Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kishtwar, a forgotten adventure!

(The valleys of Kishtwar have been proclaimed in many travelogues as mysterious and adventurous but these days the adventure tourism potential of the area has gone totally into background!)
Image result for sicklemoon peak
In 1918, Otto Rothfeld, an Indian Civil Service Officer wrote a book titled, “With Pen and Rifle in Kishtwar”. In the preface, the author describes Kishtwar as, “…the province of Kishtwar, situated between Kashmir and Chamba on the way to Simla, and ruled by H. H. the Maharaja of Kashmir and Jammu, is not only very little known, but is in itself extremely interesting. Its scenery is almost unique; its inhabitants are peculiar; its remains are undeciphered; and its sport is exceptional”. Even though the area is now developed and modernised yet some of the valleys there retain the mystery and adventure. The book can be downloaded free at this link: http://pahar.in/wpfb-file/1918-with-pen-and-rifle-in-kishtwar-by-rothfeld-s-pdf/
Before 1990 Kishtwar was the most sought after destination for adventure lovers especially mountaineers and trekkers from U.K. Almost a dozen expeditions would come for climbing various mountain peaks in the area. The attraction of these mountains apart from being high and difficult was the trek involved in reaching the base camp. In Ladakh especially in Suru and Zanskar Valleys where there are dozens of mountain peaks, there is hardly any trekking involved in reaching the base camps. These are almost all approachable by road with hardly a day’s trekking. This does not give sufficient time for acclimatisation.
The most frequented valleys in Kishtwar area include the Wadhwan and Paddar Valleys. Most of the mountain peaks are in the range of 6000 to 7000 meters and are very challenging. These include Brahma, Brahma’s Wife, Ekfeiler, Dreikent, Sickle Moon, Barnaj-I, II and III and so on. These have been climbed many times. Even Chris Bonnington, the famous British climber has been on Brahma! There is a very famous trek through Paddar Valley to Zanskar Valley over the Umasi La pass. This trek too has been very popular with foreign trekkers. On the way is the famous Cedar forest of Machail. In fact, this trek has historical significance. The Dogra General who conquered Ladakh and annexed it to Dogra Kingdom, General Zorawar Singh went into Zanskar valley through this pass and then conquered entire Ladakh. Another interesting episode relating to the pass is the carriage of huge cedar logs across from Machail to Zanskar by the lamas of Karsha monastery! The monastery has huge wooden columns made from these Cedar trees.
The Wadhwan valley itself is a fascinating trek. It is the most beautiful valley in the entire state. At an average altitude of 8,500 feet above sea level, there are many villages on the two sides of Wadhwan River which flows through the middle of the valley. On two sides are long forested slopes. The River itself has many islands on which there are Pine trees giving a fascinating view. From Kashmir side the valley can be approached through Margan pass across into Inshan village. There are many villages like Tsodraman, Wurwan, Sokhniz on the two sides of Wadhwan River. The valley also lies on the trek to Suru valley of Kargil through Botkol pass. Some treks lead to Lidder valley and one track comes straight over Shesh Nag through Golule Gali. The area has equally good potential during winter for skiing, cross-country skiing and ski mountaineering. It can be an excellent area for different winter sports. Wadhwan valley in winter would be a paradise for cross-country skiing.
The Department of Tourism in eighties of last century after the popularity of Kishtwar as a take off point for multiple adventure trails had set up an equipment store here. Imported trekking and climbing equipment was kept available for trekkers and climbers. However, after the outbreak of militancy in 1990, the store was taken over by the Border Security Force.
Kishtwar also has a landing strip where small aircraft have landed sometimes. Apart from developing adventure tourism, there is urgent requirement of providing an air connection to this area which sometimes remains cut off for days on end due to landslides. Even a regular helicopter service can be of good use both for the tourists and the local population. Earlier Pawan Hans had started a helicopter service which was subsequently discontinued. In view of the set back to leisure tourism due to unusual conditions in Kashmir valley, it is advisable to promote adventure tourism and Kishtwar approachable by road through Simthan pass or by helicopter from Srinagar could be a good alternative in addition to Ladakh. The adventure tourist who goes for all types of hazardous activities is not easily put off by unusual local conditions. Additionally, most of the adventure areas are away from population centres in wild valleys and on high mountains and remain undisturbed by local problems. Let us hope, Kishtwar gets re-activated as an Adventure Tourism destination and the spirit of adventure in Otto Rothfeld’s book gets rejuvenated

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Integration or assimilation?

