What Is Chillai Kalan, Kashmir’s Bone-Chilling Winter Embrace Of 40 Days?

The frozen Dal Lake and the snow-draped Chinars capture the essence of Kashmir's harsh winter. 

by Tejashee Kashyap
What Is Chillai Kalan, Kashmir’s Bone-Chilling Winter Embrace Of 40 Days?

The picturesque region of Kashmir undergoes a transformative journey every winter. Lasting for 40 days, from December 21 to January 31, Chillai Kalan is a captivating season that blankets the valley in a serene and mystical charm. This is known as Chillai Kalan, the hardest winter season in Kashmir.

Chillai Kalan: Kashmir’s Icy Embrace

Chillai Kalan is synonymous with the bone-chilling cold that envelops the region during these 40 days. The temperatures drop significantly, often plunging below freezing, and the landscape undergoes a dramatic transformation. The valleys and mountains, usually adorned with vibrant hues of green and flowers during other seasons, are now covered in a pristine white blanket of snow. The frozen Dal Lake and the snow-draped Chinars capture the essence of Kashmir’s winter.

This year, temperatures began to fall below freezing a day before the arrival of the harsh winter in several spots throughout the valley. At a bone-chilling -4.4 degrees Celsius, Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, shuddered. Pahalgam was the coldest place in Kashmir, with a low of -6.3 degrees Celsius, while Gulmarg, a well-known ski resort, had a low of -4.4 degrees Celsius. Lows of -4.0, -3.5, and 3.3 degrees Celsius were recorded in Qazigund, Kupwara, and Kokernag, respectively.

The season marks a period of resilience and adaptation for the locals who have developed unique ways of coping with the harsh winter conditions. It’s when the bukharis are kept perpetually heated and the lakes are frozen. From traditional winter clothing like Pheran (a loose gown) to the art of Kangri (a traditional earthen pot filled with burning charcoal, held close to the body for warmth), the Kashmiris have perfected the art of surviving and thriving in this icy climate.

Also Read: J&K’s Bhaderwah Winter Festival: What It Is, Dates & All You Need To Know

Navigating The Chill

The winter months bring a temporary pause to agricultural activities in Kashmir. As the harsh winter sets in, life in Kashmir slows down. Electricity, like the weather, is inconsistent. Houses are filled with food, and smoke from burned wood fills the air surrounding chimneys. It is when there is the greatest probability of snowfall and the atmosphere remains dry.

Kashmir’s winter is divided into three parts, beginning with the worst period, Chillai Kalan. This is followed by a 20-day mild cold called Chillai Khurd and a 10-day mild cold called Challai Bache. While Chillai Kalan imposes a tranquil stillness on the valley, it also provides a canvas for a different kind of activity – winter sports. However, people from all over the nation overcome the obstacles to experience this incredibly magnificent season. After all, skiing and other winter activities are made possible. The snow-covered meadows become playgrounds for snowboarding, ice-skating, and snowshoeing, adding an adventurous dimension to Kashmir’s winter charm.

As the valley succumbs to the icy grip of winter, it undergoes a metamorphosis that is both challenging and beautiful. The stillness of the snow-covered landscapes, the warmth of communal gatherings, and the adventurous spirit of winter sports collectively contribute to making Chillai Kalan a unique and integral part of Kashmir’s cultural tapestry. It is a time when nature and humanity come together in a delicate dance.

Cover image credits: Canva

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