Winter Despatch From Kashmir
Chillai Kalan began on December 21 and will last till January 29, 2023
Old timers often chant “Wande Tzale, Sheen Gali Beyi Yi Bahaar” (winter will flee, snow will melt, spring will make its presence felt)
A peculiar silence, plumes of smoke from charred twigs, and the odour of decayed fallen leaves linger in the cold air. Everything has been stripped and left naked ,the streams, their banks, the leafless trees, and the dusty roads.
Birds that would once chirp, and rest in nests throughout the year have been forced to take refuge under the tin roofs of buildings. Animals are secured in the barns and people remain covered in Pherans (a long woollen cloak) to protect the body from cold. Wandee (Winter) has arrived in Kashmir. After the cessation of Harud or Autumn, the toughest season of the year is now underway.
The cold waves of winter grip every corner of the land, and the sky and Sun lurk behind dense clouds. Every morning, everything remains buried under frost, or snow. The traditional outfit, Pheran, is worn by all, children to old age people, who remain draped in it during the tough winter. One has to hold the end of the sleeve of Pheran, or muffler, or handkerchief to rub the frost from the window panes.
Mornings are welcomed with pink and salty noon-chai, a traditional Kashmiri brewed tea poured from samovars. The hot ember filled Kangir, or Kangri held close for warmth. This is a time for the family to gather close and either listen to the morning news bulletin or just chat over a scrumptious breakfast featuring sweet halwa, savoury, roasted chickpeas and soybeans are relished.
Abdul Samad, a local, takes a stroll on a snow-covered road while humming a folk song. With shivering hands, he pulls out a cigarette from the pocket of his newly stitched Pheran and lights it. He takes heavy puffs and says, “we were waiting for this snowfall. I am ecstatic as it brings blessings, delight, and enjoyment to people, land, and business. I am pumped up to meet my friends at the hamam of the masjid, after a very long time.”
It is the shop fronts and hamams of mosques that become daily hubs of discussions on various issues. These range from the newly bought cow of Ahmed Kak, the village head, and meanders to gossip about tiffs happening in different households. These discussions, at times, have the potential to turn into ugly brawls.Many curse the winter and heavy snowfall and blame it for putting people out of work, thus giving them time to engage in such unwanted quarrels.
However, as soon as a heap of snow accumulates, children scurry outside with bowls. They scoop the snow with their hands and fill the bowl to the brim. Then, they add milk and sugar to it, creating a dessert-like dish they call ‘homemade ice cream’. They follow it up by scampering to snow covered lawns, and indulging in snowball fights. They call it ‘Sheen-i-Jung' (snow battle), a must do on a snowy day.
Snowball fights are a common sight at tourist destinations too. The energetic local children often sneak out of their homes, with an empty sack, early in the morning on a snowy day. You will find them standing at the edge of a hill, ready to sit and slide on the plastic sacks, all the way to the bottom of the hill. Drenched after a day of playing in the snow, they head back home only after the sun dips behind the mountains and the azaan is heard from nearby mosques.
Tourists engrossed in making a snowman and clicking photographs.
Tourist destinations especially Gulmarg and Dodhpathri become the center of attention. As soon as soft snowflakes adorn the rough surfaces, people from every corner of the world throng to these places. The heavenly sight of snow-clad mountains and snow-white valleys is a treat.
The winter season here lasts for four months, starting from November, and ending in February. This includes ‘Chilai-Kallan’, the harshest 40-day coldwave. This coldest part of winter lasts from December 21 to January 30. During these days, the temperature plummets to below -10 in many parts.
During this period, dangling icicles, the frozen Dal Lake, frozen water pipes and taps, and slippery roads are a common sight. Tourists love to sit on a lone bench, placed in a meadow in Doodhpathri, Budgam beholding the bewitching sight of the snow covered mountains.
If it snows overnight, many locals are forced to stay inside their homes. For many this affects their livelihood. Mohammad Jabar, a vendor from a remote village visits Lal Chowk every day to sell stationary. He just stands motionless on his porch when it has snowed overnight. He knows he can’t go to the city to earn money for the next few days.
Tourists sit on a lone bench, placed in a meadow in Doodhpathri, Budgam beholding the bewitching
sight of mountains.
He says, “winter brings an unendurable torture for poor people. We become handicapped when it snows. We can’t do our work, we can’t earn, we can’t buy food unlike the rich who don't have to worry or think about this. They have everything in abundance, that's why they keep waiting for snow so that they can get warmth from kangirs and hamams.”
The snow does bring many hardships for the people. With the sinking temperature, clear ice clings to the roads making it difficult for people to walk around and transport to ply. Children, people facing health issues, and older people are vulnerable to the seasonal flu. Birds and animals often starve and are rendered homeless for days.
People remain glued to news bulletins for any snowfall update so that they can brace up to deal with the unavoidable, inevitable weighing down of trees, snapping electric wires, and poles.
The electricity outages leave people in darkness, and as water pipes and taps freeze there is a scarcity of water. Water pumps, geezers, induction cookers, and hot air blowers come to a halt. This forces people, especially womenfolk to venture out in the bone-chilling cold and fetch buckets of water from the nearby water bodies, as well stacks of firewood to fuel the kitchen and warm the homes. Heavy snow also brings severe punishment for farmers as it also harms apple, almond, and plum trees.
In faraway villages, roads remain blocked by snow for weeks. Locals have to wait for snow clearing machines, or are forced to shovel it on their own in case of emergency. Old timers often chant “Wande Tzale, Sheen Gali Beyi Yi Bahaar” (winter will flee, snow will melt, spring will make its presence felt).
A man walks while bare trees and barbed wire flank the path, it remains buried under snow.