If you aren't familiar with Kashmir's winter traditions, you're missing out on a lot.
Freezing cold, non-insulated homes, long power outages, gas and water shortages. Name any trouble and you will see the people of India-administered Kashmir braving it with grace.
The coldest spell of winter in Kashmir starts from December 21— and they have a name for it too: Chillai Kalan. For an ordinary Kashmiri, Chillai Kalan is linguistically abstract but a strong enough word to evoke imagination in the minds of Kashmiris. Many imagine it as a young, bearded man waving a long cane in the winter skies and making it snow hard.
Chillai Kalan has a father too. His name is Chillai Khurd. Many Kashmiri children imagine it as an old man with a long beard and wearing long robes. His arrival in Kashmir is marked between late January and mid February. His snow spells are considered to be weaker since the change in temperature makes them melt fast. Then there is a kid too, named Chillai Bacche, who could only make it rain from the end of February till early March, before the spring flowers bloom.
This year the Chillai Kalan has pushed the temperature down to minus six degrees, turning the conflict-torn Himalayan region of Kashmir into a frozen valley. The lakes, rivers and drinking water supply pipes have frozen. Aware of the harsh realities of the winter, Kashmirs start preparing for it from the beginning of autumn. They would dry vegetables, mostly tomatoes, bottle gourds, turnips and spinach to compensate for the shortage of greens in the following months. They also make charcoal from the fallen leaves of the Chinar.
But the most potent tool to keep the winter chill at bay is the Kangri, a mobile firepot fuelled by charcoal and encased in wicker. The Kangri is most effective under the Pheran, a long cloak worn by Kashmiris in winters.
The hamams in mosques are the next spot where Kashmiris keep themselves warm. Different from the Turkish hamams, Kashmiri hamams were introduced by the Mughals in Kashmir. It's a room with a floor made of rock-slabs that generate heat from the firewood placed underneath it. A big water tank made of copper is fitted above the fireplace of the Kashmiri hamam, which makes Kashmiri mosques one of the most sought-after avenues for a hot shower — the winter phenomenon many regular mosque-goers detest, as they feel their place of worship is being exploited for personal comforts.
In the past couple of decades, many affluent Kashmiris have built hamams in their houses too.
It's hard to imagine Kashmiris surviving the winter chill without deploying the traditional tools and methods to keep themselves warm.