Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chillai Kalaan is challenging

(Daily Kashmir Rising) As Altaf explains to me that winter in Kashmir is not an easy experience; the nasty cold forces most to remain burrowed in a warm blanket or hold close a fire pot under the cloak to keep warm, For a Kashmiri, the mornings do not bring comfort and it is difficult to wake up in the early morning under such harsh weather conditions.
People become lethargic making it hard for them to move to the outside from their cozy blankets and warmed rooms.  The electricity is on short supply, for many there is an interrupted supply of water and the roads are not properly maintained he explains. Under such harsh and difficult conditions most people of Kashmir hibernate during the winter. If money allows, they move outside Kashmir to warmer locations such as Delhi where temperatures remain moderate. Although most of the population cannot afford to move outside, many remain in the valley to face the harsh winters’.

Snowfall enhances the demand of firepots, when the temperature dips boldly and the Kangri is the cheapest and portable way to warm the body from the nasty cold in winter. One goes out only with proper clothing to keep themselves warm, most using the Kangri pots under their blankets and under their capes. Small electric or gas heathers are also used in Kashmir but the electricity remains just for a few hours a day. 

He explains that recently with the cap on LGP, people have avoided the frequent use of gas heaters to keep themselves warm. Traveling by road becomes difficult as the only connectivity between Jammu and Kashmir gets closed due to heavy snowfall and landslides. With these conditions and limitations, the local traders increase the prices of common amenities. Dumping of stock is most common in Kashmir and when the highway gets closed, prices of commodities touch the sky.  

As soon as the winter commences, schools are closed and the students are more likely to be seen at their coaching centers with hands in their pockets and breathing cold air. People are rarely seen on roads after the dusk has crept in. In these days of severe cold, people enjoy Harissa at the breakfast time, to keep them warm and happy for the day. Harissa is commonly consumed along with Kashmiri bread. This gives the combo a unique identity. Few families prepare Harissa at their home; the majority of the population get it from the Harissa shops in their local vicinity or areas in downtown. The shops are traditionally designed and are dark, less ventilated that are all madly rushed and crowded by the Harissa lovers.   

He explains that the winter brings many hardships to life in the valley, from the Harissa shop to Kangri sellers. The days of Chilai Kalan are the hardest days in Kashmir; the phobia of Chilai Kalan is eminent among people of Kashmir. Most people talk about the worst face of Chilai Kalan. Roads are lined with thin frost and usually slippery, the snow is pleasant but when the roads become frosted it makes life difficult.

I am an American who lives in the far western USA and I am fascinated with the beauty and the snowfall in Kashmir. I consider it a paradise on earth and my view is one of a picture perfect winter wonderland.  Here the schools let out for two weeks in December for the Christmas celebration, for the rest of the winter the schools for the most part stay active. Most homes are equipped with a gas or electric heat, sometimes wood burning stoves which make life cozy and warm.

Our main roads are mostly maintained, power is continuous except for small problems that may arise and our water supply is clear and moving. We also get icy roads and in winter on main highways many early mornings, trucks spread sand thinly along the road to help combat slipping with the vehicles. We are very organized, have good roads and signage warning of icy corners and unsafe road conditions, and each year everyone gears up for the safety and warmth of the people. In really snowy and harsh regions, one prepares for the winter by cutting wood and stacking close to the home for easy access or having their propane tanks filled. So our experience can be a bit different than that of the residents of Kashmir.

Altaf Bashir is a great communicator and writer and has shared some great insights with me, for a greater understanding of Chillai Kalan and daily winter life in this far off land of Kashmir, India. In mulling this all in my mind I think that Kashmir has great charm, a love for tradition and the love shared between the Kashmir families that help them endure in these times of extreme weather.

Ultimately, I really believe this makes for a delightful meaningful life. They are not dependent so much of the outer comforts but have learned to live simply. For many here, it would be hard pressed to have to endure the troubles daily with power and light which is just normal everyday life in Kashmir, the comforts we expect and have become so dependent on.

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