(Mohan Bhagwat’s declaration of integrating Kashmir fully into India may, on the contrary, begin the process of disintegration of India itself!)
Get your word right
The Oxford dictionary defines “Integration” as an action to bring together different countries, blocks, units and so on for political or economic integration. The best example of the process is the European Union. The integrated countries or states retain their individual characteristics but become part of a whole. On the other hand, the “Assimilation” is the absorption and integration of people, ideas, or culture into a wider society or culture. The best example is the absorption of various races, nationalities into what we now call the American Nation which basically is an artificial creation.
RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has declared that Kashmir will be fully integrated into India after amending the Constitution. He seems to have confused the words “Integration” and “Assimilation”! In fact, he appears to be saying that Kashmiris would be fully assimilated into the Hindu Nation of the Indian mainland which he intends to turn into Golwalkar’s dream of a Hindu Rashtra. Incidentally, he does not mention Kashmiris who have inhabited the territory for thousands of years but talks about Kashmir, the land. He probably considers Kashmir only as a territorial unit of Hindu origin. Unfortunately, right from the start, both India and Pakistan have been laying claim to the territory of Kashmir and none is really interested or bothered about its inhabitants, the Kashmiris!
In ancient times, Kashmir was known as a separate independent kingdom at the same time when India was known to be a country inhabited by Hindus. No doubt at that time the religion professed by Kashmiris was Shaivism, a school of philosophy of Hinduism practiced only in Kashmir and most of South India. However, even at that time, Kashmir was not associated with the Indian mainland in any way but remained as an independent sovereign kingdom. No doubt, that was a glorious Hindu past of Kashmir but that past has gone by and we are now living in a totally new and a different present. Kashmir is now a Muslim majority state with the most tolerant and accommodative religious practices. History always moves forward and pinning about the past glory is not going to serve any purpose or change the ground situation. That can be done by physically changing the demography with outside settlers and displacing the original inhabitants. That seems easier to say than to do practically on ground. This is especially so because of the restive youth fighting bullets with stones! They have been alienated beyond redemption. Even BJP leader Yashwant Sinha says that India has lost Kashmir emotionally!
Regarding integration, well, Kashmir is already integrated with India. This had happened right after the signing of the accession document and the Delhi Agreement in forties and fifties of the last century. Had the Indian authorities honoured these documents and implemented the same in letter and spirit, there would have been no problem. In fact, Kashmir would have been another Bhutan! Had India honoured its commitment of full autonomy, the other side would have been in trouble. There one central minister of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad controls everything in supposedly “Azad” Kashmir! The other part earlier known as Northern Areas and now called Giligit-Baltistan is now totally merged into Pakistan for all practical purposes. The setting up of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Gilgit-Baltistan forming part of the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir, has made this part unnegotiable both for Pakistan and China! They cannot afford to change its status at any cost for their own survival!
Thus, if Mohan Bhagwat really wants to integrate honestly and genuinely Kashmir and the Kashmiris living there into the Indian Republic, he has to restore the integrity of the agreements which India had signed with Kashmiris rather than amend the constitution to assimilate the state and its people into his utopian Hindu Rashtra! Kashmir can become part of Hindu Rashtra only if all Kashmiris are either converted back into Shaivite Hinduism or they are forcibly displaced from there by new Hindu settlers. This, as already stated, is an impossible task! On the contrary Mohan Bhagwat should advise Prime Minister Modi to start a dialogue in Kashmir if he really wants “Emotional Integration” of Kashmiris!
Incidentally, in view of the above realities, one needs to go deeper into this tirade of Hindu Rashtra and full integration of Kashmir into it generated by BJP and RSS. There is only one plausible explanation. All the BJP and RSS statements and declarations are intended to create a wave of religious euphoria for the next Parliament election which may even be preponed from 2019 to 2018. The declaration of the Election Commission that they are fully geared for holding both the State Assembly Elections and Parliament Election simultaneously in 2018 itself seems an uneasy indication of the real cause for such emotionally charged religious waves. However, such drastic declarations, instead of fully integrating Kashmir into India, may, on the contrary, disintegrate India itself!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Criminal Negligence in Flood Prevention!

