Destroyed by the devastating 2014 floods attributed partly to climate change, the cultivation of lotus stems, a delicacy in Kashmir, has been revived through painstaking efforts of farmers
If the lotus stem, an expensive delicacy much loved in Kashmir, is abundantly available in local vegetable markets these days, it is because of the sheer hard work of farmers who cultivate it in the Dal Lake in Srinagar.
The September 2014 floods had wiped out seeds of lotus stems, locally known as nadru, from Dal Lake, affecting livelihoods of thousands of people and depriving Kashmiri households of this classic vegetable from the region’s famed lake. Nadru, the most costly vegetable in Kashmir, is also the most sought-after vegetable in the region. The people of Kashmir valley particularly love the nadru of Dal Lake, where it is extensively cultivated.
This year nadru is available in large quantities in Kashmir’s markets thanks to the revival of the crop in Dal Lake after a gap of three years following the 2014 floods. The large-scale destruction in September 2014 was caused by unprecedented rainfall.
A report prepared by Jammu & Kashmir government’s Department of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing (DEERS) in collaboration with Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) had revealed that the flooding was a result of high rainfall (not less than cloud bursts) in the catchments of the Jhelum River over a short period of time.
“(It was]) a combined effect of the extreme event due to climate change and less capacity of our drainage system that failed to hold the quantum of water and it overflowed, which ultimately lead to floods,” the report had said.
Climate change may have triggered the sudden, intense rainfall that caused huge devastation in the region, New Delhi-based think tank, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), had pointed out shortly after the 2014 Kashmir floods. “The Kashmir floods are a grim reminder that climate change is now hitting India harder. In the last 10 years, several extreme rainfall events have rocked the country, and this is the latest calamity in that series,” CSE’s top representatives had said after the floods.
Nadru growers of Dal Lake say that they worked hard to revive the crop in the Dal Lake and took seeds from various other water bodies such as Mansbal and Anchar over the past three years to revive nadru cultivation afresh in the iconic lake.
“Nadru had totally vanished from Dal Lake because of the floods,” Mohammad Ayoub, a nadru grower in Saida Kadal area of Dal Lake, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “It took us three years to collect seeds from smaller water bodies of Kashmir like Mansbal and Anchar for reviving the crop.”
“This year, I am harvesting nadru of Dal after a gap of three years. The flooding of 2014 had completely devastated it,” Sher Ali Akhoon, a Nadru-grower in the interiors of Dal Lake, told indiaclimatedialogue.net as he pushed down his long stick fitted with an iron hook to pull out nadru deep inside the waters.
Nadru growers say that before the floods each of them would collect up to 15 bundles (each bundle comprises around 12 lotus stems). “But since then, we have managed to have the first crop after three years this year, it has not totally revived. We think we have only revived it up to 70%. Next year, we hope we will have a 100% crop,” said Nazir Akhoon, a contractor who buys nadru fields in various areas of Dal Lake.
“Because of the floods, I had suffered a loss of half a million rupees as I had bought nadru fields which were later destroyed by floods. I had expected some people might return me entire or at least half of the amount I had paid to them in advance, but no one did that,” Akhoon told indiaclimatedialogue.net.
“Now, I am quite hopeful that I would be able to make up for that loss,” he said, adding that the nadru business is quite profitable. “Nadru is like gold, it has takers all the time even if it is very expensive,” Akhoon said. A bundle of nadru sells between INR 180 to INR 250 (USD 2.8-3.9) in the markets across Kashmir. The price often rises to INR 300 during festivals.
Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, one of the skilled labourers working with Akhoon, said that he earns INR 1,000 every day when he goes for nadru harvest with the contractor. “Dal chu sani amdani khater akh khazana (The Dal Lake is a repository of income for us). I am so thankful to this lake and I pray for its survival,” Sheikh said.
He, however, regretted that the lake is being subjected to a lot of pollution and encroachment, which is slowly killing it. “Earlier, we used to drink from it. But now, we wash our hands with soap using piped water if Dal Lake’s water touches our hands,” he said, adding that no one seems to care about the lake’s deterioration.
When the lotus flowers dot Dal Lake, they enhance its beauty and add to its tranquillity. According to shikara wallas (boatmen), who ferry tourists in the lake, many tourists in the past three years asked them why lotus flowers are not visible anymore.
“A lot of tourists want to visit the lake more so because of lotus flowers. Lotus flowers certainly add to the beauty of the lake,” Noor Mohammad, a boatman, told indiaclimatedialogue.net.
Nadru also provides a livelihood to thousands of people, which include nadru growers, middlemen, vegetable sellers and fast food vendors. Vendors in all the busy markets across Kashmir sell Nadir Monji (Lotus stems cut into slender pieces and fried after dipping them into batter) and Nadir Aanchar (pickle). Outside every shrine in Kashmir, presence of vendors selling Nadir Monji is the most common sight as people who visit shrines love to get them for their loved ones.
When it comes to Kashmiri cuisine, it has a number of varieties from nadru, the most famous being Nadru Yakhni (nadru cooked with yoghurt with aromatic spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and fennel powder). Recipes such as nadru with spinach and meat are also popular in Kashmir.
Nadru dishes are particularly common during festivals such as Eid, Mahharum and Navroz. “I sell up to 200 bundles of nadru in a day during festivals,” said Haji Ali Mohammad Ranoo, who mostly sells nadru and other vegetables from Dal Lake.