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Once upon a time there was pashmina: here is the history of cashmere

To celebrate the end of this extraordinary Indian summer, Princesse Moghole takes you to India!

It was in 2012 and in my quest for the finest cashmere in the world, I found myself in the Himalayas, on the borders of India, China and Pakistan …

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is located in the far north of India: in the west, muslim Kashmir, and to the east, buddhist Ladakh. The area is a geopolitical powder keg since the partition: India, Pakistan and China are fighting over the borders.

“We travel for things to happen and change, otherwise we would stay at home.”
Nicolas Bouvier

Some moments are unique, like being at 4500m above sea level in the company of a goat baby pashmina ❤️
It was 2012 and the Princesse Moghole adventure began …

Srinagar is the capital of Indian Kashmir. Nestled in a valley at the foot of the Himalayas, it extends around a lake, the Dal Lake.

The Dal Lake is the heart and lung of Srinagar, scene of a very intense lake life.

The British took refuge in summer in Srinagar to enjoy its freshness. They built houseboats on Dal Lake to circumvent the ban on owning land.

Grown in lake gardens, vegetables are then sold at dawn to retailers.

And life flows through the water …

The Mughal emperors regarded Srinagar as their Eden and built magnificent gardens there.

The Kashmiri are the worthy descendants of the Mughals, who arrived from Uzbekistan in the 16th century.

They are proud of their independence of mind and practice for the most part an Islam based on Sufism.

Do not tell a Kashmiri that he is Indian: he would take that as an insult!

As Eid approaches, families buy sheep for sacrifice.

The stalls are blooming …

And Srinagar is immersed in the effervescence of the preparations.

In kashmiri “pashmina” means soft gold. It is carefully weighed to the nearest gram.

It is spun by hand by women, whose dexterity is unparalleled.

This is my first encounter with Feroz, who weaves your pashminas. You see the signature in F that may be on your stole? It’s him.

The master embroiderers at work: it was in 2015 when shooting the video. Who would have thought that she would go around the world, briskly surpassing a million views?

The kani shawl is the ancestor of the jacquard, at a time when everything was done by hand. The pattern is pixelated and the craftsman carefully counts the threads of each color. Months, even years of work!

It’s time to leave Kashmir for Ladakh. The road is spectacular and very dangerous, narrow and bordered by precipices sometimes high of 1000m …

Even if Lamayuru is separated from Srinagar by only 183 km, we immediately feel that we are entering another world.

Here begins Ladakh, ancient Buddhist kingdom perched in the middle of arid mountains.

Leh is the capital of Ladakh. Located at 3520m it requires acclimatization altitude, beware of shortness of breath after a few steps!

Ladakhis practice Tibetan Buddhism.

In a Buddhist monastery the traffic is always in one direction, that of the needles of a clock.

Ladakh is dotted with beautiful monasteries perched on rocky outcrops.

The traditional ladakhie society is an example of respect for the environment. Despite extremely difficult living conditions, ladakhis manage to be self-sufficient.

If the pashmina is so fine, it is that it is obtained at very high altitude at 5000m. For comparison Mongolian cashmere is obtained between 1500 and 2000m above sea level.

The finest pashmina is reputed to come from the Tibetan highlands of Changtang. In winter, shepherds lead the herds to more than 5000m and then descend the summer on the shores of Tso Moriri lake.

Chang-Pa nomadic shepherds traditionally raise flocks of Pashminas goats, as well as sheep and a few yaks to balance the herd and promote its survival.

It’s a very rough life, temperatures can reach -50 degrees and sunshine is extreme, but it’s the price to pay for the finest pashmina.

Korzok, on the shores of Lake Tso Moriri, is one of the highest inhabited villages in the world, with an altitude of 4595m.

In the summer, Chang-Pa joins the shores of Tso Moriri lake and the pashmina harvest season is in full swing.

The goats will be carefully combed to collect the superfluous down: necessary for their survival when it is -50 degrees, it is much too hot under the sun!

Pashmina’s production has remained totally artisanal and environmentally friendly, accounting for only 0.5% of world cashmere production.

