Are we ready for the approaching winter?

Winter is associated with a greater number of heart attacks, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and diabetes
Representational Image
Representational Image Special arrangement

We are nearing the end of autumn or “Harud”, the harvest season, which typically lasts from end of September to mid-November. This season has its mystic charm of changing colour of the leaves. Green gets changed to golden and then reddish orange before finally turning brown and falling off to the ground.

This creates a magical aura with Chinar leaves - Buyen- all over the parks. Walking over these colourful leaves gives a rustling sound.

The weather is fabulous with misty mornings and a sunny day with temperatures of 16 to 20 degrees but a nip in the air towards evening and cool nights with temperatures steadily dropping as we approach the winter.

Winter – Wandae in Kashmiri - starts from December and lasts till end of March. The word winter is recorded in Old English and is related to the words wet and water.

In our valley it is generally not a sought-after season, rather it is an unwelcome guest. It is because it is severe. The period between 21st December to January 29th is the period of intense cold called Chillai Kalan, a Persian word meaning major cold (Forty days of intense cold). It is followed by 20-day long Chillai Khurd, a period of small cold followed by 10 days of Chilla Bachha, baby cold.

During this period the minimum temperature hovers around freezing point. The snow which falls during this time freezes and lasts longer. It is this snow that adds to the glaciers of the valley and replenishes the perennial reservoirs which feed the rivers, lakes and streams during the summer.

Winter affects the daily life of the Kashmiris. The use of traditional Kashmiri dress, - Pheran - and the fire pot - Kangri - becomes ubiquitous and comes to the rescue irrespective of the social status. Due to sub-zero temperature, tap water and pipelines freeze partially at the peak of this season. Although during the last few years the severity seems to have reduced. It may be because of the global warming process. The world-famous Dal Lake also freezes at times. Sonamarg and Gulmarg receive very heavy snowfall. The skiing on the incredible slopes of the meadow of Gulmarg and also at higher points like Apharwat is a dream of the skiers from all over the world. When we talk about adventure tourism and winter sports in Kashmir, we need to remember the name of M Ashraf Batkoo, who gave a big fillip to adventure sports in general, and winter sports in particular. He rose to the position of the Director General and headed the department till 2003, when he retired after serving for 3 decades. During this period, he introduced mountaineering, skiing, rafting and mountain biking.

Nights in winter are very long and at times boring. The soft warm beds are soothing and make us rather lazy. Traditional Kashmiri homes have hammams for giving the much-needed heat. It typically is a room with a hollow base for burning firewood which provides heat. It also ensures a supply of hot water through an attached copper tank (It is called Khazana in Kashmiri). It is a permanent solution and the family spends most of the indoor wakeful hours in this area, which is also invariably next to the kitchen. Modern technology imported from South Korea which lays fine cables underneath the carpets in sitting rooms has also come there through local agencies. This is a novel technology but cannot replace the traditional Hammam. The electricity in the valley is always in short supply in winters because of reduction in production from hydroelectric projects and also much higher demand. The voltages dip to very low levels, making electric gadgets ineffective at times.

Winter is also the time to enjoy the traditional dish called Harissa. This breakfast dish in Kashmir is an established delicacy. It is a traditional dish made by specialised cooks “Harsigyar” from goat meat pounded with a special variety of rice and delicate spices, served piping hot. The traditional cooks of this delicacy are based at Saraf Kadal and Ali Kadal areas of the downtown of Srinagar. These outlets which cook it the whole night are thronged by people very early before the sunrise. Harsigyar have now proliferated all over the city and you can get it at your doorstep also. Tinned Harissa is also available if you want to carry it to places outside the valley.

The Kashmiri winter also has its own charm. The valley is dressed in white all over, no dirt is visible. It is all glistening white. The streets, shops, bazaars, fields, gardens, and roofs are all covered with snow. Birds, beasts, cattle and other creatures are unwilling to roam around. Even the stray dogs forget their barking and crows their cawing. The hustle and bustle of business declines.

The schools and colleges remain closed. The Govt offices since the days of Maharaja used to shift to the summer capital Jammu. However, this year after centuries old official practice of rotating the seat of governance between the two capitals of Srinagar and Jammu on a six-monthly basis, called the “Durbar Move”, has been largely cancelled. It does make sense since lot of time used to be wasted in moving the offices from Srinagar to Jammu and then back after winter. Although the employees miss this movement to escape cold the senior officers and bureaucrats always find a reason to go to Jammu much more often in these cold months.

Winter also is associated with a greater number of heart attacks, uncontrolled high blood pressure and diabetes. This is partly because of inactivity and remaining indoors, consuming more calorie dense food and increasing burden on the heart to keep the body warm. Viral infections like influenza become frequent. It is therefore always recommended to have the flu shot before the onset of this season.

It is desirable to continue regular exercise and consume heart healthy diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits and reduced amount of carbohydrates; and have Harissa only occasionally. Patients with heart disease should always get a review of their medications done with the onset of this season.

Tail Piece:

Winter in Kashmir valley is generally harsh and not really welcome by the inhabitants. It is because of the intense cold and poor facilities of heating and un-dependable electricity. However, it also is a spectacular sight with everything glistening white with frozen snow. One needs to learn to enjoy it. Life slows down and people who can move to warmer areas like Jammu and other parts of North India do that.

Patients with heart diseases need to see their doctor before the onset of this harsh season to get their medicines optimised. Winter sports should be given more importance and it should bring in more tourists to the valley. It is, however, hoped that the infrastructure to cope up with the intense sub-zero temperatures is improved by the administration.

Prof U Kaul Founder Director Gauri Kaul foundation, recipient of Padma shri and Dr B C Roy Award

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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