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Jammed January

As mercury dropped to a record low consistently, Kashmir faced the harshest winter in thirty years. With cascading effect on every sphere of life, Saima Bhat chronicles the hardships faced right from lack of mobility to management of frozen pipes

Passengers pushing a vehicle stuck due to slippery road as Srinagar the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir received heavy snow fall disrupting the normal life in January 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

 In her mid-twenties, Salma Jan, a domestic help in Srinagar, wanted to go to her home in Yusmarg on January 20. She reached Chrar e Sharief bus yard around noon. She knew she had to walk the distance of around 17 km so she could reach her home.

But she was disappointed when one shopkeeper told her to avoid going to Yusmarg. “It has snowed more than five feet in the area,” he told her.

She also noticed that no vehicle was going to Yusmarg.“The snow was not removed from the roads. I was mentally prepared to walk the distance but as the shopkeeper, who is known to my father, asked me to avoid it, I was left with no option.”

The family, where she works and stays had travelled to Delhi on the same day. “It snowed heavily this year so I also had an idea that it must be more in Yusmarg. I was trying to call my family but all of their phones were switched off,” she said. “All of our relatives live in the same area so I had no other place to go.”

Then suddenly an idea struck her mind and she called one of her previous employer, who extended a helping hand and agreed to keep her at their home.

It was after three days that she managed to contact her family.“Can you believe instead of scolding me they appreciated my decision. They told me the snow was of my height and my father had to dig a tunnel through the snow to reach out to our domestic animals,” she said.

This winter was the harshest in the last 30 years, with Central Kashmir experiencing the coldest January!

Old Memories

Ahmad runs perhaps the oldest Hareesa Tandoor in Srinagar. KL Image: Muhammad Raafi

Feelingstuckandirritated, Abdul-Jabbar, a man in his late sixties was confined to a corner of his kitchen. To keep himself warm, he doesn’t move beyond the washroom for the last two months.

“We used to witness such weather in our childhood days. That time I could have faced anything,” said Jabbar.“Now in this age, I can’t even face the ordinary cold.”

He, however, thinks that Kashmir of his childhood was better. “Those days, life was different. We had fewer resources, but more comfort,” Jabbar said.“See now we are under the siege from last one year; this was not the case during those days.”

The elderly Ghulam Ali also has similar tales to tell about the old winters. A resident of downtown, who has now shifted to Baghi Mehtab, Ali talks about having Harissaand also potatoes and eggs heated in Kangris.

“I have seen my father for the first time talking about these things. Maybe the cold weather prompted him to remember,” said his son, Umar.

Blocked Pipes

Women’s carry water pitches in their head in the snow covered Kokernag area of south Kashmir after fresh spell of snowfall in Kashmir. KL Images: Bilal Bahadur

Every morning, Rumisa and her mother, in her early sixties had to wait in line in the mornings and evenings at a neighbour’s tap to reserve water for cooking and washroom.

“Our colony has around 20 households and only two taps were working at neighbour’s place,” said Rumisa, 30, adding she could not wash her face for five days. “I just used to brush my teeth and then wipe my face with wet wipes. This is how I went to the office for five days at least.”

Unheard in the recent past, the harshest winter in decades has given rise to the worst water crisis. With temperatures plummeting to a record low, every source of water supply from tanks to taps was frozen.

“Over the last twenty days, there has been no water in my house. All the supply lines including overhead water tanks are frozen,” said Qamar, a resident of the Gulabagh area of Hazratbal in the outskirts of the city. The remaining water in the utensils of the kitchen was used for cooking the meals.

At Gulberg Colony Hyderpora, few friends met after a long time. With a plan to spend the night together, they got an elaborate dinner and snacks packed from a local restaurant. They spent the night awake, talking, and watching movies. As they woke up at around 11 in the morning, the first crisis they faced was blocked pipes.

“The motor, pump, tap in the garden, the sump, everything was frozen,” said one of the friends. Later they went out to get snow in a bucket and melted it on gas so that they could at least make a tea and use the washroom. “I have not seen this before,” said one of them, and the following day he booked his tickets for Jammu.