An exceptional cashmere, pashmina is also the only truly eco-responsible cashmere.
Never forget that it was offered to you by a small Himalayan goat, while it provided an income for all the families who helped make your stole. ❤️

Reissue of a vintage pashmina

We sometimes make surprising encounters on the internet, I had met a shawl. It was vintage, had been sold used years ago and I instantly regretted not having crossed its path at the right time.

vintage pashmina

The embroidery stitch was very special, I had never seen such on a pashmina. I discovered later that this embroidery was from Lucknow, which was called chikankari and adorned with thin cotton or silk georgette.

chikankari embroidery

Then I re-crossed it in a book. This time it was a vintage shahtoosh, dating from the 19th century, exhibited in the Jaipur city palace with the pashminas collection of Maharajah.

old embroidered shahtoosh from the palace museum in jaipur

It must have some advantages to collaborate with the most talented craftsmen embroiders in the world, so I asked to make a reissue in the spirit of these prestigious pieces. The first tests are a little surprising but the spirit is there …

embroidery test on lucknow stitch

 

Then comes the moment to discover the piece: beautiful! It is a stole woven in very fine pashmina to keep the same spirit, embroidered with a motive half way to neem and hashi dar, in this famous point of Lucknow but with all the knowledge of kashmiri: the embroidery is so flexible that it melts in pashmina!

For the record, it seems that the embroiderer found the exercise so difficult that he expressly asked not to make any more!

I leave you to enjoy … Soon online on the e-shop with more pictures!
vintage pashmina likereissue of a vintage pashminalike a vintage pashmina handwoven and hand embroideredwhite on white lucknow stitch embroidery

MARY WHITE,  available on the e-shop ♡

Cashmere perfume : But what is this fragrance that escapes from my package?

She is here, you have just received your order from Princesse Moghole. But what is this cashmere perfume that escapes from the package?

This signature fragrance is exclusive and has been specially designed for the world of Princesse Moghole brand.

The formula is completely natural, composed of essential oils on a base of lavender and cedar wood – selected for their anti-moth properties – which come to add flowers and spices of Mughal gardens.

Close your eyes, you are transported to the garden of Pari Mahal overlooking the Dal Lake in Srinagar …

Mughal Gardens in Srinagar: The Cashmere Perfume

Cashmere perfume: fragrance based on natural essential oils

scented sachet for the dressing

Slow fashion : le restaurateur de Pashminas

If pashminas are treasures that are handed down from generation to generation, it seems obvious that they will not be thrown to the slightest hitch. They are then entrusted to the restaurateur …

A small room on the first floor of a house in the old town of Srinagar. Patience and fairy fingers are in the spotlight for a work of infinite detail: time passes differently in Kashmir. An example to follow, at a time when the West is forced to conceptualize the “slow fashion” to ward off the excesses of the consumer society … (Slow fashion and Pashminas will be the subject of a future article 😉)

the pashmina repairer in srinagar: slow fashion

It is a richly embroidered shawl. He asked for more than a year of work and the delicate natural ecru pashmina of the border was torn. The pashm threads are then recovered and patiently re-inserted into the weft to reproduce the pattern of weave armor.

to repair a cashmere pashminadarning a pashmina darning a torn pashmina

But this is nothing compared to the book that awaits him: an old shahtoosh who has suffered well from the ravages of time … 😱

old shahtoosh holetrue old shahtoosh very damaged

Finally the truth about shahtoosh …

He lowers his voice and whispers “shahtoosh”, then carefully unfolds the firmly knotted package of a cloth he has just removed from his counter.

Shahtoosh … The shawl of kings, so sweet, so fine, so light, so warm. Never equaled …

Shahtoosh … The magic word that shines the lust of the eyes of all fashionistas on the planet …

Shahtoosh … The taboo word, which threatens to extinguish the chiru, the wild Tibetan antelope, since it is hunted and slaughtered for its down.

Shahtoosh? Come on: in this Kashmiri shop for tourists from Jaipur?

You are suspicious?

You are right.

For centuries shahtoosh has been woven in Srinagar, Kashmir, and despite the prohibition of sale, it still is.

