Nothing could have prepared Andrew Whitehead, a British traveler to Kashmir for the unprecedented change that he witnessed in Hawal neighborhood of Sri Nagar near Hari Parbat. Nestled in the shadow of Hari Parbat is a settlement of Tibetans Muslims, Kashmiri by citizenship still yearn to return to Tibet one day.
Hawal is a settlement of Tibetan Muslims who claim to be the descendents of Kashmiri traders who had settled in Tibet centuries back. There are around 350 such families which are living here and trace their origins to both Kasmir and Tibet. Their story goes back to the 13th century when 5th Dalai Lama gave Muslims from Kashmir, Ladakh, Nepal, and Central Asia, the permit and land to settle in Lhasa.
However after the Tibetan uprising they had to leave Tibet. Most of the families came here with all the valuables they had through Kalimpong. Since their ancestors had come from Kashmir so Kashmir was the obvious choice when faced with the dilemma of where to settle in India. Though they were warned against it but they still decided to settle in Kashmir.
Kashmiri locals also welcomed them with open heart when they first arrived and no discrimination have been reported so far. A Tibetan Kashmiri woman recalls, “Kashmiris treated us with so much love and they welcomed us with open hearts, why wouldn’t they? We are one of them after all.” But despite being Indian citizens and possessing Indian passports they do not yet have the same privileges as the locals as they don’t have the domicile certificates.
These Tibetans practice Islam and have Muslim names but they have still retained Tibetan traditions. On the auspicious day of Eid they begin their feast with a bowl of Thupkpa, and the lunch is more Tibetan in the variety of delicacies on the feast spread. The furnishing and utensils would also remind one of Tibet.
Many older Tibetan Kashmiri still become nostalgic when asked about Tibet and Lhasa. They also hold his holiness The Dalai Lama in highest regards and say that despite being from a different religion his holiness doesn’t discriminate.