(The disastrous flood of 2014 seems to have been forgotten both by the people and the rulers and a worse disaster may be looming around!)
Criminal Negligence in Flood Prevention!
One had sincerely expected that the people and the rulers would learn a lesson from the worst flood of the century which occurred in September, 2014. Even though it did not result in a major loss of life yet it caused extensive economic losses in terms of property and goods. The material loss was in thousands of crores and the poshest areas of the capital city of Srinagar were savagely ravaged. No doubt the flood was a backlash from the River Jhelum and all its associated water bodies which had been vandalised by the people and the rulers. Encroachments on the River’s banks and usurpation of the flood basin by the government in terms of new colonies and establishments had annoyed the River so much that it stuck with a vengeance.
Most of the experts who analysed the disaster had observed that the flood was due to extreme vandalisation of the environment in the catchment areas and usurpation of the flood basin.  The River which gave life to Kashmir has been vandalised and desecrated by us. The muck and filth of almost entire Kashmir is made to flow into the River. Its banks have been encroached in most places especially in the city of Srinagar. For last half a century or so no one has bothered to dredge it and take away the silt. Over and above everything else its flood basin has been snatched and converted into colonies. Where else will it go except overflow its banks and sometimes may even change course. Most of the wetlands and water bodies have either been filled up or encroached upon. The historical channel Nala-i-Mar has been filled up and converted into a road. We have hardly left any space for the extra water to flow in anywhere. In the catchment areas, most of the rain water would get absorbed but now it runs down straight as we have totally denuded the catchment area of the River. One cannot rule out sudden disastrous floods in future especially because of the universal climate change. Reclaiming all the earlier back-ups to prevent floods may take time. We needed to go for immediate preventive and protective measures.
After the devastation and displacement caused by the flood, one would have expected people to remain under shock for a long time. Not only did they restart massive constructions in the flood affected areas of the city but violated all building bye laws and norms with the connivance of the authorities. There has been no chastisement as one would have expected from such a natural disaster attributed by many to be the “Divine Retribution” for our misdeeds! The government has been brooding over many schemes for prevention of floods and protection for the city areas. However, the progress on ground has been abnormally slow. The most important aspect is the dredging of the River and its flood spill over channel and strengthening of its embankments especially in the city of Srinagar a major portion of which was submerged in the last flood. During the short spell of Governor’s rule, the dredging operation had been started through some Kolkata based firm. However, there were some mechanical problems and the progress has been extremely slow as admitted by the Chief Engineer in charge of Flood Control.  If one travels along the Bund in the city or along the embankments of the flood spill-over channel, nothing substantial seems to have been done. Instead, the dug up soil is in huge mounds all along the channel. Just 10 feet of water will spill over the embankments. The worst is the fate of the flood spill over channel. With the deposition of huge amounts of silt and wild growth, it is almost on level with the banks especially in Mehjoor Nagar-Ram Bagh areas. In addition, there has been a spate of bridge construction creating massive hurdles for free flow of water.
Sometime back, the State Chief Minister had constituted a committee for initiating immediate flood prevention measures. She is herself the chairperson of the committee. It is not known whether the concerned engineers are briefing her regularly of any progress on ground? It will be worthwhile for her to just take a round of the flood spill over channel just from Mehjoor Nagar to Ram Bagh Bridge to know the actual ground situation. Given the will and determination, it is not difficult to execute most of the flood prevention measures like dredging, strengthening of embankments and clearing of filled up water bodies on a continuous basis. Usually, in such important projects there is a special monitoring team of consultants or experts who monitor the work on a day to day basis. God Almighty has given us again a grace period till next season. The sooner the government moves at the top, the better. In the alternative, one has to keep fingers crossed for another calamity which will, unfortunately be, of our own making! However, it needs to be emphasised that any dereliction in undertaking these most urgent measures without wasting any further time amounts to criminal negligence!



