Modern-day Varanasi, one of India’s holiest cities, was once named Benares or Kashi. The city runs along the west bank of the Ganges river, and is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and is probably the oldest in India.
Today the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow rose to prominence as the home of the nawabs (Muslim noblemen) of Awadh. The city remained under their control for about a century after the decline of the Mughal empire. Lucknow is consequently rich in Islamic arts and Urdu literature, and still holds a reputation as a city of learning and culture.
Lucknow suffered greatly during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. See bookmark for p.73.
Kim’s epic journey across India begins in the state of Punjab, where Kipling himself had lived as a young man.
In Kipling’s time, Punjab was an undivided Indian state under British rule. After the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1956, the region was divided between north western India and what became eastern Pakistan. Punjab has a distinct identity as the land of the Sikhs and lays claim to Sikhism’s holiest sites, including the Golden Temple at Amritsar (pictured).
The Indian Himalayas cover a vast area along the northern frontiers of the country and span five Indian states. Kim deals only with the western ranges, encompassing modern-day Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
During the Raj era, many vital trade routes passed through these states: one of these is referred to by Kipling as 'the Kulu way’ and is followed by Kim and Teshoo lama towards the end of the novel. The route traditionally runs from the hill station of Simla up into Kullu valley and through Rohtang Pass into the Spiti region (12,500 feet above sea level). The journey, which cannot be undertaken in the winter season, is still popular with trekkers today.
The Indian Himalayas hold the majority of India’s Buddhists, who make up 0.8% of the country’s population. These Buddhist communities are greatly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, while some regions – such as Ladakh in Kashmir – have a Tibetan majority population.