Kashmir reels under bitter cold spell


Bitter cold continued in the Kashmir region as the capital Srinagar saw minus 8.4 degrees Celsius (16.88 degrees Fahrenheit)on Wednesday night, the coolest in 25 years, and snowfall crippled life in the region.

Sonman Lotus, the local Meteorology Department head, told Anadolu Agency that minus 8.3 C (17 F) was the previous lowest recorded temperature in 1995. The sub-zero temperature froze the city's biggest lake, Dal Lake, prompting the administration to advise people against walking on it.

Kashmir is currently going through its harshest 40-day stretch, Dec. 21 to Jan. 31, a winter spell locally known as Chillai Kalan (the Big Chill). Snowfall in this period is always dreaded.

Last week's heavy snowfall in the region threw life out of gear. According to Lotus, the water content of the snow in Srinagar is exceptionally high in comparison with the past. More than four feet of snow were recorded in some areas of southern Kashmir.

The snow has not been removed from the sides of key roads in the capital, resulting in traffic snarls. Local authorities plan to tackle traffic problem by allowing even- and odd-number license plate vehicles to drive on alternate days. At night, drivers find it difficult to navigate icy roads.

Not all of the 15,000 lanes in the city of over a million residents have been cleared of the snow yet, as Srinagar Mayor Junaid Mattu told reporters a few days ago, since they have only 15 bulldozers for the job.

"We're always hearing New Delhi saying that billions of dollars have been spent on development in Kashmir. It's been a week now and they can't clear snow from roads," said Fayaz Ahmad Dar, a shopkeeper in the busy Batamaloo area.

The region is also facing a shortage of commodities, including eatables such as mutton because the only highway that links it to the rest of the world has been closed for traffic after a portion of the road caved in. Repair work is in progress.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, New Delhi and Islamabad have fought three wars-in 1948, 1965, and 1971-two of them over Kashmir.

Also, in Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights groups, thousands have been killed in the conflict since 1989.

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