Friday, September 29, 2017

Promoting Adventure Tourism

(With unprecedented decline in leisure Tourism, the ideal alternative is to promote Adventure Tourism for which Kashmir has unlimited potential)
Promoting Adventure Tourism


Tourism in Kashmir has suffered the most serious set-back during the last two years. The activity during the current season has been virtually negligible compared to some earlier years. The figures were supposed to have touched almost two million just a couple of years back. Even though tourism is not the main economic activity yet it provides employment to a large number of people during the season. Being a service oriented industry all over the world it is considered as a great employer. Apart from employment, the increased number of tourists motivates many people to go for setting up of various tourism related activities. Among these the main ones are the accommodation and the transport. It also gives a boost to the sale of many handicraft products through local retailers.
Considering the potential to attract tourists not only from all over the country but from abroad, one would have expected the figures to go beyond couple of million people provided peace had prevailed. However, in the present circumstances even though the conditions are not as bad as portrayed by the totally anti-Kashmir hostile media, yet most of the leisure tourists who want to enjoy the beauty and peace of the “Paradise on Earth” get easily put off by uncertain conditions. But there is a different kind of tourist, the adventure loving tourist for whom the uncertain conditions are an added challenge! People who brave avalanches, stone falls and extremely freezing temperatures to climb mountain peaks or those who ski down some of the most difficult snow slopes with avalanches following in their trails or those moving in inflatable rafts and kayaks through the most turbulent mountain streams are not scared to come to Kashmir in spite of the unsettled local conditions. Incidentally, some of the most top skiers of the world came to Kashmir in the nineties of the last century during the peak years of militancy for heli-skiing all over the valley!
In view of the tremendous potential in adventure tourism and the urge and eagerness of adventure lovers to come to Kashmir regardless of the prevailing situation, it would be the most ideal thing to promote this specialised type of tourism. Incidentally, the present Director Tourism in Kashmir himself is a man of adventure. Apart from being the President of the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club, he is a life member of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure in the country. He has trekked to all the mountain lakes, over the most difficult mountain trails and has participated in every type of adventure. At present the Directorate of Tourism in Kashmir is going all out for inviting top adventure sports persons from all over the world. The most ideal way of promoting an adventure destination is to organise events with participation of top world players and ensure live telecast of these events. There is no better way of convincing people about the potential for adventure activities in any particular area than this.
In recent years, ski lovers have been visiting Gulmarg from many European countries, Australia (where it is summer during our winter) and even Russia. Incidentally, Europe has more than few million skiers who are always looking for new slopes and better snow conditions. Gulmarg now has very good facilities, world class ski slopes and the most ideal off the piste ski conditions. The best selling point for Gulmarg is the number of beautiful sunny days during winter which very few ski resorts in the world have! The most intelligent way of promoting Gulmarg like the sunny beaches of Goa would be to have charters from different potential areas with helicopter lift from Srinagar Airport to Gulmarg. If, Goa’s sunny beaches can be promoted by making available the facilities of charters, why not the ski slopes of Gulmarg?
Regarding other activities such as rafting, kayaking, para-gliding, ice-climbing and even trekking, there is tremendous potential. The Tourism Department has already organised certain events involving some international participation. The Government should accord top priority in procuring equipment, setting up certain facilities like climbing walls, skating rinks and so on. This kind of adventure should be made accessible not only to tourists but also to local youth. On the pattern of the famous Tyndale Biscoe School, all educational institutions both the private ones and the government managed should make adventure sports available to the youth. This can also be a good avenue for employment once adventure tourism picks up. There have been allegations that the security forces are discouraging foreign tourists from trekking in the most attractive area of the famous Sonamarg-Gangabal trek. This needs to be looked into.
Because of uncertain conditions Kashmir has gone out of circulation as an attractive tourist destination. Once a destination goes out of circulation, it is very difficult to put it back in the circuit. However, Adventure Tourism which can be promoted easily will keep Kashmir always in circulation in spite of uncertain condition. The Government instead of spending hundreds of crores on umpteen Tourism Development Authorities which expenditure of about rupees five hundred crores has been declared infructuous by the CAG, should give maximum thrust in improving facilities in the existing resorts and promote Adventure Tourism in a big way.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Protecting Kashmiri identity

