With Temperature At Record Lows, The Kashmir Valley Warms Up With Innovative Appliances

With Temperature At Record Lows, The Kashmir Valley Warms Up With Innovative Appliances

30 January 2012
The Economic Times
Masood Hussain

Srinagar: Winter tourism in the upscale ski resort of Gulmarg is a sharp contrast to the harsh battle that the residents of the Himalayan state wage with sub-zero temperatures every year. The seasonal demand has spawned an increasing tribe of entrepreneurs and innovators who are churning out products ranging from heaters and thermal blankets to anti-freeze additives for fuels, traditional gowns and woolen innerwear. 'This market is all about insulation,' says Urfi Mustafa Shuntho, who was instrumental in introducing central heating in the state in 1996. 'We spend a lot of money in insulating our bodies, homes and the workplaces from the harsh climate and the processes evolve continuously.' Kashmiris have traditionally used angethis, which are open iron pots holding firewood, to warm their homes, but with increasing urbanisation and changing lifestyle has come a demand for refined heating appliances. This led to the development of the bukhari, a heat radiator consisting of a tin box and a long exhaust tube. The state has some 200 entrepreneurs manufacturing four variants of the heater based on type of fuel. Of these, the coal-fed bukhari is the more sought after and a common sight in homes, government offices and restaurants. The year 1988 saw the entry of 'HeatKing', a kerosene-fed heater assembled locally with some components imported from Germany. 'It took us some time to introduce the new appliance, but once buyers were satisfied, there was no looking back,' says Zia, the son of a Kashmiri orthopedic who is credited with bringing it to the state. 'Right now, we sell around 2,500 units a year and the cost is 15,000 plus,' he adds. HeatKing also found a ready buyer in the Army battalions stationed in arid Ladakh. HeatKing's acceptability in the market coincided with Kashmir's discovery of Turkish room heaters: the Gazal and the Aygaz. These fully imported appliances consume 200 grams of LPG an hour for an output of 250 kw of heat. 'For the last 12 years we have been importing these LPG-fed appliances from Turkey and by now we might have sold around 40,000 pieces,' says Harry Singh Oberoi, the state's main importer of the appliance. The state uses some 5,000 pieces every year, he adds. As Kashmir soaked in changing lifestyles, architecture and food habits, the demand for central heating and floor heating grew. Urfi, a mechanical engineer who had studied winter-management in Europe, introduced cast iron heaters that ran on locally available raw materials. Urfi now sells around 100 units a year, costing up to a maximum of 70,000. 'People may take some more time to decide if their homes should be good for summers or for winters, but I see lot many changes taking place,' says Urfi, adding that there are around 1,500 buildings across the state that have central heating. The entrepreneur does about six central-heating projects a year and has a round-the-clock-repair service for clients. 'It is a continuous process. I traced a masonry stove in vogue in Austria, Russia, Canada and Norway and on experimental basis, I installed a few last year. Let me get the feedback and then we can formally sell the product,' says Urfi. Kashmir's leap into modernisation has also brought back the 'Hamam'. The method of using fuel wood to heat stone slabs and water is now part of nearly 10% of the new houses being constructed in the state. 'At one point, we were supplying fuel wood through ration depots, but it was stopped in the eighties when LPG was introduced,' says conservator Nisar Ahmad. 'But we still supply 10,000 tonnes of fuel wood at 1,900 a tonne to mosques.' The fuel requirement of Hamams in the commercial and private sectors is met through open-market purchases. The other sector cashing in on the winter chill is the state's apparels sector, which includes hosiery. 'Pherans, coats, jackets and long coats need tweed of different forms,' says Ghulam Nabi, a senior employee in state-run Handloom Development Corporation. 'Last time, we found an average of 30 lakh metres getting consumed in a year.' Kashmir's huge market for blankets sees products pouring in from China, Taiwan, Korea and Punjab. Ludhiana's 'blanket cloth' has become popular as insulation for windows and flooring. It is the electric blanket, however, that has emerged as a Kashmir specialty. Consuming a minimum of 80 watts, the electric blanket has moved out of the bride's bedroom and is emerging as every individual's requirement. 'Against half a million pieces a season, we produce only 100,000,' says Manzoor A Qadri, a manufacturer. 'Thirty percent each goes to the plains and the Army and 40% is consumed by the civilian market.' The electric blanket, assembled locally from a Punjab-made blanket and filament imported from Delhi, costs upwards of 800.