Here are 5 truths about shahtoosh:

natural ShahtooshShahtoosh is still handwoven in srinagar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 – the shahtoosh is rarely pure. It is mixed at 75 or 50% with pashmina.

What’s more, you have a 99% chance of falling on a fake. At best it will be a pashmina mixed with thick chiru hair (thick and shiny fibers).

 

shahtoosh are not pure anymore but mixed

2 – The shahtoosh is incomparable. Under the Mughal Empire, it was the shawl of kings. Its price and its rarity came from the mode of obtaining the fiber: the Tibetan antelope being a wild and fearful animal, it was necessary to collect its down in the Himalayan mountains, on the bushes where it came to rub.

Nothing is finer, sweeter, or warmer than a shahtoosh shawl: certainly the touch is a little lighter than a pashmina shawl. The dyes always altering the quality of the fibers, it is always woven in natural down: its hue varies from beige to ecru. A shahtoosh looks a lot like natural pashminas, like the real pashmina shawl 100% pure cashmere natural beige.

 

3 – The shahtoosh is very very expensive. Yes, even in India. Price manufacturer in Srinagar: 60 000 RP is 850 €, or 2000 € for white shahtoosh, more rare. In a shop in Delhi it will be sold at least double, and this illegally.

 

 

4 – For this reason the shahtoosh never hangs under the counter, even preciously wrapped. He sleeps in the safe, yes, yes, in the safe. But then this Kashmiri seller would he be lying …?

 

shahtoosh is so expensive that it is kept in a safe

 

5 – the shahtoosh would not threaten the species chiru since the down would always be harvested the old, on the bushes against which the antelope comes rubbing when it is too hot … This whole history of poaching would be an international conspiracy … “

Of course the manufacturer who tells me that obviously preaches for his parish.

In reality, to obtain the amount of fluff necessary for the weaving of a single shawl, 3 to 5 Tibetan antelopes are slaughtered, which explains why the population of these animals has passed in the space of a century of over a million less than 75,000 individuals. Endangered by extinction, the Tibetan antelope became a protected species in 1979, while in the same year the shahtoosh trade was banned internationally.

So we summarize. To protect poaching of the Tibetan antelope, which is slaughtered for its down, the shahtoosh trade is banned all over the world. Anyone who buys or sells it is punishable by a fine or even a prison sentence. However, given the demand, they are still woven in Srinagar, then sold under cover in India or in major shopping centers in the Middle East.

When the Kashmiri merchant who claims to sell you one during your stay in Rajasthan, he just enjoys the credulity of tourists …

At Princess Moghole, we are committed to protecting animal life, which is why we have chosen to offer you an eco-friendly equivalent of shahtoosh: the TOOSH Pashmina.

toosh pashmina eco shahtoosh

TOOSH Pashmina, 100% pure himalayan cashmere, available in 3 natural colors

It is woven in the same way as the shahtoosh, but with the finest “pashm” quality from the Himalayan goats, by artisans renowned for the excellence of their weaving. This exceptional product is produced in small series, and according to the confidences of the artisan, sold for shahtoosh (and at the same price!) by unscrupulous traders.

Hoping that the Tibetan antelopes will be able to sink quiet days all up there in the Himalayas … Here is a baby chiru, is not it adorable?
The Tibetan antelope must be killed to collect the fleece

PASHMINA ROAD, Part 3 : the himalayan cashmere goats

TUESDAY

300 km and 1790m of altitude separate Srinagar from Leh, the capital of Ladakh, it will take me 2 days to go through them. The small bus rushes to the bumpy road that winds through the mountains. Gradually the green valley of Kashmir gives way to the aridity of ladakhis landscapes, dotted with white houses with flat roof and gompas nestled on the heights, on a background of blue sky of absolute purity.

 

The Himalayas between Kashmir and Ladakh

 

Buddhist temple in the ladakh

 

Ladakhi are mostly Buddhists

 

WEDNESDAY

So here I am in Leh, the ancient capital of the Buddhist kings of Ladakh. Another culture, almost another world … But let’s go back to our sheep, or rather to our goats!

