Page 1. " Quote "
Page 4. " ‘I must work fast, faster than Scheherazade’ "
Scheherazade telling her stories to King Shahryar
Public DomainScheherazade telling her stories to King Shahryar

Scheherazade is the legendary Persian Queen and storyteller of the One Thousand and One Nights, often known as Arabian Nights.

The legend goes that after being betrayed by his wife the Persian King Shahryār was driven mad, believing that all women would eventually deceive him in the same way. Therefore, every night for three years, the mad king takes a wife only to have her executed the next morning. Until one night, Scheherazade, the beautiful and clever daughter of the king’s adviser offers to spend the night with Shahryār.

While she is in the King’s chamber, Scheherazade develops a plan to spare her from the fate of beheading. She begins to tell a tale stopping at dawn with a cliffhanger so gripping it forces the King to keep her alive for another day so he can hear the complete the tale the next night. She continues this for 1001 nights in a row, until the king realises he has fallen in love with her and spares her life. They eventually marry and have three sons.

Full list of tales in The One Thousand and One Nights

Page 4. " ‘Aadam Aziz hit his nose against a frost- hardened tussock of Earth’ "
Men praying in Doha, Qatar
Creative Commons AttributionMen praying in Doha, Qatar

In Islamic prayer rituals, a worshipper should follow a series of prescribed movements and words known as the raka’ah. After carried out ritual cleansing (Wudu), the worshipper must turn to face Mecca and, putting the world behind them, open their mind to God.  The Raka’ah involves bowing low (ruku) with hands on knees, as if waiting for God's orders,  then prostrating oneself on the ground (sujud), with forehead and nose on the floor and elbows raised, in a position of submission to God. Finally you sit (julus) with the feet folded under the body. The prayers end as the worshippers turn to others on the left and right saying, ‘Peace be upon you, and God's blessing’. This action reminds Muslims of the importance of others around them, both in the mosque and in the rest of the world.

Details of Islamic Prayer Rituals - 

Page 5. " ‘The city on the lake’ "

The city of Srinagar is located in the Kashmir valley and is the gateway to some of the most scenic spots in India.  Throughout history the valley attracted the Mughal, and later British, rulers hoping to avoid the hot summer heat of the India’s Northern Plains, and today it is a popular destination with tourists. Situated on Lake Dal the city is famous for its houseboats and shikaras, or water taxis, which ferry people across the lake.

Panoramic view of Srinagar City and the surrounding Lake Dal
Public DomainPanoramic view of Srinagar City and the surrounding Lake Dal
Page 5. " ‘in the temple of Sankara Acharya’ "

Located in Srinagar, the temple of Shankaracharya is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Supreme God of Hinduism, and is thought to the oldest shrine in the Kashmir Valley. It is believed a temple has been on the site since 200 B.C. although the current structure probably dates back to 9th Century A.D. The name is said to stem from the great philosopher Adi Shankara who stayed here while travelling through the Kashmir region.

Page 5. " 'In those days travellers were not shot as spies if they took photographs of bridges’ "

When India’s Research and Analysis Wing was founded in 1968 it cultivated links with Israel’s intelligence Agency Mossad as a countermeasure to military links between Pakistan, China, and North Korea. During the 1980s and 1990s when young Israeli tourists began visiting the Kashmir valley, Pakistan suspected they were Israeli army officers in disguise helping Indian security forces with counter-terrorism operations. The following propaganda inspired a series of terrorist attacks on the unsuspecting Israeli tourists leaving one killed, another kidnapped.

Indo-Israeli relations in detail here >>

Page 5. " ‘The valley had hardly changed since the Mughal Empire’ "


Flag of the Mughal Empire
Public DomainFlag of the Mughal Empire

The Mughal (or Mogul) Empire were an Islamic dynasty that ruled over most of India from the 16th to the 19th century.

Founded by the Emperor Babur in 1526 after his defeat of the last of the Delhi Sultans in battle, the Mughal Empire prospered into a vast wealthy kingdom, renowned for its glittering riches and beautiful architecture. Many of India’s most famous monuments were built by the Mughal emperors, including the Taj Mahal, and world heritage sites such as Humayun's Tomb, the Red Fort in Delhi and Agra Fort.

By 1556, under the rule of Emperor Akbar the Great, India became united despite internal conflict and much religious friction. The great wealth and beauty of the Mughal Empire soon attracted the eye of Europeans who started to turn to the East for trade and business. The Empire officially survived until 1858, when it was supplanted by British Imperial Rule.

Historic map of the reach of the Mughal Empire
Public DomainHistoric map of the reach of the Mughal Empire


Page 6. " ‘filled with admiration for Vasco da Gama’ "


Vaco de Gama
Public DomainVasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer and Commander of the first ships to sail from Europe to India in 1497. Returning many times to India, da Gama helped to establish a Portuguese colony with its headquarters in Goa, and was eventually named Governor of Portuguese India before his death in 1524.


