It was a cold winter morning with dense fog in Delhi. Mercury was showing 3 degrees and cold effect of the wind could be felt inside the house also. I was having my breakfast and watching news headlines on TV. The weather man predicted snowfall in Kashmir Valley after two days. I instantly made-up plan to go to Srinagar and enjoy the scenic beauty of Kashmir after snow fall. Air ticket prices had soared high due to rush of tourists to watch the snow fall in Kashmir.I boarded my flight and was very excited. The natural beauty was mesmerizing, when the aircraft reached over Pir-Panjal. After three days of heavy snowfall, the weather had cleared up. It was bright sun and blue sky on top and glittering snow down below on the peaks of Pir-Panjal. Pine and Deodar trees showed their green leaves from within the white coat of snow. There were few hamlets to be seen in the mountain folds which caught my attention and I realized how harsh winter conditions the local residents must be facing there. We landed at Srinagar after about one and half hour of air travel. Gushing chill wind touched my face on deboarding. Snow was cleared from the streets and lied in heaves on either side. I could see the local people tucked up in jackets and pheran as I moved to my destination in a guest house at a rural location in Pahalgam. I wanted to be in the lap of nature for a few days and unwind from hectic metropolitan life.
I reached my room on second floor of a well-furnished wooden house in the country side. From there, I could see children from a small village nearby playing in the snow. Few elderly people could be seen busy with house hold work. They were carrying some wooden basket type of item in their hand. I asked my guest house staff about it and they said that it was called “Kangdi”. I was told that it was the life line of common people in Kashmir during the winters. It served as a “Personal Heater” to Kashmiri people during severe winter season which is locally called Chillai-Kalan, Chillai-Khurd, Chillai-Bacha and protected them from biting cold. It built up curiosity in me to know more about this unique item. With one of my attendants, I walked to the near by village to enquire more about Kangdi. Kangdi consists of an earthen pot which is called “Kundal” in local language. Around this earthen pot there is a woven wood work called Kani made from shrubs called Poshkul. Gir Kani and Kech Kani are other alternate shrubs used to weave around the earthen pot. Posh Kani is more expensive. There is a handle on top for safe carriage and stands in addition to the handle to provide strength and prevent your hand from getting burnt.
Generally, fire wood is used to cook food and charcoal from fire wood is put in Kangdi for lighting it. Thereafter dry branches of apples and willow trees, dried cow-dung, dry leaves of Chinar and other trees are put on the charcoal to burn slowly and generate heat to about 70 centigrade. It is used for drying and warming of hand as well as keep the body warm. Pheran is a cloak used in Kashmir as a winter wear and in order to retain more warmth, Kangdi is kept inside the Pheran also. However, is has to be handled carefully to avoid burns. It has to be put off before going to sleep to avoid any fire hazard. Prolonged use of Kangdi has been reported to be causing skin cancer. I was told that Kangdis made at Anantnag, Cherar-e-Sharif and Bandipora are specially popular for their handicraft. The cost may vary from Rs. 200/- to Rs. 20,000/- depending upon quality of handicraft and material used for weaving Kani around the earthen pot. Kangdi also has an additional metal piece hanging with a chain which is called Chalan and it is used to remove burnt ash in Kangdi. Kangdi has been life line of people of Kashmir to combat severe winter conditions since ages. However, due to advancement of technology and change of life style; Kangdi has been substituted by room heaters and hot air blower in the urban areas where people can afford it and there is sufficient supply of electricity. Still, it remains the potent weapon to combat severe winter in the remote and rural areas. It was an eye opener and a new learning for me to know about this unique article called Kangdi which has been a “Personal Heater of people of Kashmir” since ages and helped them live comfortably during severe winter conditions.