Amid extreme cold and dry weather conditions in the Valley, the 40-day harshest winter period “Chillai Kalan” begins from Monday.
Considered to be the core of winter, Chillai Kalan usually brings snowfall, sub-zero temperatures causing freezing of water bodies including the Dal lake, closure of highways, etc. The Chillai Kalan which concludes by January end has many interesting traditional aspects related to it. Poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef recollects that Chillai Kalan in yesteryears was “not a burden but a celebration” and people in Kashmir used to wait for this period eagerly.
Zareef recounts days when there used to be 3 to 4 feet deep snowfall in Srinagar and even more in the higher reaches. “The architecture of homes back then was much more suitable to face this winter period”.
“The environmental degradation and deforestation have caused climate change making us receive lesser snowfall. In the good old days, there used to be as much snow as to touch the second floor of houses and children would skate down on snow slopes,” said Zareef.
Zareef said the night in the run up to the first day of Chillai Kalan “used to be celebrated with traditional songs. On the frozen waters of Dal, children and youth playing is a memory deep etched as there used to be demand for dried vegetables, preparations for this used to be as early as September,” Zareef said.
Zareef said elders would narrate folktales to the children on chilly winter evenings. “Despite extreme cold weather conditions, Kashmir had indigenous ways to brace up for it.”
“We never used to be bothered about closure of the highway as sufficient stocks of dried vegetables lasted for months. Children used to be busy writing the winter vacation homework. In leisure they would break icicles to make kulfi,” Zareef said.
The period of Chillai Kalan is followed by Chillai Khurud (small cold) prevailing from January 30 to February 18. From 19 February to February 28, Kashmir witnesses Chillai Bache (baby cold). Khurud and Bache are both Persian words, Zareef said.
The Valley markets often face shortage of essential goods and there is sky-rocketing of prices during winters as truckloads of essentials remain stuck due to frequent closure of the 270-kilometer Srinagar-Jammu National Highway forced by landslides and snowfall. However, the authorities this time around have said that “efforts are being made that suspension of traffic on the highway is for a minimum period”.
While use of traditional Hamam for heating purposes also witnesses a sharp increase but dependence of people on electric heating appliances during Chillai Kalan is also seen. However, frequent power cuts have kept the traditional earthen firepot, Kangri, in vogue.
Meanwhile, Srinagar which had recorded the coldest night of the season at minus 6.6 degrees Celsius on Friday saw a marginal improvement in the minimum temperature which settled at minus 6.2 degrees on Saturday night.
As temperatures plummeted below the freezing point, freezing of water pipelines has been causing inconvenience to people.
Meanwhile, the ski-resort Gulmarg in Baramulla recorded minus 7.5 degrees. Pahalgam in south Kashmir recorded minus 7.7 degrees on Saturday night. The winter capital Jammu has also been reeling under cold wave conditions. It recorded 4.2 degrees on Saturday night, which is several notches below the normal while Bhaderwah recorded minus 2.6 degrees Celsius.
Director MeT, Sonam Lotus told Greater Kashmir that there is “some respite likely from cold wave conditions for the next two days” as weather was likely to remain cloudy. “No major rains or snow is expected in the region but a light snowfall/rain may occur at isolated places in higher reaches tomorrow. After this spell, weather is likely to remain dry till December end,” said Lotus.