The capra hircus, or goat pashmina is traditionally bred by the Chang-Pa shepherds who lead a nomadic life on the Himalayan highlands, especially in ChangTang, near Lake Tso Moriri. They would be there now, so that’s where I go. The bus connects Leh to Korzok 3 times a month, no luck it was yesterday. As I do not expect to wait another 10 days, I have to find a jeep to share …

 

SUNDAY

And it’s gone for 8 hours. I will pass you the unexpected stops, this time it was the construction of a bridge by the army. They close the road 3h, are busy setting their bridge, then reopen briefly to let the vehicles that waited and it starts again. Traveling in Asia teaches patience …

But the goal is close and I see the first tents in yak hair. It is a very rough life, winter temperatures reach -30 ° C. The shepherds lead the herds in the pastures, the colder the goat, the better the quality of its down, and it ensures their livelihood. To avoid any drift and protect the nomads, the price was set by the Indian state, 3700 Rp for 2 kg of raw duvet (or 50 euros). The man explains that formerly some Kashmiri traders came to exchange the down for rice, taking advantage of their ignorance. Fortunately, it will not happen again. Extremely artisanal and traditional, the production of cashmere in Ladakh represents only about 2% of world production, far behind the absolute leader, Inner Mongolia (People’s Republic of China). Nevertheless the pashmina down will ONLY be produced in the Himalayan regions.

The pashmina goat give a very fine cashmere whose best quality is called pashmina

 

The pashmina goats give a very fine cashmere whose best quality is called pashmina

 

The pashmina goats give a very fine cashmere whose best quality is called pashmina

 

life at 5000m altitude is very hard

 

The goat is combed in the morning to collect the inner fleece, also called fluff or down; then the longest hairs are cut with shears. She does not seem too much to love the poor, the pashmina goat is a princess who does not like being pulled out …

 

The pashmina goat is combed to collect its cashmere down. The finest and best quality cashmere is called pashmina. Cashmere pashmina is the diamond of fibers

 

The pashmina down cashmere is obtained by combing the pashmina goat

 

A piece of the world lost on the borders of India and China, at the top of this Himalayas where the azure sky is lost in the purity of the waters of the mountain lakes, an arid land, goats, yaks, and these men skin tanned by the extreme rigor of the climate that still continue to lead the same nomadic life as their ancestors.

This is where the adventure of Pashmina begins …

 

PASHMINA ROAD, part 2 : pashmina weaving in Srinagar

FRIDAY

The next day I have an appointment to visit the weaving workshop where my pashminas are made. It is actually an old wooden house, nestled in the heart of the old town. The production of shawls here in Srinagar remains artisanal, family and therefore somewhat disorganized by our Western standards …

Faithful to the Kashmiri hospitality traditions, the family, who do not speak English, offers me a kashmiri kawa – their traditional tea – that I enjoy sitting on the carpet. As always in Kashmir only men sit with me, women stay in the kitchen …

It is on the ground floor that the down, using a traditional wooden wheel. Originally from neighboring Ladakh, it is crude and looks like big white flakes; the yarn thus obtained is then mounted on skeins. This work is traditionally done by women, here the weaver’s mother. Then the wire is assembled on the loom, also wood, which occupies the entire surface of a small room upstairs. This is the domain of Feroz, 40 years old, the weaver. It takes 2 days to handcraft a 2m shawl. This one, of natural white color, will be then washed and dyed.

 

The pashmina down is a very fine cashmere harvested on pashmina goats at over 4500m altitude in the Himalayas. Pashmina looks like a cloud of softness and sweetness ...

 

100% cashmere pashmina down is spun by hand with a spinning wheel to obtain a pure cashmere pashmina yarn

 

The pashmina cashmere yarn is mounted on skeins to be woven

 

The 100% cashmere pashmina is hand-woven: it's an old and painstaking work, the cashmere pashmina thread is very fine and must be handled gently. Kashmir workers weave true pashmina for centuries

 

The pure cashmere pashmina yarn must be woven with delicacy

 

In my hand I look at this impalpable cloud, the diamond of the wool, the down that protects the little pashmina goat from the harshness of the Himalayan winters. It is there that everything begins, so I will take the road to the mountains of Ladakh.

But in the meantime I have been invited to a wedding, and I intend to go there!

