A shining sun, sad faces and snow- starved Kashmir

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS,

Pahalgam (Jammu and Kashmir) : As the sun shines bright in the midst of winter in Lidder valley, Sultan Neka, a 60-year-old villager, is not smiling. The bright sun has sparked concerns as people in the Kashmir Valley feel snow-starved.

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“This (sunshine in winters) is not a good omen,” Neka, wrapped in the traditional thick and long tweed overall called pheran, told IANS.

Neka, a farmer, took out the kangri, a portable fire pot filled with red charcoal, from under his pheran and kept it aside angrily. “Even this (kangri) is not needed now. It is already too hot,” he said, sitting on a shop porch.

“Too hot” may be an overstatement. But the remark is not completely misplaced. Snow has so far more or less eluded the Lidder valley, which used to be wrapped under a thick white blanket for almost the entire winter.

Fifty-six millimetres of rain or snow in the Kashmir valley in January is the long-term average. But until the third week of the month this year, it has received only 5.0 mm precipitation. That includes a short spell of snowfall.

The weather department has estimated that the valley will have a deficit of 20- 30 percent of rain or snow this winter.

The Lidder valley is in the northeastern corner of the Kashmir valley with forest-covered slopes and woodlands all around. It houses the Kashmir valley’s biggest river of ice — Kolahoi glacier.

As the controversy over the Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035 rages, Neka points towards Kolahoi glacier, which is some 35 km from this south Kashmir tourist resort.

Kolahoi is feared to be shrinking faster than other Himalayan glaciers, triggering concerns in the ecologically fragile state. According to a study, it has shrunk 2.63 sq km in the past three decades.

The three-year-long study was led by glaciologist Shakil Ramsoo, assistant professor in the department of geology at the University of Kashmir.

If it is true that the glacier is melting faster, water supply to people in the valley is under threat.

The glacier – spread over a little above 11 sq km – is the main source of water for Kashmir’s biggest river, the Jhelum, and its many streams and lakes. The river Lidder irrigates a large tract of agricultural land. On both banks, one can see a green sea of rice fields during summers for miles.

Neka, who used to frequent the glacier “quite often during my youth”, said he visited the site last year.

“What science? They (scientists) need machines to see what is evident,” he said with a grin.

“It is shrinking means it is shrinking. At the end, we (the people of Kashmir) have to suffer for our own faults,” he said.

“Go and visit it (the glacier). It has shrunk. And I am sure this river (Lidder) will also dry up soon. I have never seen a hot winter like this,” he said.

The concerns are not off the mark.

The Kashmir valley has been witnessing a dry spell this winter and abnormally high temperatures are feared to hit agriculture production.

Chila-e-Kalan, the harshest 40 days of the Kashmir winter, which begins Dec 21, usually comes with heavy snowfall. But the valley has not witnessed any substantial snowfall so far. The 40-day period ends Jan 31.

The maximum temperatures recorded Wednesday and Thursday were 12 and 16 degrees Celsius respectively, according to the meteorological department in Srinagar.

“This is around eight degrees above the average for this time of the season,” the met department said.

Neka and other villagers are now mulling to invoke Kashmir’s saints and divine power by organising a ritual for rain and snow. The ritual is called ‘sas ras’. People visit each household, collect money and cook yellow rice and distribute it among themselves in the name of god.

“May be that will help,” Neka said.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at [email protected])