“With every falling flake, a unique spark of interest falls from heaven.” — Percy Miller
I HAVE always been a winter person. Sitting under a blanket looking through the window as the snow falls to the ground quenching its thirst for the cold after the summer haze has left it dry and sipping a hot cup of tea, enjoying the dance of the snowflakes.
But alas, in Kashmir, the winter brings with it more than just picturesque scenery and charming fall of the snow. It also presents a distinct set of health hazards that should be anticipated and dealt with in advance. With consistently below-freezing temperatures, Kashmir’s winter can last from November to March. Although it is also exquisite to look at, the winter season offers a distinct experience for those who live here. Some claim it’s the worst season of the year. The lack of facilities here makes winter the ugliest season for many residents.
The Winter Woes
Among the woes of the winters in Kashmir is the problem of prolonged power cuts. Second, the problem of isolation of some parts within the Valley and the Valley itself, from the surrounding areas or states respectively. The roads often get blocked by the snowfall in the regions. Then the sub-zero temperatures cause health problems for the people in the Valley. The frozen taps and water shortage also is very common in Kashmir during ‘chillai kalan’.
- Frequent power-cuts
The government’s attempts to increase the supply of energy have not been successful, and so, the gap between the supply and demand of electricity has widened, making the power crisis in Kashmir a serious problem. Resultantly, the residents of Kashmir are experiencing more and more blackouts due to the region’s ongoing unplanned power outages. The electricity issue in Kashmir is a concern; it has caused extensive interruptions that impact homes, businesses, and basic services.
Even though smart meters have been installed widely throughout Kashmir, but as the winter approaches, locals have to deal with a gloomy electricity supply. The assurances and pledges of the administration promising an improved power supply during this winter season seem like a far-off dream.
Even with the advances in technology brought about by smart meters, the harsh winter weather still causes disruptions to the area’s power supply. Long-lasting power outages are a major source of inconvenience for many locals, particularly in rural areas, negatively impacting everyday life.
- Health crisis
Acute lung infections like pneumonia and chronic lung disorders like asthma, COPD, and IPF can all be made worse by cold weather during the winters. Dry skin and cold blains are frequent skin problems. The worst victims are the elderly and the children. Winter time is when carbon monoxide poisoning occurs, and it can be fatal. Carbon monoxide poisoning can result from continuous gas heater usage without safety precautions and poor ventilation.
- Road clogging and high prices of amenities
Snowflakes, whether heavy or light, divide Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu from one another.
On the Srinagar-Jammu route, a large number of cars carrying both passengers and cargo become stuck for days or even weeks at a time. Since Kashmir cannot create enough high-quality items on its own, it imports all necessities from Jammu, Punjab, and other Indian states; hence, the shutdown of highways also stops the supply of necessities. People suffer as a result of this obstruction, and occasionally, Kashmir runs out of baby food as well.
Due to highway blockages, the cost of basic culinary items like potatoes, tomatoes, peas, cauliflowers, and onions has increased by about 40% in Srinagar markets. A majority of necessities such as groceries and vegetables, especially during the winters, travel to Kashmir via the short strategic highway that stretches 300 kms. However, because the road gets closed, the supplies don’t reach Kashmir because the vehicles transporting the necessities are stuck in the traffic.
- Preparing for the winter
Winter-appropriate clothing seems to be one of the fundamental preparations. In addition to thermals, sweaters, and other warm apparel, the ‘phiran’ is a staple of Kashmiri winter attire. Both men and women wear the phiran, a long woolen fabric resembling a gown. It is long, reaching nearly to the knees, but it is also sufficiently baggy to accommodate a tiny child when worn.
Men’s phirans are basic, whereas women’s feature metalwork and various other forms of art over them. Everyone in the family needs to have a phiran before the winter officially arrives, especially the kids who require a new one every year.
The heating system is yet another crucial necessity in the winter. For this reason, a lot of tools are stored about. In Kashmir, modern appliances such as heaters are kept at hand, but power is not always accessible in the winter.
Winters have an effect on Kashmiri cuisine as well. The bulk of vegetables and other food items are imported from outside of Kashmir, as very few veggies are grown here during the winter. Since winter-time has a significant influence on road connectivity and for weeks, Kashmir is cut off from the outside world by the road, Kashmiris must always have a sufficient supply of food at hand. This is typically accomplished by stockpiling dry vegetables and pulses, as it is already customary in Kashmiri culture to store enormous amounts of rice. Vegetables like tomatoes, pumpkins, and certain green vegetables are dried up in Kashmir throughout the summer months and eaten in the winter. Despite significant improvements in road connection, stockpiling of food has become commonplace in Kashmir. After all, road connections may stop altogether during harsh winters, even with enhanced connectivity, particularly in the event of significant snowfall.
Here’s wishing we all have winters that don’t leave us cold and sad. Here’s to warmth, and a wholesome living during this cold spell.