December draws to a close and the electricity starts playing hide and seek in Kashmir, there are generally two sets of extreme reactions you get from people – one of wariness about the gloomy weather and physical discomfort which is associated with a typical winter and the other extreme enthusiasm. Being optimists, we will only talk about the latter. There is actually no dearth of winter enthusiasts in Kashmir. Come December, and they are all excited about the fun they are about to have. This month brings with it snow and fun activities (not just formal ones)- ranging from Snow fights in the streets of the old Downtown to the elite skiing festivals in Gulmarg. There are activities for everybody, cutting across social barriers. People from different walks of life enjoy winter in their own unique way.
With times however, the winters in Kashmir have changed and so has the approach of people towards it. Earlier the winter would only be associated with a despondent weather, which would also reflect in the lifestyles of people.
The best example of this would be the traditional Kashmiri Phiran (a garmet somewhere between a cloak and a kurti). Untill very recently, phirans were made in very dull colors like blacks and grays and this would add to the gloominess of the atmosphere. But now, times have changed. People have started giving color to this season in how they dress up and accessorize. They skies may be gray, but people erupt in vibrant hues of color. The phiran remains the same, but the colors have become vivacious. The winter is not just associated with white anymore.
Towards the end of December, starts the Chillaikalan – a period of 40 sharp wintry days, beginning from the 21st of December. During this period, the pace of life slows down. Days start later than usual and end earlier than usual. One would generally prefer to stay indoors and cozy up under a warm blanket in the Hamaam, have a delicious and steaming cup of Noon Chai coupled with a Tchochvor (A round traditional bun ) or a Kulcha or a plate of exquisite mom-made Harissa and watch the snow fall. We surely are making some Non Resident Kashmiris nostalgic!
The World famous Dal Lake freezes and turns itself into a playground for joyous children, who are found playing cricket over it. It once happened that the former ruler of Kashmir, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed drove a jeep over the frozen Dal Lake (though we would not recommend doing that now!).
Tourism in the valley scales up as the Winter Festivals start and the valley starts to celebrate snowfall. The valley is draped in a white blanket of snow. The snowfall is a breathtaking sight in itself and brings calmness and serenity along with it. The nature rejuvenates and so does life. No matter how much discomfort December brings with it, it is a refreshingly awe-inspiring sight when you see the beams of the sun reflecting on the snow clad mountain peaks.