(The all-out assault launched by the Hindutva forces in completely wiping out the Kashmiri identity necessitates an equally united front from the entire State to defend and safeguard it)
Protecting Kashmiri identity
The first question is what is “Kashmiri” identity? Kashmiris constitute a nation which is thousands of years old. In fact, a written record of Kashmiri nation penned down by an illustrious son of Kashmir, Kalhana goes back more than 5,000 years! Even before the recorded history, Kashmiris existed as a people and grew up on this planet with the birth of mankind all over the world. The dwelling pits and the megaliths at Burzahome and many other Neolithic (new stone age) sites in different parts of the valley are a distinct and irrefutable pointer towards the origin of Kashmiris. No doubt many other people came into the valley from time to time, yet there is no denying the fact that Kashmiris were born and grew up to be a distinct nation in the valley of Kashmir itself!
Over the years, Kashmiris developed their own unique culture and language. Thus the Kashmiri nation with a distinct culture, language and history has been there for thousands of years. The existence of Kashmir as a separate country in the Himalaya and the unique Kashmiri nation with distinct features finds mention in most of the Greek, Chinese and Arab chronicles. Kashmiris did have a change of religion from time to time. They were earlier Saivite Hindus, then they became Buddhists, then again Saivite Hindus and finally adopted Islam as their religion. Now, the majority of them follow the religion of Islam. However, all the changes were voluntary without any compulsion. In spite of the fact that the majority of the population adopted Islam as their religion, there has never been any conflict with those who continued to profess the Saivite religion. In fact, one of the reasons for such a mass conversion has been the similarity in the basic philosophy between Islam and Saivite Hinduism. The Saivites also follow Monism with belief in one super power creating, sustaining and destroying the Universe. They also believe in ultimate destruction of Universe which they call Pralaya. They are totally different from the Vedanta Hinduism followers of North India who have initiated the Hindutva wave and are bent upon destroying the unique identity of not only Kashmir but entire India!
After the Dogra conquest of Ladakh and purchase of the valley from the British, Kashmir evolved into the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The State has now been in existence for almost two hundred years as a composite unit of three cultures. At present whenever people speak about Kashmir, they in fact mean the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir. Kashmir these days does not denote the valley only but the entire state including parts with China and Pakistan. Till 1947 the three units carried along without any problems. The partition and the war in Kashmir split the state into various parts. On the Indian side even after partition these three parts, Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh carried on without any conflict among the inhabitants. In fact, very strong business relations grew between Jammu and Kashmir valley and these units became economically interdependent. However, certain Hindutva elements sowed the seeds of dissension by clamouring for total merger of the State into Indian Union. This was resisted by the then Central Government which incorporated Article 370 and 35-A in the Indian Constitution to safeguard and preserve the identity of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The Maharaja while acceding to the Indian Union had specifically asked for accession in only three subjects. He was very keen for preserving the identity of the people of all the three regions. In fact, he had enacted the state-subject law in 1927 not only for the people of the valley but for the inhabitants of all the three regions. He had apprehensions that rich from other parts of the pre-partition India would buy out his subjects who were comparatively poor!
The present assault on these two articles of the Constitution is not only directed against Kashmiris but against all the three regions. There is, therefore, urgent need for the inhabitants of all the three regions to present a united front to defend these articles. Any fiddling with these articles is not only going to affect the identity of Kashmiris from the valley but of all the three regions of the state. In fact, it was this very unity and tolerance among the Kashmiris which had made Mahatma Gandhi to see a ray of hope in Kashmir when the entire sub-continent was burning due to riots. Nehru himself was more than keen to keep Kashmir with India as a guarantee for the secularism preached by him! Thus the attack on the identity of Kashmir is, in true sense, an attack on the very idea of India.
Thus, all Kashmiris irrespective of their affiliations, regions or political outlooks should give a united front and resist the assault on the ages old identity of Kashmir. This is essential not only to safeguard the unity of the three regions of the state and the individual identity of these but also to save India itself from turning into a totalitarian country of one religion only which can ultimately result in its disintegration. All the democratic, secular, and progressive forces in India will definitely support such a stand.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The flyover to nowhere!

