Winters in Kashmir especially certain months are very cold with freezing temperatures. Even though the amount of snowfall and the severity of the cold are lesser than the earlier times, still one needs to provide some type of heating arrangement in the homes. Traditionally, many Kashmiri homes have a special room called Hammam. This centrally located room in the ground floor has stone slabs as the flooring. Under these slabs there is a fireplace accessible from outside in which firewood is burnt. The stones get heated up and the room is quite warm. The heated stone slabs remain hot for quite some time. The disadvantage is that it is a solitary room in the entire house and everybody has to sit there for warmth. The rest of the house and other spaces like corridors etc. remain cold! Another system has been burning wood in cast iron stoves in various rooms. These stoves have a pipe going out through the window for smoke. These are called “Bukharis”! These are quite efficient and get heated up quickly.
However, the most efficient system of heating houses and work places is central heating. Most of Europe, America and many other countries in colder regions have been using this method for heating in winter for ages. The heating is through radiators in which hot water or air is circulated. In some cases, a mesh is buried under floors which are heated through circulating hot water. The water is heated in boilers which can be run on electric power, diesel, kerosene or even wood briquettes. In addition to heating, the system can also provide hot water which is primarily used for heating. The system is self-contained and just a push of a switch inside the house can start it running. Also now there is a programmer on which times can be set for switching on and off the system automatically.
In Kashmir some of the hospitals were the first to get this system of heating. Now most of the hotels, important offices and some private homes have central heating. If the people of Kashmir were in a position to generate and utilise the hydro-electric power of which we have the highest potential, it would really be a paradise in winter. Everything would be heated nicely in winter on electric power! In the present scenario of acute shortage of power the ideal thing is to have heating on diesel oil which is readily available. In fact, the government should have been inducing people to go for such type of heating both within the homes and the work places. In most of the countries in colder regions like in Europe, the schools do not have winter breaks like in Kashmir. In fact, the winter is the best time to study. They get summer holidays to travel all over the world! Here, because of no heating arrangements in schools and other educational institutions, we have a “winter break”! It should be the endeavour of the government to make heating arrangements in all schools and other educational institutions so that the main study season could be the long winter itself. It is worth spending that money to look after our children than waste it on unproductive things!
During recent years, Kashmir has seen massive construction of private houses many by non-resident Kashmiris. Some of the houses may be worth more than 20 crores or so. However, one hardly sees any arrangement of winter heating in these houses. May be because these people come only during summer? Another interesting thing observed in many houses is the use of architecture suitable for hot places or even sea side. Huge spaces, high ceilings, and internal stairs in round shape or so with lot of free and open space all round. These would be really difficult to heat in winter! Interestingly, people spend lots of money in decorating their homes with tiles, decorative bricks or even marble on the outside but do not keep provision for heating which is the most important requirement in winter! Normally an average house with two floors would not cost more than rupees five to six lakhs for a complete central heating system! May be people are not aware about this aspect.
Coming to personal heating, Kashmiris have a unique system. We have mobile heaters called “Kangris”. It is an earthen pot in a wicker frame in which burning coals with ash on top are carried. This earthen fire pot is carried under a robe called “Pheran”. This has been the traditional system of personal heating from the earliest times. The best and the long lasting fire is from the coal made from dried Chinar leaves which are in abundance all over Kashmir in autumn. Even though the “Kangri” is very versatile and convenient, it has its hazards too. There are cases of developing cancer in thighs and stomach by close contact with the hot fire pot under the “Pheran”. In fact it is known as “Kangri Cancer”! However, the new generation is giving up the concept of “Pheran” and “Kangri”. They prefer Anoraks and jackets which are more comfortable and allow ease of working. It is said that the “Pheran” and “Kangri” was introduced in Kashmir by Mughals to make violent and aggressive Kashmiris docile and lazy! There may be some truth in it? Only our historians can confirm it! Incidentally, the “Kangri” is also sometimes used as a weapon in clashes during winter. A Kashmiri version of the famous “Molotov Cocktail”!