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Even as autumn is gradually paving the way to winter in Kashmir, Wular Lake in Bandipora is witnessing persistent woman efforts for maintaining the seasonal chestnut supplies in Kashmir markets.

The sun was shining and the azure blue sky had only wisps of clouds in it, as Fancy rowed her boat in the Wular Lake in an autumn day in Kashmir.

Her strenuous paddling created some pulse in the stagnant water body, now losing some of its poetic features to growing muck and mess.

So far, the 35-year-old boat-woman has hardly missed her Wular routine.

She leaves home akin to an early bird and makes hay while the lake remains pregnant with water chestnuts.

On way to Wular. / Bisma Farooq for MI

Making splashing sounds with her oar, Fancy anchored her boat to greet her neighbour.

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“Row slowly, Rafiqa,” she said, as the two exchanged warm smiles before going about their ways.

Mother of two, Fancy briskly rowed on the green surface of the water in a bid to reach to the chestnut extraction spot.

Fancy smiling lake routine. / Bisma Farooq for MI

The effable woman carried four persons on her boat. While she rowed, they discussed the “treasures of the lake” akin to captive storytellers.

From a distance, Fancy could tell the return of Tasleema and Shafeeqa, her neighbours, from their early-morning nut-mining session.

The duo’s boat is laden with a hookah and a mound of chestnuts.

Crossed paths in Wular. / Bisma Farooq for MI

“These women leave their home at the crack of the dawn to earn for their families,” Fancy told me, amid her untiring sailing spirit.

“Life is very hard for us here. We earn by pushing ourselves hard every day. But yes, these regular outings in this cold weather need labour and patience.”

Muckclearing. / Bisma Farooq for MI

For these simpletons of Lankeshpora—a sleepy village situated 55 kilometres from Srinagar at the ghats of Asia’s largest freshwater body—life is indeed demanding and challenging.

Apart from chestnuts, Fancy’s village is equally known for fishes and poachers.

Surrounded by striking mountains, the village is connected with Bandipora with a potholed thoroughfare. One can spot chestnut excavators strewn throughout the Wular pathway.



Loading the love of labour. / Bisma Farooq for MI

Villages surrounding the lake like Kulhama, Laharvalpora, Zure-manz, Watlab, Ningle, Kanyari and Sadrekoot Payeen are also into chestnuts.

But “Laank” or Lankespora remains the hub.

“Almost every household here is into chestnuts,” Ghulam Mohammad Khan, a local in Lankespora, said.

“This is our forefathers’ line of living. Wular despite its degradation has never disappointed us.”

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Ready to take nuts home. / Bisma Farooq for MI

On her boat, Fancy narrated her village’s silent suffering for basic needs, despite working hard to maintain constant chestnut supplies in Kashmir markets.

“In the name of publicity,” she said, “officials, newsmen, foreigners just visit Wular without helping to improve basic needs of its surrounding villages.”

A loaded ride. / Bisma Farooq for MI

Without minding the indifference, these women happily carry out their routine.

From morning to noon, they take home around 20 kilograms of chestnuts on their boats.

But to extract chestnuts from Wular, Fancy’s tribe needs to avail a license for three months. Each person has to pay Rs 500 for it.

“Apart from illiterates, educated people are also into this trade,” Ghulam Hassan, an elder in Lankespora, said. “We survive on what Wular provides us.”

A happy homecoming. / Bisma Farooq for MI

By the time she would return to Lankespora with a basket-full of chestnuts on her head, Fancy had already taken an hour-long detour around the lake.

But while women make clear visibility in chestnut extraction, men remain absent from the scene.

Ye chu zanan kaar, mard che rataan gaade,” pat came the reply. It’s a women’s business, men go for fishing.

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