The autumn in general, even in old Greek and other European languages used to be synonymous with harvest. Later, as populations started moving to towns and away from the fields, it became known as a season between summer and winter, the period associated with fall of the leaf; and the season became known as “Fall” like end of winter associated with springing of leaves became Spring.
Autumn in Kashmiri is called Harud. It is the period between end of September to mid- November. This year it seems to have been a bit late because of a delayed onset of summer which was preceded by a longish harsh winter. The season has its charm of changing colours of leaves on trees. When green turns to golden and then reddish-orange before turning brown and finally falling to ground. In the parks and gardens, especially the countryside with Chinar trees, known as “buen” in Kashmiri, shedding of leaves during this period creates a magical golden aura. Walking down the lawns and even streets gives the sound of rustling over these dry colourful leaves. It produces a magical aura that lasts in the mind for very long. The weather is fabulous with misty mornings and evenings having a cool nip reminding of the coming winter, but days are sunny and warm. This is an incredibly great combination. Going to the country side one can see paddy being cut with sickles and then stacked in huge piles to dry. This stacked paddy is then thrashed for segregating the grain. This is a typical site of Kashmiri autumn. The best season to be outdoors and enjoy the fragrance in the air with very comfortable temperatures.
If you move out of Srinagar and go towards south Kashmir during this period and reach Pampore, a part of Pulwama district, an amazing purple-colour over large areas will greet you. These are the saffron fields in full bloom. Similar fields can be seen in districts of Badgam and Kishtwar. The best variety, however, is in Pampore, on both sides of the national highway going towards Banihal. The soil and the climate are ideally suited for its cultivation. The saffron from Kashmir is far superior than the Iranian variety which has much lower colouring material called crocin. The red saffron threads of this flower are carefully handpicked by harvesters, to be sold in the market after picking the saffron threads from the flowers; a delicate practice mastered by womenfolk in the families. They separate the delicate saffron threads from the flowers. These threads are then dried in sunlight after spreading evenly at a certain thickness on white sheets. These are then preserved in a cotton cloth so that air can continuously pass through to avoid its decomposition. It is a source of livelihood for more than 30,000 families in that area.
Going towards the hilly areas one can see the maize and walnut trees with their fruit getting ready to be harvested. It is also a time when after a day’s satisfactory harvesting, the inhabitants sit together and sip a cup of steaming Kahwa or the nun chai along with the gossip of the day with a makkaye chot (corn bread) or Toumle chot (bread from rice flour). A background of melodious sound of flowing streams with water splashing over small pebbles, and intermittent noise from insects and crickets, is music to all ears. Going towards apple producing areas of Sopore in North Kashmir or Shopian in South Kashmir, one can see cartons of apple being transported to various parts of the country. The previous practice of buying from mandis is being rapidly replaced by merchants coming from all over the country directly to orchards and booking the orders.
The other activity after the harvesting is over is to prepare for the coming winter are: stockpiling essentials, pruning trees, covering water pipes with cloth and foam to prevent freezing. Another important task is getting Kangris (an earthen pot woven around with wicker; later filled with hot embers kept under the traditional winter clothing called pheran). Finally taking out and cleaning pherans to keep warm during the forthcoming freezing winters. The practice of drying the vegetables and fish in the form of garlands to be consumed during winters is still prevalent in the countryside and smaller towns. This is despite the fact that fresh vegetables are available throughout the year because of improved transportation even during the difficult winter months. These dried vegetables “Haukhe Syun” (turnip, bottle gourds, brinjal and tomatoe), and various sizes of dried and smoked fish called “Hogada”, although originally meant for tiding over the difficult months, are considered delicacies now.
Autumn brings the fond memories of the year spent and it is time to pay gratitude to the Almighty for all the favours bestowed on us. It is also time to look forward for a new and hopefully an exciting year. It is undoubtedly the best of all seasons - the “Golden months of our lovely smiling Kashmir”.
Prof Upendra Kaul is Founder Director, Gauri Kaul Foundation. He is a 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.