’s careful thought I entered the post below in the early hours today and woke to read leading articles in the Indian Express and Kashmir Times. Narendra Modi had invited Nawaz Sharif to the new PM’s swearing-in ceremony and Sharif has accepted. That is good news.

Kashmir has considerable interest in the relationship between the two countries. Many Kashmiris tolerate or are content to be part of India but there are ‘flare-ups’ within J & K and at the Line of Control but J & K is in effect a buffer between the two nations although ‘managed’ by a large Indian military force. Many suffered due to the 20 year war and seek a resolution. Some still want separatism for Kashmir even though it is landlocked with limited sustainable resources. Others want an easy trading relationship with both India and Pakistan. Perhaps that will happen.

Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah has welcomed this meeting between Modi and his Pakistan counterpart. He says “Maybe Modi meeting Nawaz on the first day at work will be beneficial for us as they are trying to build relations from the first day which otherwise, we have seen, takes a lot of time.” He goes on to say that the time has come that a dialogue between the Centre and the leadership in J & K is started and that the Hurriyat Conference (an alliance of 26 disparate groups that want self-determination for J & K) joins in too. This is a positive start for Modi in a critical part of India.

The BJP wins: what now?

The Congress Party has led India into slow decline over the past few years so it is not surprising that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would win but who would have bet on the first outright majority in 30 years. The country’s imminent Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, comes with a lot of baggage from his time as Chief Minister of Gujarat. He is a product of the right wing RSS, the most prominent Hindu Nationalist group in India, and has been criticised for his actions against Muslims notably the violent clash of 2002. I have been to Kutch, Gujarat several times since 1995 and seen the changes Continue reading

India’s election: result imminent

This 69 day election will be the longest in India’s electoral history. Social media have been used extensively in canvassing and for the first time voters have the opportunity not to vote for any candidates on offer. Here are a few varied voting reports. Last Monday the Times of India warned of a heat wave (44°C) and how this might reduce turnout in Kutch. The T of I also reports that ‘Chhattisgarh defies Maoists, creates history with 69.48% polling’. Meanwhile ‘Tribune’ on 10 May reports on the killing of one person by the police during protests in Srinagar against Indian rule. A curfew followed. My favourite comes from Zee news in Leh, Ladakh which says that at 5000 metres ‘Anlaythu polling station became the world’s highest on Wednesday.’ Choppers were used to fly in the ’60-70 people expected to cast their votes.’ A very high turnout was expected. Continue reading

India: Election 2014

The legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar turned 41 last Thursday and cast his vote in Mumbai on the same day. According to NDTV Sports he said: “Every run counts in the game of cricket and every vote counts in an election”. How different this is from Kashmir.

On the same day Channel News Asia reports that “millions cast ballots in the teeming financial capital Mumbai” but “voting was light to non-existent at heavily guarded polling stations in areas of Anantnag constituency after a campaign of intimidation by local militant groups, who killed three people this week and warned locals not to take part.” As an outsider Continue reading

Midnight’s Descendants by John Keay

Midnights Decendants cover - Apr 2014Anyone who has an interest in the partition of South Asia in 1947 and the amazing consequences must read this book. The Independent comments: “This absorbing, important history of South Asia over the six decades since British India was partitioned is the first time a book has been written on the history of this region as a whole.” Moreover practically every page has a surprising fact or an unexpected angle. India alone has the 2nd largest population in the world, the 11th largest economy, rapid growth, huge income inequality (about 30% of people live below the Poverty Line – more than the whole population of the USA) John Keay leads us, rather optimistically, to consider the future of this fast-moving, dysfunctional and sometimes volatile region.

Wings of hope

Woman-and-child-at-bus-stopGirls of The Abbey School, Reading, UK ran a charitable event in March and raised a remarkable £2600 for Wings of Hope which supports  school projects for underprivileged children in Chennai, India and Malawi. This was part of the Snapshots Projects for fundraising schemes and awards programme run by WOHAA.

Michael Thomas of Pipal Press donated a unique framed print of this picture of a Jat woman and child in Bhuj, Kutch for a raffle. WOH’s mission is to ’empower through education’ so the picture seemed very appropriate. The winner was Charles Lovibond, a teacher at the Abbey School.

Dhokra work – Bastar district

Dokra head - black backgroundDancing girl - Mohenjo-daroDhokra work or the lost wax technique has been in use for 4500 years and the earliest example was the famous dancing girl found at Mohenjo-daro made during the Indus Valley Civilisation. This piece is now in the National Museum, New Delhi.

