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Chilling Cold Making Kashmiris Nostalgic About Good Old Warm Homes
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Chilling Cold Making Kashmiris Nostalgic About Good Old Warm Homes

As frozen taps and snow-wrecked rooftops became stark signs of the resurgent harsh and hostile winter in Kashmir, life inside the concrete structures bereft of insulation and warmth became a telling comment on the delusional lifestyle in the valley. Amid this frozen agony and anxiety, longing for good old homes is only surging.

At a time when Kashmiris are shivering in and outside their concrete structures, an octogenarian couple in Srinagar’s Peerbagh area has retained the old warmth in their traditional home swarmed by young and chirpy guests.

Having deserted their parents’ cold concrete houses, their grandchildren have arrived to live with them inside their single-storey mud and timber house.

Abdul Gani Bhat and Rehti Begum’s decision to construct a separate traditional Kashmiri home adjacent to their sons’ concrete dwelling has proved right in this bone-numbing cold, when many believe, winter has “returned with vengeance” in the valley.

“Winters were always harsh and hostile in Kashmir,” says Rehti Begum huddled by her giggling grandchildren. “But over the years, our response towards it has drastically changed.”

The crisis, many say, lies in the same changed attitude and lack of winter defense system.

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In shopfronts, mosque hamaams, barber shops, inside office spaces or on the virtual world, the chilling cold is currently creating some introspection among Kashmiris.

These discussions are being held when the valley’s harsh winter days are only extending and escalating despite ‘ChelaiKalaan’—the forty-day chilling cold spell—leaving with the record-breaking sub-zero temperature after decades.

Even as Kashmiris are struggling to defreeze their frozen taps and ward off cold spirit, the valley isn’t oblivious to the tales of ‘wandi ti teeri gatikaaar’. Yet, the cold and crumbled houses along with the frozen waters of the valley make many wonder about their forefathers’ response towards those chilling winters of yore.

Contrast at display at Bhat residence, where new and old-style Kashmiri houses stand adjacent to each other. / MI Photo by Is’haq Bhat

“This winter has exposed our delusional way of living now,” says Shakeel Mir, a trader from Shopian cursing himself for replacing his insulated ancestral home with a bone-numbing concrete structure.

“While spending lakhs and crores of rupees on our new homes, we overlook investing in proper insulation and central heating system and end up facing the wrath of winter.”

Apart from being called out for architectural and structural engineering flaws, Kashmir’s modern houses are equally being castigated for lacking winter-proof system and preparedness.

“The old houses considered two major aspects that can easily be adopted in new constructions without changing their look,” says engineer Dildar Dar, who sees both the strategic steps being ignored in Kashmir’s new shelters.

“The material used in the old houses had qualities of natural insulators like mud. Once warmed, it would cool down at a very slow pace.”

Also, small windows in old constructions would be helpful to retain the heat inside the room and control the air infiltration.

“Having a small roshandaan [small window] for light and ventilation would equally be effective in maintaining the internal warmth,” Dar adds.



Though the source of heating may vary from place to place, these points, the engineer says, are the basic aspects of keeping a house warm.

Apart from being weather-proof, old Kashmiri houses were architectural masterpieces. / Web Archives

At Peerbagh, however, warmth is intact and holding the family of the old couple together inside their traditional home.

Almost 10 years back, Abdul Gani Bhat chose to have a new house built with the same old engineering designs and methods. He made a few choices—like limited glass windows and the focus on proper insulation—to keep it warm.

Living in the newly constructed house of his children for a few years had made him realize that in a place where winters last for more than 6 months, the wise construction is a key.

“In past two decades, the trend of going for a multi-storey concrete house with so many glass-windows and light-doors has become a priority,” says Abdul Gani Bhat. “The ignored aspect remains the sources of insulation and the properties of the material consumed.”

But as the concrete concerns are compounding in Kashmir, the old couple cannot stop talking about their right choice of dwelling to tackle the chilling cold. Apparently, they saw it coming.

“It’s fine that we Kashmiris are literally competing with each other in constructing new and lavish homes,” Rehti Begum says, “but let’s not forget where we are living. It just took one harsh winter to end our fancy idea of living.”

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