SUNDAY

A Kashmiri wedding lasts 3 days, but for my part I will only attend one, in the company of my Hindu friend, as novice as me in matters of Muslim marriage … We will spend all day in the huge old house of wood and the garden where was built a large tent decorated with embroidered Kashmiri hangings. Men and women are separated, the bride looks like a princess, the meal is excellent, although I have never eaten so many different meats in one meal, and I enjoy seeing that we distribute to all guests doggy bags to bring the remains home. I am told that it is a small wedding, 300 people only … Among other wonders, the bride received as a gift 3 pashminas, including a kani shawl, whose traditional pattern of intertwined flowers is directly woven into the frame. Its realization takes months and the price is up to the job! Around midnight the couple is finally reunited, and the bride rushes into the car head covered with a pink embroidered pashmina. Not even a kiss, I’m a little disappointed …

 

the kashmiri bride with jewels

 

But it is time to leave Srinagar, the Mughal city; the Himalayan mountains are waiting for me …

Princesse Moghole went up the pashmina trail : PASHMINA ROAD, Part 1

In an ever constant concern for transparency and since a good photo is better than a long speech, I did not have 36 solutions to tell you the story of a pashmina. So I went back to the field to go back on the track. It was June and here is my travel diary …

Kashmir has always been famous for weaving its shawls, so much so that it has given its name to fiber. Nowadays this state situated in the north of India on the border with Pakistan and China remains very politically unstable: the score left stigmas in the region, and remains discouraged by French foreign affairs. But it takes more than that to discourage me, so on the way to Srinagar …

 

THURSDAY

900 km separate Srinagar from Delhi, it will take me 24 hours to get there …

The night train to Jammu leaves at 20:40, and I’m alone in my compartment, great! All night long I will ask myself if the door will not open to let in the occupant of the upper bunk, but when the train stops in the early morning I’m always alone. It is 5:40 and the second part of my journey begins: the railway does not continue until Srinagar, I will have to share a taxi. The union is strength and as the jeep does not leave until it is full I join my efforts to those of Hemu, a young Indian banker in London who goes to Srinagar for the wedding of one of his classmates. We are gone, the trip will last 11h.

As we climb north, India changes its face and Jammu the Hindu gradually gives way to Muslim influences. An increasingly hilly landscape, forests, rice fields in full harvest, and villages with Central Asian accents. The men come out of the mosque at the time of prayer, they wear long white shirts and a beard that eats their faces. Sometimes their hair is dyed red and they wear the turban. At the stalls hang pieces of meat hallal and bakeries offer this round bread baked on stone that I had already tasted in Uzbekistan. I arrived at the heirs of the Mughal empire. It is here that for centuries the art of weaving pashmina has been perpetuated …

 

 

Srinagar prepares Eid festival

the old town of Srinagar in Kashmir

Meeting in Srinagar

 

A Srinagar j’accepte la proposition de Hemu de l’accompagner au mariage et rejoins mon houseboat, ces palaces flottants hérités du Raj et qui font la renommée de la ville.

 

The Dal Lake is in the heart of Srinagar

The gardens date from the Mughal period

Shikara on the Dal Lake

Dal Lake at sunrise

 

 

A suivre…

On the road again…

the silk road

 

Traditionally the trade has made men travel (women a little less it is true …).

From the Silk Road to the stories of Marco Polo, so many mythical evocations that are certainly not foreign to the choice of a product so rich in such a story. I see myself in Kyrgyzstan, exploring the remains of Tash Rabat’s Caravanserai in the mountains near the Chinese border. The place was so evocative that I expected to see the long procession of a caravan …

Truce of daydreams it is time for me to leave and to endorse my range of business-tripeuse!

I have 4 weeks. June is probably not the month I would have chosen for tourism but we went to the serious stuff. On the program, Kathmandu to find a Nepali partner, then Delhi to order various essential accessories such as cards, bags and other labels. It will then be time to leave the Indian capital and the steaming oven of its 43 ° C before the monsoon to go north to the pashmina track. From weaving shawls in the valley of Kashmir to harvesting goat down in the Himalayan mountains of Ladakh, The Pashmina Road, soon on the blog of Princesse Moghole!