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Spring colours bring hope to Kashmir

Abid Soffi abidsoffi

Updated: April 12, 2011, 4:12 PM IST
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Finally the harsh winter is over with the arrival of spring in the Kashmir valley, which has woken up to life with fresh green tints having emerged on the frozen land and mountainside. However, this time due to late snowfall, high mountains are still under a blanket of snow.

Not far away from the winter, the spring brings about changes even in the dress and eating habits of the people in the Kashmir, where the pussy willows and the daffodils are in blossom. Migratory birds had started arriving. Mustard has carpeted the countryside, almond trees are in flowers and willow branches are imbued in anticipation of sprouting buds. Kashmir is literally in bloom. However, late snowfall on upper reaches and rains in plains had turned the weather a bit cold.

According to Khalid Bashir, poet and writer, who has written several books on Kashmir, the Kashmiris have divided the year into six seasons, sont (Spring), Reta Kole (Summer), Wehraat (Rainy season), Harud (Autumn), wanda (Winter) and Shishur (frosty season). The first part of the Kashmir spring is known as Ganda Bahar (dirty spring) for bringing rains, thunderstorms and occasional chilly winds that literally send shivers down one's spine. Being associated with the time of flowering of trees, the cold is known as posh te'r (blossom cold).

Bashir, Former Director of Information said the end of February is the dawning of spring when sudden warmth is felt in the air making it pleasantly cool. Water is no more chilling and the earth gets eager and warmer. However, this time due to below normal temperature following snow and rains, the water was still cold and people were feeling chill.

The spring in the valley is the culmination of a long and harsh winter whose highlight is the chila-e-Kakan, a 40-day period of intense cold and snow, beginning from December 21. The winter virtually paralysis life in Kashmir with an air gloom and despondency reigning over the valley. The days get shorter and cold and the nights grow longer and chilly. The valley during this time is likened to a huge refrigerator.

The spring is also the onset of a fairly long wet period when earth produces a unique smell and glows with colours. Of the total annual rainfall in Kashmir the spring accounts for about 50 per cent. It is the time for the dead valley to turn to life again.

Among the migratory birds, swallows are the foremost to arrive in the valley after the veil of winter is lifted from her face. The Ranga bulbul (Golden oriole), Hudhud or Satut (Hoopoe), Kastoor (Blackbird) and Koletoonch (Kingfisher) follow suit. Among plant species, Bredmushk (Pussy willow), Tehriposh (Forysethia species), Tekabaten (adonis aestivalis), narcissus and daffodils make the spring of Kashmir while almond blossom is its profound announcement.

With the arrival of spring, dress and eating habits get changed.

The heavy woolens slowly give away to cotton and light clothes. Lassi (diluted curd) and vegetables considered causing and aggravation cough and cold during winter are no longer a restriction. Bashir said till a couple of decades ago when fresh vegetables were a rarity during winter in Kashmir and its import was not frequent, the arrivals of wild herbs like Hand( Taraxacum officinale), Kralemond (Capsella bursapastoris) and Kratsch (Centriia iberia) in early spring would mean a delicacy.

The respite from the terrible long winter with sub-zero temperature and a continuously overcast sky is welcome by all. People greet the change in the season with joy. In the days gone by, they would flock to Badamwari (almond garden), a quarter of the Srinagar city at the foot of the Hariparbat hill, to enjoy almond blossom. It was a picnic spot where kashmiris would celebrate the onset of spring. Under the shade of full bloomed almond trees, they would sit around boiling samavars sipping noon chai (salt tea), the favourite brew of the locals.

"It was not mere love of beauty and colour that impels them, but a spirit of thanks giving that the winter with its miseries of cold and dreary monotony of white snow has passed, and that earth has come to life again with all her bright flowers and promise of kindly fruits", observes Walter Lawrence, the then settlement Commissioner of Kashmir, about a hundred years ago.

The almond blossom is a treat to the eye. It is said that Emperor Akbar desired to see the spectacle. However, when he was scheduled to arrive in the valley the trees would not be in bloom.

The ingenuity of the locals solved the problem. In a certain almond garden the trees were covered with snow at the root for a long time disallowing the branches to blossom at normal springtime. When the Emperor was about to reach Kashmir the snow was removed and in no time the trees blossomed.

But the Badamwar today is a human settlement where man's greed has overwhelmed the nature and unceremoniously laid to rest a strong cultural symbol. The spring in Kashmir has a different meaning than perhaps anywhere else. It is the time when a dormant valley wakes up to a new life.

The educational institutions are reopened in the first week of March after two and a half months winter vacation. For farmers, it is the harbinger of agricultural activities after a 4-month long break when his land is idle due to a protracted winter. A time for the snow on mountains to melt and reinforce the streams and rivers across the valley. It also heralds the beginning of plantation season. Around this time, women carrying baskets of cow dung, commonly used manure, on their heads and going through the mustard fields are a usual sight in a Kashmir village.

Bashir said the Kashmir spring has a definite impact on the behavior of people. It brings some change in their comportment. Being in bed till late in the morning feels wonderful. One simply does not want to leave one's bed. The chirping of birds in the morning casts a spell of magic on everyone.

Apart from the indigenous sparrows and bulbul, the migratory vocalists who rent the morning air include hudhud and kastoor. The long time ill and indisposed feel a sudden improvement in their health and the young find extra enthusiasm in themselves. "There is a definite and positive impact of spring on human behaviuous particularly in chronic ailments" doctors believe.

This applies to animals and plants too. "Improvement in temperature and longer hours of light does have positive influence on cattle who remain in virtual hibernation during winter", opines a senior veterinary doctor and says even the colour of their skin shows some glow.

The Floriculturists extends the phenomenon to their filed and believes the flowering of trees to be the expression of their joy after coming out of a long period of dormancy in winter. The arrival of spring calls for a celebration which is done by collective burning of masha'l (torch) on a particular day.

The festivity is known as phrove. It is said to have a Buddhist origin but now being linked with the anniversary of a Muslim saint, Baba Zainuddin Wali, on Anantnag-Pahalgam road in south Kashmir. It has assumed a certain degree of reverence among people. The farmers take out a torch procession in the evening at the mausoleum of the saint at Aishmuqam and seek his blessings for a successful crop, the seeds of which they sow only after paying obeisance there.

The celebration of Shivartri by Kashmiri Hindus and Baisakhi by sikhs as religious and cultural events, respectively also add colour to the Kashmir spring. The later falls in the middle of April when the Mughal Gardens situated on the bank of the Dal Lake, are officially thrown open for public after being closed for winter from April 13.
First Published: April 12, 2011, 4:12 PM IST

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