Pahalgam winter festival, showcasing local art and culture, is helping revive tourism in Kashmir
The Pahalgam winter festival sees locals set up stalls where they sell crafts and tea, as well as performances of local art forms like Bhand Pather | #FirstCulture
Just a few days ago, Pahalgam in South Kashmir looked desolate, with few tourists around. The state of Kashmir has seen tourism numbers fall after the unrest of 2016; however, over the weekend of 17-18 February 2018, Pahalgam saw tourists flock to the town for its two-day winter festival. Makeshift stalls were erected on either sides of the Pahalgam-Chandanwari road, and these wooden stalls with thatched roofs were built to look like traditional Kashmiri homes.
Hundreds of people from Jammu and Kashmir and outside the state walked a kilometre to get a glimpse of the local culture and heritage. Local artists also performed at the Pahalgam Club to entertain the audience.
Though the kilometre-long road was made non-trafficable throughout the festival, tongas (horse carts) were made available for the general public. These tongas have otherwise been abandoned as a mode of transport in Kashmir since the last decade.
To showcase the ancient culture of Kashmir, there were potters present at the festival. With the advancements in technology, many potters have switched to other professions, which has led to a decline in the number of people who practice the oldest profession in the state.
Bhand Pather, a type of Kashmiri folk art, was performed in the street of Pahalgam. The importance of Bhand Pather has reduced ever since modern electronic appliances such as the television and mobile phone gained popularity.
Gabba, a unique type of floor covering prepared from old woolen blankets of different designs, was showcased in one of the stalls. It is a traditional Kashmiri cloth used to cover floors in the winters.
Kashmiri Kangris or fire-pots are used to warm the body in sub-zero temperature in the winters. They are made in different designs and displayed at the festival.
Willow wicker craft is locally referred to as Keani Keam, and it includes items such as baskets, lamps, as well as Kangris, which are made of willow canes. Most of these items are used to decorate homes or store food like bread.
Apart from these handicrafts, traditional foods and clothing were also displayed. Harisa, for example, is served hot with Girda (Kashmiri bread) for breakfast.
Noon-chai and Kahwa, two types of Kashmiri teas, were served at a stall on the roadside. Accompaniments with these teas were traditional breads, one of which is the Makie Chout (bread made of corn).
Many young boys and girls participated in the photography exhibition, portrait making activity, music, comedy and singing events, many of which were streamed live on social media.
The unrest of 2016 proved to be a major setback for people associated with the tourism industry. "We hope this festival boosts tourism once again,” Mukhtar Ahmad, a local, told Firstpost. Apart from such festivals, the tourism department is trying to revive the industry through advertisements and promotional videos. One such video, titled 'Kashmir: The warmest place on earth' received a million views on streaming websites.
People who have set up stalls are hopeful of their businesses getting a boost. Bashir Ahmad, who was selling Kashmiri willow items, told Firstpost, “During this festival, we sold some of our products. We hope it will publicise us and help our business to revive."
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