Who has not heard of the vale of Cashmere,/ With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave/ Its temples, and grottos and fountains as clear/ As the love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave? Even before the West’s fashionable women—from aristocrats to demi mondes—were to be in thrall of its exquisite Pashmina shawls, Lalla Rookh (1817), the extravagant Orientalist fantasy by Thomas Moore about the adventures of a daughter of ‘Aurungzeb’ on her way to Kashmir to wed the King of Bucharia, made ‘Cashmere’ a byword for beauty. Yet few Europeans had actually set eyes upon its mythical charms; still under Afghan rule, it was shut off to foreigners. That started to change in 1819, when Ranjit Singh conquered the province. After his death in 1839, his Sikh empire was riven with corruption, factionalism and bloodletting…and the 1st Anglo-Sikh War followed a mere seven years later. The Sikhs were comprehensively defeated, with the Bengal Army occupying Lahore, but the British were in a mood of benevolence, and Lord Hardinge, the governor-general, wanted a buffer Sikh state. Benevolence came at a cost: an indemnity of a million pounds had to be paid, and there was no money in the treasury.
A tributary chief, Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, offered to pay up—in return for the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan and Jammu. Thus came to exist the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which would last 101 years, over four rulers.