Chilai Kalan, the harshest yet mesmeric phase of winter in Kashmir
The changing play of the seasons enhances the already indisputable beauty of Kashmir Valley. The 40 day period called Chilai Kalan, beginning this month, is considered the harshest phase of winter. With its onset, the valley is blanketed in snow and mercury plummets below freezing.
Locals can be spotted wearing pherans—traditional long cloaks covering the whole body, which have survived modern attire. Beneath the pheran, locals use a kangri, an earthen pot held in a wicker frame, filled with hot embers, to keep the chill at bay.
Come winter, the food habits of Kashmiris also undergo a change: locals stockpile dried vegetables, dried fish, and pulses to prepare for any food shortages that may result from a weather-related closure of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, their only road link with the rest of the country. A cup of kehwa, a traditional tea served after lavish wazwan meals consisting of dozens of dishes, is a must in winters. To prepare it, green tea leaves are boiled with saffron strands, cinnamon bark and cardamom pods.
With the fall in temperature, harissa becomes the preferred breakfast. A mouthwatering hot paste made of lamb shanks and rice cooked in elaichi, garlic and fennel, harissa is relished with morning tea across Srinagar, as it is said to keep the body warm.
Winter also brings a rush of winged visitors to Kashmir every year. According to local officials, around 700,000 migratory birds have already reached the Valley’s wetlands.