For me, the word Kashmir used to conjure up images of everything from extreme violence to fine scarves. Now it makes me think of a rich culture and a welcoming people. My friend Matt Brandon and I spent time in the heart of the Kashmir Valley. I expected the heavy military presence, but I would never have believed the welcome that was in store for Matt and I. We spent an afternoons in the homes of a Gujjar shepherds; were welcomed into a Muslim shrine buried deep below the earth in a cave; spent time photographing in mosques; walked through markets; and drank lots of tea in local chai stalls.
At every moment we felt the deep hospitality of the area. OK – there was one time the welcome was delayed. As Matt and I walked into a shrine an old man held up his hand and said “No womens allowed in shrine”. Matt and I looked around, shrugged, and said, “Yeah – we know” and kept walking. The old man rose and repeated even more sternly “No womens allowed in shrine”. Matt figured out what was going on, pointed at me, and said “Uhhh – he’s a man”. The old guy looked perplexed and pondered aloud “He’s a man …. Then welcome!”. I guess there aren’t that many guys with long hair in Kashmir!