The Himalayan region of Kashmir, nestled between India and Pakistan has been called "a paradise on earth" ever since the 16th century when Mughal
emperors discovered its pristine beauty and made it their summer capital.
© photo by: Ami Vitale - New Delhi - India
Indians took their annual pilgrimages to escape the heat of the oppressive,
dusty plains and British colonizers found their way around a law that prohibited outsiders from owning land by building floating houseboats on the
idyllic lakes. Today Kashmir is more famous for being the axis of relations between India and Pakistan, a “nuclear flashpoint” that could spark an
unthinkable war in South Asia.
The conflict has eroded much that once defined Kashmir. Hindus and Muslims once shared neighborhoods, schools, and close friendships, but nearly all
the Hindus fled Indian-governed Kashmir after being threatened by Muslim militants, and are now scattered across India. Sufism, which exerted a
gentle influence on Kashmiri Islam for more than a dozen generations, has been gradually pushed aside by the fanatical Sunni Islam practiced by
militants from Pakistan. For centuries, Kashmir’s Mughal gardens and wooden houseboats offered diversions to weary rulers. But leisure has vanished from
Kashmir. No one visits, and fear has tainted the lives of those who make their homes amid its apple and apricot orchards, in its meadows and in the
creases of its mountains.
I wandered briefly into the poetry of Kashmir in November of 2001 and could not let go. Whether trudging through the perfectly etched landscape that
included rice fields cascading into the valleys like delicately carved staircases, sipping saffron tea in the warmth of a Kashmiri home or being
cradled in the tranquility of a wooden shikara, a gondola style boat, on Dal Lake, this place filled me with affection. I wanted to understand Kashmir
and delve below the glassy reflections in its still lakes. The mountains were mirrored perfectly until the oar hit the water, a crack rippled through
the reflection and one began to sense that all is not what it seemed.
Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir once bustled with life and laughter.
Now it lies neglected and pockmarked with craters. Hotels have been turned into barracks, guns peek out behind broken glass windows and netting
protects the bleary eyes soldiers from the frequent grenade attacks. The surrounding mountains, once lush and dotted with delightful Alpine cottages
sit quietly as structures deteriorate and collapse. The poetry of this magnificent culture has degenerated into the language of mourning and everyone
here is held hostage that remain free lie waiting to devour still more.
It is my desire to give justice to the beauty, strength and suffering of Kashmir’s people and to the unique richness of their history and culture. I hope to inspire in others the feelings that Kashmir has given rise to myself, particularly the simultaneous apprehension of beauty and terror. I believe that all the
inherent beauty will survive despite humanity’s ongoing attempts to control and destroy it. Because in this intricate place, where truth and fiction are
sometimes inseparable, politics and poetry overlap, the pain is sometimes too great to bear, yet joy is still possible.
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It was a very pleasant surprise to "see" you here, Ami Vitale.
You are one of my favourites photo reporters all over the world. Usually you add to a simple document your artistry adding power and drama to your work. It's a honor to share this space with you. Rui Palha
Lisbon, Portugal - 14/10/2007
Impressive work with unique style. Congratulations, Morris Alkalay.
Tel Aviv, Israel - 31/12/2006
fermo, Italy - 06/06/2006
Splendide immagini, in un ottimo colore (e chi se le ricorda più in fotografie così intense e non artefatte) ricco di significati evocativi che rendono facile e lineare la lettura di ogni singola immagine. Complimenti all'autore.
Genova, Italy - 13/01/2006