Room Heaters and centrally air conditioned complexes may well be
part of your travel plans for the coming winter break. But if your
destination is anywhere in India, some indigenous ideas for keeping
warm are far more exciting. Check out if you are hot blooded enough
to experiment with the bite of frost !
Winter in India is
wonderful. In most places it is not of very long duration so people
look forward to it and enjoy it. Some take it far more casually than
one can imagine. Once when we were at an altitude of 14000 ft. in
the North-East in Arunachal Pradesh, we saw some young toddlers with
just a shirt on, walking on the snow. They were children of
labourers who had come to lay the road in that area. Their tent was
pitched in snow and while we shivered with layers of woollens inside
a closed car, they were merrily burning some junipers and, as the
fire crackled, they were pouring out hot cups of tea ! That was tea
made of yak butter which helps to keep the body warm.
If you go to the Uttar
Pradesh hills, you get a different kind of tea. Opt out of bed tea
and look out at the pines and the rising sun for inspiration. When
the day is still hesitating to break and the clouds are resting
watching the scenery with you ; when you can hear a lot of sounds, a
prayer somewhere, some children calling out to each other, health
conscious tourists taking a walk and birds preparing to leave home,
go to the nearest tea shop and ask for a cup of tea. You will most
probably get it in a glass hot sugary tea flavoured with
cardamons which seems just right for that ambience and for the
temperature as the combination, again, helps keep you cozy.
If you are in Kashmir,
anytime is kahwa time. Exotic kahwa is green tea prepared with
almonds and delicate flavourings of saffron. Sip into it and feel
the transformation from an ordinary mortal to near divinity.
Those are about the
strongest drinks I would suggest. There are local brews in tribal
areas, particularly rice beers, which are quite strong and should be
tasted by only those who are sure they can take it.
Perhaps that is why the
Tagins of Arunachal Pradesh in the North-East of India are able to
manage with one thick blanket. Today is the day of uniformity and
you will find even Paris designers have reached every corner of
India. But traditionally the Tagins, living in the northern corner
of the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, were described as
never being fond of clothes. When the blizzard from the snow clad
Himalayas is rather strong, then just wrap a blanket around
themselves and continue to sip into their local brew.
The carrying of blankets
is not an uncommon sight. I discovered this one night when we were
on a visit to a place called Hissar in the state of Haryana. The
city of farmers wakes up rather early and so did I , to keep pace
with them. Sitting out in the courtyard I saw a huge hulk, striped
black and green slowly progressing towards me. I was all ready to
scream and run indoors only to recognize the voice which was that of
the night watchman. All over rural areas of the north you will find
men wrapping a blanket over their summer dress.
There are some special
ones called gudmas that are made in Himachal Pradesh. These
blankets are by far the softest that are available in India. Each
tribe, in the colder regions of the country have their own special
weaves and designs. The Todas of the south, the Apatanis of the east
are some who have a tradition of weaving with wool and make some of
the most colourful blankets and shawls. The distinction between
blankets and shawls is rather thin in many places for people wear
rather long and thick woollen materials around them. Some of them
even carry their quilts on them.
That is possible because
some quilts of India are so light and warm that it is amazing.
Rajasthan is famous for those. They can be folded into small enough
parcels to fit into your briefcase. Yet as you unfold them, and cover
yourself with them, the most severe of winters can be borne easily.
They are called Jaipuri quilts and are available at the Rajasthan
Emporium in Delhi and in abundance in the state of Rajasthan.
Perhaps it is in this
practice of wearing blankets and quilts that the genesis of the shawl
lies. The shawl is a lovely wrap that allows you to snuggle into it
and yet, is light and attractive.
Weaving woollen textiles
had been very much a part of the story of weaving in India. Ofcourse
wool weaving is more restricted than cotton. There is a myth in
Hindu mythology that just as Brahma, the creator, created the grass
called kusa, he also created wool. SO amulets and charms were tied
with wool and black wool was believed to drive away evil spirits.
Anybody would believe the
myth that Brahma created wool, if they were to feel the Pashmina
shawls of Kashmir. They are soft, so warm, so comfortable, it is
worth spending the savings of a lifetime just to buy one of these
shawls. (Ofcourse if your mother had chosen to spend her savings
this way and then passed the shawl on to you, it would be just
These shawls are made out
of wool from the underbelly of the Pashmina goat. This animals grow
this soft growth only when it lives at 14,000 ft. above sea level.
The finest of the fine hair is obtained after very selective sorting.
It is called shatush, a soft dramy
fabric that seems to melt
at touch. It is also called the ring shawl because it can be like
the famous Dacca muslin, drawn through a ring.
One must be careful while
buying Pashminas for nowadays you get imitations and semi Pashminas.
The semi Pashminas have some ordinary wool mixture. The real
Pashminas cost anything around Rs.30-50,000 each.
Actually Kashmir can be
called the shawl capital of India, for there are ever so many
exquisite varieties that were born here and continued to be woven
with flourish. The most famous among them is the jamawar. The
jamawar is fully woven with paisley patterns. The paisely is
intricate and detailed with infinite number of colours filling one
The weaving is laborious
and numerous shuttles, locally called kanis, are moved around in one
single weft line because of the constant almost fantastic change of
colours. Colours may be changed as many as 50 times in a single
shawl. The other kind of shawls which are just as beautiful and soft
are those that are embroidered.
The shawls however are
not the only way to keep warm. There is another beautiful garment
the Kashmir pherans which are quite a rage all over the north. They
are long, tunic type shirts that are worn overtight pyjamas. The men
wear them longer than the women. In the designing of this dress,
there is great Persian influence. The pherans are comfortable, warm
What is more interesting
however is not the pheran but eh warmth that is held inside. I think
this is the most adventurous way of keeping warm. Guess what they
told between the stomach and their pherans ? Live Fire ! A small
earthen pot called the Kangdi is held inside their pherans with their
hand. The Kangdi is not very deep, it is round in shape and is
covered with wicker work.
There is a small frame
that holds the pot and towards back a wooden spate is attached to
kindle the fire. The fire is not all coal but a tame slow burning one
with a mixture of coal and ash.
Men, women and children
each their own Kangdi ! They carry it about with them wherever they
go. Inside the house they can move the Kangdi to wherever they wish,
sometimes they put their feet on it, at times they warm the fingers
on top of the fire and at other times if the child has got her frock
wet, the Kangdi is placed on it for it to dry. But the bravehearted
people are not deterred by this daily occurrence, most of them have
learnt the knack of sleeping with the Kangdi.
For the meeker ones who
would rather huddle up and sing to keep themselves warm, try the
shawls from Himachal Pradesh. Mandi, Kullu and Chamba are three
areas where very colourful shawls are still made. Naga shawls in
red and black are really very warm. My experience says they are also
the best ones to dream in Pull it tight around your shoulders, switch
on some music, sip into tea and the best of dreams will come with the
ring of realism.