The Kashmiris say that one needs sanctions from the Lord to see Kashmir in all its beauty; implying of course to the beauty of their winters. The great Mughal ruler Jahangir wasn’t exaggerating when he said “If there is heaven on earth, it is here… it is here… it is here…”. This is especially true for the winter backdrop of Kashmir.
“Chillai-Kalan” is a Kashmiri term referring to the harshest period of their winter. It is a 40-day duration between 21st December and 31st January when the temperature drops down several points below freezing. This period receives intense snowfall in many regions of Kashmir and is a sight to behold. The ongoing 40-days long cold climate is followed by a 20-day and a 10-day long period called “Chillai-Khurd” (small cold) and “Chillai-Bachha” (baby cold) respectively.
Dal lake is the heart of Srinagar. It spans across an incredible area of 22 square km. The town of Srinagar is built in and around this vast lake. Hundreds of families inhabit this lake whilst living in traditional houseboats. These houseboats are crafted traditionally using Deodar wood and many have stood for over a hundred years. These gorgeous floating homes can cost anywhere between 10 lakhs to 2 crores and are passed down the generations. In winter times the lake freezes during the night and the locals have to clear out boat routes every morning to make way for their Shikaras (traditional boats). It is indeed a rare scene for an outsider to experience as very few travelers brave to venture into Kashmir in the peak of its winter, but the ones who do are hugely rewarded.
Gulmarg is a winter destination like no other in India. The name literally translates into “a meadow of flowers” referring to 21 different varieties of wild flowers that were collected by the Mughal emperor Jahangir for his own gardens. During winters this region takes on a completely different attire and transforms itself into an ocean of soft snow. The weather conditions and the texture of the snow is ideal for Skiing and Snowboarding. The Gulmarg Gondola is one of the world’s highest operating cable cars. The two-stage gondola lift ferries about 600 people per hour to and from Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of nearby Apharwat Peak (4,200 m).
For the Kashmiris, this is a celebrated time. Although it makes life ever so hard, it is most beautiful. It is, in spirit, the soul of what Kashmir stands for. The Kashmiris have culturally devised ways to beat the cold and enjoy the essence of this time of year. They wear long woolen overcoats called “Pheran” and often hold a clay coal pot encased within a cane basket called a “Kangri”, under their Pherans. This provides cozy warmth throughout. It is a common sight to find people in this attire even in public.
The Kashmiris are simple and humble folk. They are guided by traditional ways of life and high moral ethics. They often go out of their way to help out anyone who needs aid and will not leave their side until the problem is resolved for certain. They are especially caring towards their tourists, who bring in a major chunk of Kashmir’s revenue. It is very rare that a Kashmiri tries to cheat a tourist. They usually make sure the tourists are happy and comfortable before quoting a reasonable price for their goods or services. Kashmir is especially cheap to visit during the winters, as it is offseason.
It is a myth that Kashmir is a dangerous place to visit. This perception is largely due to biased national media who only project a certain type of news from Kashmir. They only highlight obscure occurrences that happen in the valley and forget that such disturbances happen all over the country. Over the past 6 months, Kashmir has experienced the worst of the monetary crisis due to the lockdown imposed on the region. Tourism, which is the lifeline of the valley, has taken a major hit. Connectivity has been cut and the people have been voiceless. Most locals are penniless and worried about the impact on the coming tourist season. It is high time that the government restores connectivity in the region and take measures to alter the false perception of the valley being dangerous. Kashmir is a breathtakingly beautiful, peaceful and welcoming state that has huge potential to be among the best winter destinations in the world. All the locals ask for is a stable and serene way of life.
Winter is a time of comfort, warmth, family, introspection, looking back at cherished memories and looking ahead to hopeful times. It brings with it the sweetness of melancholy and leaves us with a heavy heart as the snow melts away into springtime. It is the chill of the winter that gives meaning to the warmth of the summer. These lines are more relevant to Kashmir than to any other part of the country. It is an understatement to say “Jannat e Kashmir”, more so during its winters…
Photo Credits: Tejas Manjunath