The heat and humidity during the month of Ramadan is putting Kashmiris through a real test of patience. The weather this year is behaving quite unexpectedly. Kashmir during May and June was a tourist’s delight. After having got practically roasted in the scorching heat of the plains, the cool of the valley was more than welcome! We witnessed an unprecedented rush of tourists. Record numbers have already come here and for the first time even the months of July and August which used to be known as the lean season, are showing full bookings! In fact, this mad rush towards Kashmir has caused worries to the Himachal’s tourism players as they were reaping the benefits of Kashmir’s closure due to turmoil. Himachal is once again becoming a second choice to the tourists. It is probably after a long time that one experienced night temperatures in the range of 10 to 12 degrees centigrade during the middle of June? It must have been this type of weather which made a Mughal King claim that if a roasted chicken is brought into the valley of Kashmir, it will grow feathers! Now, in July it is heated up and we have already touched thirty four degrees Celsius!
Kashmir has been slowly getting hotter during summer only for the last three decades or so. In our childhood days, we did not see any fans not to talk of air conditioners. The summer temperature at the peak would rarely cross 30 degrees or so. In fact, whenever the temperature would touch 30 degrees, it would rain in the evening. Similarly, the winters used to be very severe. I remember spending part of my holidays in the maternal home in Safakadal where the snow would accumulate up to the first floor windows and we would go out of the window on to the road. There used to be huge icicles hanging from the roofs which those days were mostly wooden with either shingle or in some cases withthe topping of the earth with all kinds of flowers growing over it. I remember sometimes the snow would be so heavy and fast that total darkness would descend even during the middle of the day. One could see nothing except falling snowflakes. Those days quite often the migratory birds such as flying geese would fall in our lawns as these would be blinded by the heavy snowfall. There were also many incidents of wild animals descending into some localities of the city especially in those areas which were on the periphery next to the forests. Now there are no forests in the vicinity of the city! Last winter too has been quite severe in the valley with even the day temperatures remaining below zero for a number of days.
These days the hottest topic of discussion everywhere is the “Climate Change”. It dominates media, intellectual debates, and even high political discourses. The problem can be summed up in the quote from IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), “The world is facing a global extinction crisis which threatens not only the natural environment but mankind itself. All life on earth depends upon species, ecosystems, and natural resources. This must be safeguarded before it’s too late, as we are destroying the very natural infrastructure that supports us, at an ever increasing rate.”
The change in our part has been coming very gradually and we have also got used to the change. It is only when something unusual happens that we take notice of the change. The River Jhelum used to remain full even in winter. Now, it appears in winter like a small stream and fills up only with a heavy rain in the catchment area. Sometimes the river bed used to go dry and the children played cricket on it. The main sources of perennial rivers are the mountain glaciers. The condition of some of our mountain glaciers like the one below Mount Kolahoi is pathetic. It has receded more than a kilometre in last 20 years. Thajwas glaciers in Sonamarg have virtually disappeared. In Jammu, the roaring Tawi these days looks like a drain strewn with garbage. Even the flow in mighty Chenab has noticeably reduced.
This year’s change especially the prolonging of the winter has made everyone take notice. People were wearing light woollens even in June. Some even restarted using heaters and electric blankets. In fact, the load for the power department had shown sudden upswing and they were resorting to unscheduled cuts! The moot point is whether we are part of the global climate change or the conditions are local, created by our own actions? Only expert scientists can give their opinion after studying the changes in detail. On the face of it, there seems to be a strong local element in the change. The satellite photographs do not show any western disturbances which are the main source of rain in our area. Rather, the forecasts of many global agencies like Accuweather, Weather Online, Weather Underground, CNN, and others are proving wrong almost every day. In fact, our own Met Office has stopped giving out extended forecasts.
Two reasons are cited for this strange weather. One is the heavy snowfall on the mountains surrounding the valley during last winter. The high temperatures in the afternoon give rise to local evaporation and formation of clouds which is a usual phenomenon in the mountains. These invariably bring thunder showers in the evening or during night which keeps temperatures down. The other reason is tremendous growth of foliage in the valley. Even though it is a well-known fact that our forests next to populated areas have suffered tremendous damage due to merciless felling of young trees by timber smugglers, yet there has been extensive cultivation of willows and poplars even though again for commercial reasons. Additionally, people have grown conscious of gardening and almost all new constructions of residential areas have small gardens. This increased greenery also contributes to local cloud formation. Well, it is up to our scientists and weather experts to give the final verdict about the causes of the Kashmir’s freak weather. In the meantime, let the tourists enjoy Kashmir’s salubrious climate and we too willcontinue to relish the nostalgia of the good old days andthe possible return of the same!