By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar: After nearly two decades, Kashmir Tuesday received such heavy snowfall in the beginning of the 40-day period of harsh winter called the ‘Chila Kalan’ that children and youth were unable to decide when to stop their snow games to avoid chilblains and frostbite.
While hill stations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg had more than four feet of snow accumulated on the ground by Tuesday afternoon, snowfall continued till the evening in Srinagar city that started here early in the morning.
All link and inter-district roads were blocked even when the authorities said snow clearance machines had been moved out to keep the roads open.
One such machine stuck in the frozen snow on the road in Rainawari area of the city Tuesday afternoon was testimony to the efficacy of the administrative effort to have the roads cleared for vehicular passage in Srinagar and other major towns of the Valley.
The strategic Srinagar-Jammu highway was closed in the morning due to heavy snowfall in Bannihal and Patnitop sectors of the over 300-kilometre long road that is the landlocked Valley’s only surface link with the rest of the country.
Flights into the Valley had also to be suspended because of heavy snowfall and extremely poor visibility. The train service from the Valley to Jammu’s Banihal town was also affected.
For the first two to three hours, children and youth enjoyed the heavy snowfall, throwing snowballs at each other and making igloos and snowmen in Srinagar.
By late afternoon, chill had numbed their fingers and their noses started turning red because of the icy winds that accompanied the snowfall.
“My hands feel nothing. My nose seems to have frozen. My feet are benumbed,” said Suhail,12, a resident of Peerbagh area in the city as his mother hurriedly took him inside to warn him up with a cup of traditional ‘Kehwa’ and a charcoal-lit earthen pot called the ‘Kangri’ that locals keep inside their traditional ‘Pheran’ overgarment.
Dozens of vehicles carrying tourists on the fashionable Boulevard Road that lines the Dal Lake in the city produced more smoke and noise than the speed they could not pick up because of slippery road conditions.
Those among the less experienced drivers who tried to control their wayward vehicles by applying brakes swirled off the road and landed in the small drain on the side.
“The vehicle has to be controlled during this weather by changing gears and not by trying to apply brakes”, said Muhammad Ramzan, 58, a taxi driver who helped some of the younger drivers who did not know how to negotiate the slippery road conditions.
For those who have come here to welcome 2014, Tuesday’s snowfall could not have come at a better time.
“This is amazing. All we have been guessing was whether Kashmir would have snow during the New year celebrations and here we are bound on all sides by such a fabulous snowfall”, said Vinod Kumar, 43, who has come to celebrate the New Year in Kashmir along with his friends.
For older Kashmiris, this was a reminder that despite ecological degradation and deforestation in the Valley, perhaps all is still not lost.
“It used to snow like this in our childhood. I remember walking to my aunt’s place wading through deep snow in 1960s. My mother would send me there to fetch a dish of beans that were relished during the winter months.
“It is a good omen both for the Rabi crop and for availability of water during the summer months”, said Bashir Ahmad, 61, a retired veterinarian.
Electric poles across the Valley have been uprooted by the heavy snowfall which means residents would have to go without electric supply for a few days till the systems are restored by the electricity department.
“Otherwise also when did we have sufficient electricity? Curtailments, both scheduled and unscheduled, together with failures attributed to overloading have made electricity a perennial joke in the Valley,” said Abdul Gani Mir, 52, a resident of Sadapora in Srinagar.