(The bits and pieces of the incomplete flyover of Srinagar in fact reflect the true state of Kashmir’s development in almost all sectors!)
The flyover to nowhere!

The most appropriate word to describe the state of developmental activities in Kashmir in any field is “adhocism”! Everything is done on the whims and fancies of the rulers always given to flattery from one and all! The worst fault is of our engineers who instead of giving the correct technical advice and standing by it regardless of the consequences try to please the political masters by catering to their whims and fancies. There are at the moment two fly overs under construction. The longest one has been there under construction for last four years or so. These fly overs which ostensibly are being constructed to ease the traffic congestion are in reality for easing the movement of VIP’s at congestion points and allowing them a quick travel to Airport and Secretariat. The Jahangir Chowk flyover was constructed only for easing the travel of VIP’s to the Secretariat. In fact, it created more congestion for the normal traffic going under it! There is an interesting side light of the project. It was conceived and presented to Dr. Farooq Abdullah when he was the Chief Minister. The authors of the project had a very ingenious plan for destroying the beauty of Srinagar. The engineers had suggested an overhead road right from Badshah Bridge to Rustom Gadi Bridge all over the Maulana Azad Road. Fortunately, the then Chief Town Planner convinced the Chief Minister that it will destroy the most important green avenue of Srinagar City. Luckily he was convinced and scrapped the project!
There are umpteen projects which were started either on the whims and fancies of the rulers or to accommodate some vested interests but were then abandoned half way after the sudden departure of the particular set of the rulers! The skewed bridge is a living example! If one is really interested in easing the traffic congestion, the first thing is to ensure enforcement of traffic rules on the existing roads. Srinagar is a city of crazy drivers who observe no traffic rules. Licenses for driving are issued without any driving tests. Sometimes these can be delivered at your home for a price!
Instead of the fly over, one could have built two parallel wide roads for one way traffic with only one way side entries. A parallel bridge to existing one at Ram Bagh could have ensured smooth traffic both ways. In fact, some citizens including some local engineers approached every one for reviewing the construction of this monstrous and obnoxious long flyover which does not at all gel with the surroundings. They even approached the Asian Development Bank which was supposed to be funding the project. Even a Public Interest Litigation too was filed in the High Court but to no avail. The engineers and the rulers had their way as the project involved huge pay offs! Interestingly, the projects which are really meant to be in general public interest get slowed down for unknown reasons. Take for instance the measures for prevention of future floods like the dredging of the River Jhelum and the flood Spill over Channel. These are moving at a snail’s pace because these may not involve easy pay offs! Recently, there has been a news about the mismanagement of the dredging project by a Kolkata based firm which even after a scandal on the Jhelum River is supposed to be engaged again for dredging of the Wular Lake!
The most recent and a glaring example of ad hocism is the shifting of the Batamaloo Bus Stand. No doubt this Bus Stand which has been there for ages is a huge traffic bottle neck but the shifting has to be in a proper way and not just on ad hoc basis. Firstly, the entire traffic bottle neck could have been avoided if the stand had proper strictly monitored one way entry and exit roads manned by traffic police not ready for compromise at any cost. Moreover, the huge bus fleet of various categories is supposed to be shifted to a stand which can hardly accommodate 286 buses! Again that new stand will create another nightmarish congestion point! The idea is not to shift congestion from one part of the city to another part but to ease the flow of traffic everywhere. The most urgent need is to engage an agency which can give a proper traffic plan and then ensure implementation and enforcement of the plan. Flyovers, over bridges, under bridges will not solve the problem unless there is a will to enforce the law regardless of any considerations. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles have the first right of way than siren blaring VIP’s violating all laws! Incidentally, we have so much Armed Police; a part of it could be easily spared for enforcing traffic regulations at all the crossings and congestion points..
In fact, if one were to write about adhocism in development and even all other state activities, it would take a book. The Srinagar Master Plan especially the land use, building bye laws and so on are all in a mess. These are observed more in violation than in enforcement! These are huge money spinning treasuries for some people involved in the observance and enforcement of various laws! They say honesty and water always flow from top to down below. Unfortunately, both the political will and honesty have always been missing in Kashmir. Consequently, we have to continue to suffer whether by flyovers to nowhere or by sudden floods or unending traffic jams!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Winter heating in Kashmir

