The Kashmir Valley produces splendid works of art, done even in the remotest areas, which are just as mesmerizing as the valley itself. The handicraft industry of Kashmir comes second only to the fruit industry. Some things, like stone crafting, are done solely by men, whereas most handicrafts are produced by both men and women.
Paper Mache handicrafts are among the most esteemed in the valley. The process of making a single article is long and tedious. First, the paper is soaked until it falls apart and is then mashed. An adhesive is mixed in and the pulp is then molded into the desired shape and allowed to dry. Now, the product is embossed with various designs, and colors are applied. The designs are highly similar to Persian designs and include arabesques, which are painted in gold with a red or brown background, depicting sprays of rose blossoms. Table lamps, pen boxes, and many other items of daily use are made using the paper mache technique. It is possible to obtain paper mache products of different qualities. If the paper has not been pounded sufficiently, then the finish is less smooth. Also, the price goes up if gold is used in the coloring. Varnish may be used in the end to give the product a sheen and smoothness.
The carpets of Kashmir are expensive and constitute a lifelong investment. They are always knotted and never tufted, which imitates the Persian way of making carpets. The degree of knotting decides the value and durability of the item. The carpets are often adorned with the ‘tree of life’ design, which is special to the Kashmir valley. The wools used for making these are often imported from Bradford, Scotland, Wales, and Manchester and are commonly referred to as ‘Manchester Wools’.
Kashmiri walnut wood carving is especially popular in the region and abroad. The wood of the walnut tree is unique in its color and sheen. Carving is used to adorn furniture as well as articles of personal use like jewelry boxes. Several varieties of carving exist, including deep carving, shallow carving, latticework, and semi carving. The Shrine of Khwaja Naqshband, near the Jama Masjid of Srinagar, exhibits wood carvings of great magnificence and beauty.
Kashmir was the center of Shawl making during the Mughal era when Emperor Akbar became interested in the different styles of carrying a shawl. There are basically three fibers from which Kashmiri shawls are made: Wool, Pashmina, and Shahtoosh. Wool shawls are popular due to their exquisite embroidery which is unique to the Kashmir valley. The wool is sourced from the valley itself and is called ‘raffle’. It is also a hundred percent pure. The Pashmina shawl is recognizable because of its extreme softness. It is made from yarn spun from the hair of ibex found in the Ladakh highlands, 14000 feet above sea level. Shahtoosh shawls are the most expensive due to the scarcity of the raw material. They are made from the hair of Tibetan antelopes, collected by nomads, and passed on to the shawl makers.