Shopian: With the increase in intensity of cold conditions, and abrupt increase in electricity tariffs by the government, Hamams have become vital for many people to save themselves from the bone-chilling cold.
Kashmir, like last year, is facing severe cold conditions after recent snowfall. Gulmarg on Thursday froze at minus 9.6 degrees Celsius while Pahalgam was the second-coldest place in the valley at a low of minus 8.9 degree Celsius.
Till about a decade ago, Hamams were a feature of mosques where people, particularly men, would assemble to stay warm. However, in the last few years, people started installing Hamams in newly constructed houses, as the new houses are mostly built of concrete and remain colder than traditional wood and mud houses.
Bilal Ahmad Malik, a villager from Pargochi Shopian, said that he installed a Hamam last year in his newly constructed house after spending two years shivering and unable to sleep in the new house. “I was not aware that the concrete house would be so cold in winters. Last year I dug out the floor of one of the rooms to create a Hamam. And now I am in love with it,” he said.
Hamam is believed to be of Turkish origin and brought by the Mughals to Kashmir. In a Hamam, some flat stones (Devir) are installed under which wood is burnt to make the stones warm. The warmth later spreads to the whole room.
At most places, a vessel is also installed with the Haman where wood is burnt to boil water as well.
The minimum temperature last year in Shopian receded to minus 15.4 Celsius, which was colder even than the minimum temperatures in Ladakh’s Nubra valley.
Most people who have built new houses in rural Kashmir have been installing Hamams in their old houses as well, to save themselves and their children from the cold.
Besides the increase in cold conditions and perils of concrete houses, the lack of power supply and increase in electricity tariffs has also forced many to install Hamams.
Gulzar Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Shopian, said that his family have winded up the room heaters and other gadgets since they received a Rs 3,000 bill last month after the installation of smart meters by the power department.
“It is better to use wood in Hamams and Kangris than the room heaters, especially when electricity lasts for minutes, that too with heavy charges,” he said.
The horticulture-dependent areas in Shopian produce a large quantity of wood because of pruning of trees. That wood has come in handy since the Hamams started being installed.
“We have never had any assurance of electricity. Frequent power cuts are the norm and even when there was increase in scheduled hours of power supply, they started installing smart meters which raised the bill amount. There was no option for us than to install Hamam in our house,” Bhat said.
In the 1980s, ‘Hamam therapy’ was in vogue with many Hakeems claiming to cure back ailments with it.