(Traditional Hammams are giving way to Central Heating)
Winter heating in Kashmir

Winters in Kashmir especially certain months are very cold with freezing temperatures. Even though the amount of snowfall and the severity of the cold are lesser than the earlier times, still one needs to provide some type of heating arrangement in the homes. Traditionally, many Kashmiri homes have a special room called Hammam. This centrally located room in the ground floor has stone slabs as the flooring. Under these slabs there is a fireplace accessible from outside in which firewood is burnt. The stones get heated up and the room is quite warm. The heated stone slabs remain hot for quite some time. The disadvantage is that it is a solitary room in the entire house and everybody has to sit there for warmth. The rest of the house and other spaces like corridors etc. remain cold!  Another system has been burning wood in cast iron stoves in various rooms. These stoves have a pipe going out through the window for smoke. These are called “Bukharis”! These are quite efficient and get heated up quickly.
However, the most efficient system of heating houses and work places is central heating. Most of Europe, America and many other countries in colder regions have been using this circulated. In some cases, a mesh is buried under floors which are heated through circulating hmethod for heating in winter for ages. The heating is through radiators in which hot water or air is ot water. The water is heated in boilers which can be run on electric power, diesel, kerosene or even wood briquettes. In addition to heating, the system can also provide hot water which is primarily used for heating. The system is self-contained and just a push of a switch inside the house can start it running. Also now there is a programmer on which times can be set for switching on and off the system automatically.
 In Kashmir some of the hospitals were the first to get this system of heating. Now most of the hotels, important offices and some private homes have central heating. If the people of Kashmir were in a position to generate and utilise the hydro-electric power of which we have the highest potential, it would really be a paradise in winter. Everything would be heated nicely in winter on electric power! In the present scenario of acute shortage of power the ideal thing is to have heating on diesel oil which is readily available. In fact, the government should have been inducing people to go for such type of heating both within the homes and the work places. In most of the countries in colder regions like in Europe, the schools do not have winter breaks like in Kashmir. In fact, the winter is the best time to study. They get summer holidays to travel all over the world! Here, because of no heating arrangements in schools and other educational institutions, we have a “winter break”! It should be the endeavour of the government to make heating arrangements in all schools and other educational institutions so that the main study season could be the long winter itself. It is worth spending that money to look after our children than waste it on unproductive things!
During recent years, Kashmir has seen massive construction of private houses many by non-resident Kashmiris. Some of the houses may be worth more than 20 crores or so. However, one hardly sees any arrangement of winter heating in these houses. May be because these people come only during summer? Another interesting thing observed in many houses is the use of architecture suitable for hot places or even sea side. Huge spaces, high ceilings, and internal stairs in round shape or so with lot of free and open space all round. These would be really difficult to heat in winter! Interestingly, people spend lots of money in decorating their homes with tiles, decorative bricks or even marble on the outside but do not keep provision for heating which is the most important requirement in winter! Normally an average house with two floors would not cost more than rupees five to six lakhs for a complete central heating system! May be people are not aware about this aspect.
Coming to personal heating, Kashmiris have a unique system. We have mobile heaters called “Kangris”. It is an earthen pot in a wicker frame in which burning coals with ash on top are carried. This earthen fire pot is carried under a robe called “Pheran”. This has been the traditional system of personal heating from the earliest times. The best and the long lasting fire is from the coal made from dried Chinar leaves which are in abundance all over Kashmir in autumn. Even though the “Kangri” is very versatile and convenient, it has its hazards too. There are cases of developing cancer in thighs and stomach by close contact with the hot fire pot under the “Pheran”. In fact it is known as “Kangri Cancer”! However, the new generation is giving up the concept of “Pheran” and “Kangri”. They prefer Anoraks and jackets which are more comfortable and allow ease of working. It is said that the “Pheran” and “Kangri” was introduced in Kashmir by Mughals to make violent and aggressive Kashmiris docile and lazy! There may be some truth in it? Only our historians can confirm it! Incidentally, the “Kangri” is also sometimes used as a weapon in clashes during winter. A Kashmiri version of the famous “Molotov Cocktail”!