With the fading autumn and the falling of brown chinar leaves, the temperature is slowly but steadily dipping in the Valley. This happens to be the time when Kashmiris start preparing for the coming harsh winters.
This preparation has been a part of Kashmiris’ lifestyle and culture and has influenced many aspects of the lives of the people of Kashmir.
When does winter arrive in Kashmir
With the advent of October, the climate in the valley begins to change. Nights are cooler as compared to days and slowly even days get colder. Winters typically start from November and by that time people have to be prepared to live in chilly conditions.
Almost every aspect like food, clothing, housing has to be prepared according to the conditions. With the advancement in technology, things are quite comfortable as compared to earlier, it is still tough to live in Kashmir in winter.
Historically people have adapted to the tough winter environment and these adaptations continue to remain an integral part of Kashmir with minute changes. With temperatures going as low as -8 degrees in Srinagar city during winters and much lower in higher reaches, people have to be up to mark with their preparations to survive the cold weather.
How do people prepare for the bone-chilling winters
One of the basic preparations happens to be with regards to clothes suitable for winters. Apart from sweaters, thermals and other warm clothes, an integral part of Kashmiri winter clothing is ‘Phiran’. Phiran is a long woolen gown-type cloth worn by both men and women. It is long in its length almost below one’s knees, at the same time loose enough to fit a small child inside it while being worn.
Women Phirans have metalwork over them while men’s are simple ones. Before the beginning of winter, it has to be ensured that everyone in the family has a phiran, especially children who need a new one every year.
Another very important requirement in winters is the heating arrangement. Many tools are kept around for this purpose. Modern equipment like heaters are kept available but electricity is not continuously available during winters in Kashmir.
As such other avenues have to be employed. These include the traditional firepot ‘Kangri’. It is a firepot with willow work done around it for better handling. Kangris are available in every household in Kashmir.
Pieces of charcoal are put and burnt into these kangris to keep oneself warm. Households also have to ensure the availability of charcoal for winters. Kangris are prepared every morning and used throughout the day to ensure warmth during chilling winters.
Another way of ensuring warmth during the cold season is ‘hammam. Hammams are special rooms built in almost every Kashmiri house that has a hollowed-out floor. The hollow space beneath the floor has a small opening from the outside of the house and also a chimney.
Floors are covered with limestone slabs. Firewood is burnt in the hollow space through the opening. This ensures that the hammam remains warm while the smoke leaves through a chimney.
A copper water tank is placed above the spot where firewood is burnt. This ensures the availability of hot water while making the room warm in usually sub-zero climates. Households ensure that firewood for hammams is available throughout the winter.
Hammams are also an important part of every mosque in Kashmir. One will find hot hammam floors in almost every Kashmiri mosque during winters. Therefore even every mosque makes sure that they have adequate firewood for the whole winter.
Changes in the interiors
A number of changes have to be made in the interiors of a house pre-winters. The floors are covered with warmer carpets or Kashmiri floorings called ‘gabbe’ and ‘namde’. These are much thicker and warmer rugs that cover the floors during winters.
At the same time, thicker curtains are put on. One such type of thick curtain is called Kriwal. Even a certain type of blanket is used to cover windows and doors. Another important thing done during winters is to cover the windows with polythenes to ensure no cold air enters the room.
At the same time, bedding is changed to a warmer one with every household putting more than one heavy quilt.
Special food for winters
Winters also impact the type of food eaten in Kashmir. Very few vegetables grow in Kashmir during winters and the majority of vegetables and other food items come from outside Kashmir. Road connectivity is hugely impacted during winters, with Kashmir disconnected from the outside world through the road for weeks. Kashmiris have to keep an adequate stock of food with them.
This is usually done in the form of stocking pulses and dry vegetables while storing huge stock of rice is already a part of Kashmiri culture. Even though road connectivity has improved to a great extent, stocking food has become a norm in Kashmir. Even with improved connectivity, road connections can come to halt during extreme winters, especially during heavy snowfall.
The older generation remembers a time when Kashmir was completely cut off from the rest of the world and to ensure comfortable winters people had to stock all the necessities in advance
Another problem faced by Kashmiris during winters is the non-availability of adequate electricity. A proper schedule is taken out and electricity is supplied to houses according to this schedule.
Last year the schedule was in the form of three hours of electricity followed by three hours of a power cut and this continued for almost whole winters. As the winters set in, the amount of electricity gets reduced. People have a proper word to describe these power cuts during winters. ‘Weeare’ literally means turn. People have to keep some alternative and this alternative ranges from generators, inverters to candles.
The valley experiences extremely harsh winters. Even though technology has made things somewhat better, one still has to be prepared for the coming days.