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Bernier, the first European to enter Kashmir, writing in 1665, says: "In truth, the kingdom surpasses in beauty all that my warmest imagination had anticipated." This impression is not universally felt, for one of the very latest writers on Kashmir speaks of it as overrated, and calls the contour of the mountains commonplace and comparable to a second-rate Tyrolean valley. And fortunate it is that in this limited earth of ours we every one of us do not think alike. But I have seen many visitors to Kashmir, and my experience is that the bulk of them are of the same view as the above-mentioned Frenchman. They have read in books, and they have heard from friends, glowing descriptions of the country; but the reality has, with most, exceeded the expectation. Some have found the expenses of living and the discomforts of travel greater than they had expected. And some have arrived when it was raining or cloudy, and the snows were not visible; or in the middle of summer when the valley is hazy, steamy, and filled with mosquitoes. But when the clouds have rolled by, the haze lifted, and a real Kashmir spring or autumn day disclosed itself, the heart of the hardest visitor melteth and he becomes as Bernier.

The present book will deal, not with the whole Kashmir State, which includes many outlying provinces, but with Kashmir Proper, with the world-renowned valley of Kashmir, a saucer-shaped vale with a length of 84 miles, a breadth of 20 to 25 miles, and a mean height of 5600 feet above sea-level, set in the very heart of the Himalaya, and corresponding in latitude to Damascus, to Fez in Morocco, and to South Carolina.

The country with which one is most apt to compare it is, naturally, Switzerland. And Switzerland, indeed, has many charms, and a combination of lake and mountain in which, I think, it excels Kashmir. But it is built on a smaller scale. There is not the same wide sweep of snow-clad mountains. There is no place where one can see a complete circle of snowy mountains surrounding a plain of anything like the length and breadth of the Kashmir valley, for the main valleys of Switzerland are like the side valleys of Kashmir. And above everything there is not behind Switzerland what there is at the back of Kashmir, and visible in glimpses from the southern side,—a region of stupendous mountains surpassing every other in the world.

12 september
Library of Alexandria

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