There is a famous quote that goes something like this:
”A visit to Kashmir divides a person’s life into two halves; before Kashmir and after Kashmir”.
For me this quote rings true.
I lived in Kashmir during several years of the conflict. I observed systems, patterns, and processes that I felt could flourish from the practice of permaculture principles, for the benefit of the Kashmir Valley with regards to sustainability and self-sufficiency, or which offered a window into traditional ways that work, and that need to be preserved.
Here are some of my observations.
Around the edge of Dal Lake, in Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley, there is a group of women whose way of life is authentic, who practice self-sufficiency. Where they live they have small parcels of land upon which they grow crops suitable to the local climate and soil. When the crop is ready they sell it by spreading out their wares on the roadside around the lake very close to where they live, often until the fall of darkness, where passers by stop at random to buy from them.
These women dress traditionally and during the day they are also to be seen out on the lake collecting the lake weed, balancing precariously in small boats (dungas) that they paddle for themselves. Once ashore the rich crop of pond weed is given to their cow, which produces rich sweet milk from the nutrition. Whatever milk the women do not need they sell to local families.
This generation of women who live this life, and who have these skills, is dying out, as the younger women do not wish to follow in their footsteps. The culture, knowledge and way of life of these women is rich with wisdom and expertise. We can learn a lot from the ways and resourcefulness of these waterside women.
It would be great to spend some time with this group and observe and listen and learn from them. It would also be a wonderful thing to do a documentary on their way of life. I feel that these women embody the very principles of working together and sharing the fruits of their labours.
In 2014 there was a terrible flood in the Valley and many people lost their homes and their livelihoods and their way of life. The river Jhelum rose to historic levels and washed away people’s lives. Certain areas were worse hit than others. We arrived in November of 2014 and the journey from the airport revealed the devastation to us.
Once the river receded, it has left much of the city of Srinagar like a dust bowl, increasing the levels of air pollution. We were on a visit due to a personal loss and family bereavement and our hearts were heavy but when we saw the suffering of the people of the city we were distracted from our own misery for a moment by the evidence of human tragedy and suffering and hopelessness all around us. I had been away for a few years and I could not recognise the city I had left several years before. We saw the hollow desolation in people’s eyes where false promises of help that never came left these victims of the flood without help, or recourse to help.
During this visit we went to see an old friend on the other side of town and he showed us the flood damage in his own home. On the ground floor the tide mark was just below the ceiling. This was a professional family with a lovely home and many resources and yet several months after the flood they were still trying to dry out their home and make good the extensive damage.
On the outskirts of the city we came across encampments set up for some of the families made homeless by the flood and with nowhere else to go or no relatives to take them in. This was in November and December 2014 when the harsh Kashmiri winter was closing in and being under tarpaulin would not be adequate protection from the elements.
Nearly a year on from our visit those people were still under canvas and about to face another winter. There has been an uprising reported in the local press because these people have become so desperate with all the hollow promises of help that they have taken to the streets in protest. These are desperate people in desperate times in a desperate situation, with no recourse to aid.
There is concern that there could be more natural disasters to hit the region and the need for an effective disaster management programme needs to be put in place.
This is one of the names that the Kashmiri people give to the mountain shepherds who herd their goats up into the green summer pastures of the foothills of the Himalayas in Kashmir. The Goujars are a nomadic people who return to a region closer to Jammu for the winter and heroically move their large herds from Jammu on the national highway up to the mountain pastures, competing with army convoys and diesel trucks exporting food from India into Kashmir by road, as well as all the other everyday drivers who use this one arterial road in and out of Kashmir through some extremely dangerous and precipitous hairpin roads. To see the shepherds safeguard their flocks amongst the frenzy of modern day motorists and heavy duty vehicles is to behold a certain mastery of communication and care.
Once safely up in the mountains where the herds graze for the summer months the goujars have their own unique way of life. They have built ancestral log cabins where they, and some of their animals, all live under the same roof and sleep on the branches and pines of the local trees. The women make their own tandoori ovens from local mud as their cooking stoves, and use a combination of what food they find locally mixed with whatever produce they were able to carry with them from the towns. They keep chickens and have milk from the herd, some keep buffaloes as well and they have horses and mules for transportation. I have seen one Goujar selling an exquisite home-made goat’s cheese to a merchant and have long dreamed of what that cheese must have tasted like.
These people lead a very traditional way of life independently in the mountains but are very welcoming and hospitable to the wayward traveller or occasional western trekker. They welcome you into their homes and their lives openly and share what they have with you.
The herds are linked with the sale of meat for human consumption, and wool for the shawl making industry.
This is also surely another traditional way of life inherently under risk of dying out and with it all of its rich traditions and knowledge of survival and living off and on the land.
This region is also populated by the Himalayan Black Bear which has been known to attack people when disturbed or short of food. One sunny autumn day whilst up in the mountains near Aru, in Pahalgam, we saw a Himalayan Black Bear sitting in the sun eating walnuts. It was a rare and wonderful moment but one also with some danger in it so we did not stop to take any photos!
Like the waterside women this group of people would be a wonderful group to live with and learn from and whose way of life could be documented for posterity, etc.
Sustainable ‘healthy’ poultry farming
There are people in the villages and the city who keep chickens for their eggs and their meat but the vast majority of consumers buy their produce for consumption from the street merchants who import live chickens, and the eggs from India. This is clearly battery hen provenance and the birds are kept in cages by the roadside, exposed to the noise and pollution waiting to be selected for purchase. It is disturbing to see these creatures being transported in inhuman fashion in trucks up from Jammu over the high mountain passes into Kashmir only to sit in cages on top of each other on the roadside awaiting slaughter. These birds usually carry a lot of evident disease visible even by looking at them.
We feel that this is an industry that could easily be overhauled so that the people of Kashmir produced their own poultry and eggs instead of paying the surcharges of haulage all the way from the plains of India. This could be a very economically viable project and an opportunity to bring employment to people.
Thank you to Rosemary Morrow
For almost 40 years Rosemary has worked extensively with farmers and villagers in Africa, Central and South East Asia and Eastern Europe. Rosemary has especially dedicated much of her efforts to the people of war-torn nations such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and East Timor, and to communities experiencing the serious effects of climate change like the Solomon Islands, and the effects of the GFC, like Spain and Portugal.
Here at Green Kashmir we would like to acknowledge the work of Rosemary Morrow as a great source of inspiration to us, and to thank her for being our mentor in the Permaculture journey to Kashmir.