Winter’s Tale in Kashmir

This winter after a long time, Kashmir has experienced successive heavy snowfall which has thrown life out of gear: electricity has been erratic, traffic movement has been affected, more so along Jammu-Srinagar highway and the flights have recurrently been grounded. This drastic change in weather followed an extended dry spell through November and December which had made people rule out snow this year – at least in the plains. Over the past more than two decades winters in valley have been the cruellest. Gray and faraway landscape, lingering in terrifying silence before being overtaken by the sweeping hush of snow. Those were the winters, many of them smotheringly snow-bound, and some suffocatingly snowless, when violence ran rampant over the land. However, this winter snow has been iconic in its fury, in line with the popular recollection of the ruthless old Kashmir winters. It is back to endlessly white vistas, frozen glassy streets and the deep, leaden skies with a teeth-chattering chill to boot.

But this has hardly helped bring the tourists back. At 8,960 feet, Gulmarg, Kashmir’s wonderland of snow, has fewer tourists to serve. According to the tourism department, the occupancy of the hotels in the famous hill resort has steeply fallen, a rarity in this season.   The absence of the tourists in the winter is put down to the still unfolding fallout of the six months of the unrest last year which witnessed killings of 96 people and several hundred blindings. However, the hoteliers are still upbeat, so is the tourism department. Snowfall is a boon for the tourism. They hope to receive more tourists as the exorbitant cost of air tickets  to Valley comes down. Tourism  department  is also organizing a 15-day long‘snow carnival – from January 21 to February 5. The department has set up a ‘night bazaar’ and cultural shows as part of the carnival. Besides, the carnival has ice hockey, snow-boarding, snow sledging, snowball fight competition and painting competitions.   Snow is important for its novelty for the ninety-nine percent of more than a billion Indians, so they look forward  to visit Kashmir in winter.

Similarly, for the local people while the snowfall brings with it many hardships,  it is also a time for celebration. The heavy snow this winter has brought back the memory of the forgotten old winters, when  raconteurs would narrate the fairy tales during the night. A staple winter’s tale would be about Heemal and Nagrai, Kashmir ’s own mythical star-crossed lovers, Gul Raze, a Kashmiri epic of love or  about the Valley’s own variant of witches and ghosts lurking along dark snow covered streets. In fact, Kashmir has a tradition of folk tales going back nine hundred years when Kathasaritasagar (ocean of tales) was composed by Somadev.

So like our distinct culture, the harsh snow-bound winter with all its hardships and joys is a part of our identity. While people take the season’s difficulties in their stride, it is the successive state governments which have yet to  adapt to its challenges and ensure that the basic services like power are restored at the earliest whenever heavy snowfall plunges Valley into a blackout. We hope this winter is the last when people have to put up indefinitely with the suspended public services whenever snowfall takes place.

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