Page 8. " ‘the old boatman, Tai’ "


Boatman at Lake Dal in Kashmir
Public DomainBoatman at Lake Dal in Kashmir

Shikara Boats are the cultural symbol of Kashmir and an extensively used means of transport on Lake Dal. The boatmen that sail them make a living not only by ferrying visitors and tourists across to the many houseboats on the lake, but also by using them for trade and fishing. The shikaras themselves are wooden paddled boats about 15 feet (4.6 m) long and can seat about six people comfortably with seats and padded backrests.

To read the profile of a Kashmiri boatman click here:

Video of the view from a boat trip along Lake Dal

Page 9. " ‘Hajis, men who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca’ "

Scenes from the Hajj in Mecca

The Hajj is the name for the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia - the birthplace of the prophet Muhammed and the city where in the 7th century AD, he first proclaimed Islam.

The pilgrimage is considered a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God, it is also one of the five pillars of Islam and considered a religious duty that should be undertaken at least once in the lifetime of every able-bodied Muslim. The pilgrimage occurs from the 7th to 13th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar, although as the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle the Western date of the Hajj changes every year.

To show equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of God, during the Hajj male pilgrims are required to dress only in the ihram, a garment consisting of two sheets of white cloth plus a pair of sandals. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab or normal modest dress. Men must not cover the head and women must not cover their face and hands. While taking part in the Hajj, a pilgrim may not shave, clip their nails, wear perfume, swear or quarrel, have sexual relations, marry, perform any dishonest acts or carry weapons.

Pilgrims gather around the Kabba in Mecca on the Hajj
GNU Free Documentation LicensePilgrims gather around the Kabba in Mecca on the Hajj - Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim at Wikipedia.en



Page 9. " ‘Comparable only to the elephant-headed God’ "


Statue of the god Ganesh
GNU Free Documentation LicenseStatue of the god Ganesh - Credit: Sujit Kumar

Ganesh is the Hindu god of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. The son of the supreme God Shiva and his wife the Goddess Parvati, Ganesh has the head of an elephant and the pot-bellied body of a human being. According to the ancient Hindu text the Shiva Purana, one day while bathing the goddess Parvati created a boy out of the dirt of her body and set him to guard the entrance to her bathroom. When her husband Shiva returned to find a stranger denying him access to his wife’s chamber he became angry and struck off the boy's head in rage.


Parvati became inconsolable with grief and to soothe her, Shiva sent out his troops (Gana) to fetch the head of any sleeping being that was facing the north. Finding a sleeping elephant they brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored its life and made him the leader (pati) of his troops, hence his name 'Ganapati'. Shiva also bestowed the command that people would worship him and invoke his name before undertaking any venture.

Page 11. " ‘Soon the English Sahibs would arrive’ "

Sahib is an Arabic term meaning owner or master; it is often used as a form of respectful address for a European man in colonial India.

During the period of India’s colonial rule, Kashmir and its lakes became a popular summer destination for the British Raj allowing them to escape the scorching heat of North India amidst the back drop of the Himalayan mountains.

Even though the Maharaja of Kashmir invited the British to the valley, he did not allow them to own land or build houses in the valley. To accommodate this rule they set up houseboats on the tranquil Lake Dal and would have to be ferried across every summer.

Houseboats on the lake in Srinagar
GNU Free Documentation LicenseHouseboats on the lake in Srinagar - Credit: Fidelisle
Page 22. " ‘In the very centre of the sheet, a hole had been cut’ "
Purdah Screen at Amber Fort in Rajasthan
Creative Commons AttributionPurdah Screen at Amber Fort in Rajasthan - Credit: Victoria from London

Purdah, literally meaning screen or veil, is the practice of shielding women from the eyes of men. The custom traditionally exists in Islamic cultures but is also practiced by some Hindu women in parts of India, it was widespread throughout the British rule of India but it is gradually decreasing. The practice can take two forms, the physical segregation of male (Mardana) and female (Zenana) chambers using screens and curtains erected within the home, and the wearing of concealing clothing from head to toe when outside.

While it is not strictly a religious practice, in Islamic communities Purdah is a cultural tradition closely linked to the ethical concept of Namus, a gender specific expression of honor and respectability.

The practice has come under much criticism, especially since the rise of the Women’s Movement, claiming it shuts women off from the outside world making them ignorant of the practicalities of life. However those who engage in Purdah, see it as an act of dignity, by covering themselves, women fell they are not looked at as sex objects that can be dominated.

A discussion of the role of Purdah in Islam