After the long, barren winter, the almond tree (Prunus dulcis, marking it as not a true nut, but a relative of other stone fruits, such as the plum and the apricot) is the first to bloom in the Himalayan foothills of Kashmir, heralding the much-awaited arrival of spring.

The almond, a native of the Levant and Central Asia,1 was brought here by the Mughals, who considered it a fortifying food for their troops.2 (In fact, Kashmir marks the eastern limit of almond cultivation—the Chinese having tried but failed to cultivate it, settling instead for the indigenous Chinese almond.)

 

The white almond inflorescences of the Kashmiri spring were a favorite with the Mughal emperor Jahangir, known for his great love of nature.

 

Inspired by the delicate beauty of this blossom, Kashmir’s famed artisans worked almond-inspired motifs into marble, wood and, last but not least, the Kashmiri shawl—in an extremely stylized form—where they came to be known as paisley.3

A little bit of fashion history here: the word “shawl” comes from the Persian word “shal,” a type of fabric that was worn around the waist as a girdle. It was in Mughal India that the shawl came to be worn across the shoulders, and that too only by men. Woven by the male weavers of the Kashmir valley in a technique imported from Turkistan, the Kashmiri shawl came to be regarded as a luxury garment across South Asia. Akbar the Great, as only an emperor can, liked doubling up, with a shawl on each shoulder.4