Many people resorted to seeking the help of plumbers on Facebook as at places, frozen water pipes burst.

“I have never experienced such a freezing temperature. I used a hair drier to warm the water motor, but the pipes remained frozen,” read a Facebook post by a Srinagar resident.

A resident while heating the frozen water pipes. KL Images:Bilal Bahadur

Another resident wrote, “When I woke up today morning, my friends were complaining of cold water but all I had was hot water. I couldn’t touch it, had no cold water to mix and to make it usable.”

“I visited a local repairing shop in the morning and left my motor there. He had asked me to return by evening but when I reached there, he told me he had already repaired 200 motors and mine was still awaiting its turn,” he added.

Temperature plummets

This season, the temperatures continued to slide, breaking the record, every day. On January 31, Srinagar recorded minus 8.8 degree Celsius, the lowest in the past thirty years. Shopian in south Kashmir crossed minus 15 degrees Celsius. The day temperature also fell drastically. The maximum temperature in Srinagar on January 31 was 0.6 degrees Celsius, the coldest day of the season.

At Qazigund in south Kashmir, the night temperature declined to minus 10.2 degrees Celsius, while the tourist resort Pahalgam recorded the minimum temperature of minus 12 degrees Celsius. The areas of south Kashmir like Kokernag, Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam, Awantipora recorded minus 13.1, minus 10, minus 10.3, minus 12.01, and minus 12.9 degree Celsius respectively. In central Kashmir’s Budgam, it was minus 9.8, while in Bandipora, Sopore, and Kupwara, it remained minus 5.4, minus 4.5, and minus 4.7 degrees Celsius respectively.

However, as the 40-day harsh period, traditionally known as Chillai Kalan is over, the officials are hopeful that there are chances of a “gradual increase in minimum temperature in February.”

The first day of February showed improvement in the night temperatures across J&K. “After ten days, I woke up to the sound of water. First I thought I was in a dream but then I realised our main water supply was back. It was restored at 5.30 am and the same moment I jumped out of the bed and started storing the water, thinking it might stop working again,” wrote one Srinagar resident on social media on February 01.

Caught Unawares

Not familiar with so cold a winter, the younger generation, born in the mid or late nineties, didn’t know how to deal with it.

The elders too had to change their routine. “Since last few years, we used to manage winter with gas heaters and radiators, but this year, Hamam had to be lit,” said Naseema, a resident of Bemina.

Living in a joint family, Hajra, this winter did not allow her children to sleep in their rooms. On the first day of Chillai Kalan, the family of five decided to sleep together in Hamam.

“These were like the days of our childhood when all of us used to sleep together,” said her son, Wasim. Talking about the experience, he said: “This allowed us to talk till late into the night, useless cellphones and interact with each other.”

The youngsters had to change their lifestyle as well. Having no pheran in her wardrobe, Mehvish, had to get one this year. “I used to manage without pheran, but this year I could not,” she said. However, the pheran she chose is less Kashmiri and more foreign. “It is of a different style so that I could use it outside as well,” she said.

Reactions on Social Media

With ‘real’ life frozen,people shared their experiences virtually..

An avid social media user Altaf Wani wrote on Facebook: “To save yourself from severe cold, shift your bed to a fridge near you. Jan Hit Me Jaaari.

As the pipes froze, the social media updates were like “Khudaya pipen di narmi,nalkan di gharmi(God make pipes soft and taps warm.”). Former chief minister, Omar Abdullah retweeted the radio jockey, Nasir Ali Khan posting“Tohe chuva power(Do you have electricity)” has been replaced with “tohe chuva aab.” ((Do you have electricity) (Do you have water).

The night when Srinagar recorded minus 7.8 degree Celsius, Safia Abdullah, daughter of Dr Farooq Abdullah tweeted, “No wonder my eyelashes and eyebrows froze when I went out to walk this morning.”

With no water in the pipes, Dr Muhammad Salim Khan, Social and Preventive Medicine GMC Srinagar, wrote on his Facebook: “Kashmir must be getting purest milk these days, no water available to add.” To this one of his friends responded: “But what if someone adds snow instead which is easily available these days?”

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