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Sleeping with Kangdi

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 ideal).

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 single motif.

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 and dressy.

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.

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