This wonderful brass tribal head is modern and was made in the Baster district in Chhattisgarh where the technique continues to flourish in villages in and around  Kondagaon. Sadly this area is better known now for being part of the ‘Red Corridor’ due to extensive Naxalite-Maoist insurgency.

Kashmir: BBC HARDtalk

In the early hours of Thursday 30th of January 2014 the BBC broadcast HARDtalk, an excellent interview by Stephen Sackur. He was talking with Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, about the State’s varied situation since Partition in 1947, the turbulent so-called ‘troubles’ since 1990 and the future of the State and it’s status in India, given that the BJP is likely to be the ruling party in forthcoming elections. They also discussed the possibility of a permanent solution with Pakistan and internal militancy. Continue reading

LOkesh Ghai – URGENT – Talk about the Rabari kediya

Making a kediyun as worn by Rabari men, Kutch

LOkesh Ghai, an artist and teacher at Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya, is presenting an exhibition and the work of his master’s thesis on the making of the Rabari kediya (traditional jacket) in a cultural context. He is giving a talk at Manchester City Galleries on Sunday 26th January – India’s Republic Day. Not to be missed by those interested in Kutchi costume. Here is the web link:


Kashmir – something different

A Peasant Girl, Kashmir

A vintage postcard from my personal collection.

My post in December gives a clue about some of the serious  things that are happening now in Kashmir, especially as the US and other foreign troops leave Afghanistan. Now it is time to look at something quite different.

I have been following a wonderful web site that gives a fascinating insight into the rich cultural history of this amazing State. It neatly avoids direct association with the volatile politics, separatism etc. but there are hints of the consequences.

The site is Search Kashmir, in bits and pieces . The owner, Vinayak Razdan summarises it as “A blog about Kashmir. Culture, Literature, Art, Music, History, Vintage Photographs and other minor distractions.” It is definitely worth spending plenty of time exploring; it’s full of information and totally absorbing.

It’s over

I woke at 3.30 am today (Friday) and could not sleep so turned on the TV. At that moment BBC World News announced that the Environment Ministry had just rejected Vedanta’s bauxite mining proposal in Odisha’s (Orissa) Niyamgiri hills.

This is the first time an environment referendum has been conducted on a directive by the Supreme Court to find out whether mining in Niyamgiri will be tantamount to an infringement of the religious, community and individual rights of local forest dwellers. In this case mainly the Dongria Kondh tribe.

Happy New Year

To those visitors who read this blog Michael Thomas wishes everyone a

Happy and Peaceful New Year

Dalai Lama - quick crop

14th Dalai Lama arriving at Leh, Ladakh, July 2013





Kashmir: international film festival

Nagin Bagh, Srinagar - modified

Nagin Bagh – 1935

The DNA newspaper reports that 22 films will be shown at the first ever Kashmir International Film Festival next Saturday 21 December at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre next to Dal Lake in Srinagar. This is the first festival for 23 years since the now defunct ‘Allah Tigers’ forced all cinemas in the Valley to be shut down. This is a remarkable prospect.

I made my first visit to Ladakh and Kashmir last summer when the roads were clear of snow and was greatly struck, not only by the astonishing scenery, but also by the serious political undercurrents. In July Ladakh was invaded briefly by China and thankfully on a small scale. I have yet to understand Kashmir; the complexities are huge. Those of us in the west have heard nearly nothing of the euphemistically called ‘troubles’. Continue reading

New web site

This is the new web site for Michael Thomas and Pipal Press. Please note the address:

The existing blog  which I started four years ago has served me very well and I will run it in parallel for the time being. It has had hits from over 50 countries and generated a lot of interest. However I now want to widen the scope and coverage.

The main objectives are:

  • Greater clarity about the publications which now include photographs.
  • Easier access and payment methods. Publications are not available from Amazon and other discount sellers.
  • Most importantly I wish to generate a dialogue with others who are interested in this type of subject matter, mainly obscure parts of India but widening to Europe.
  • The posts in the blog will continue in the section marked ‘Rolling News and Comment’. Viewers are invited to leave comments which can be seen by others.
  • The ‘Get in Touch’ section gives direct access to me. Please feel free to offer comments, suggestions, ask questions, give interesting references etc.

I hope you enjoy exploring.