Articles on Culture and Religion in Kashmir

Kashmir - Old Home of Temperate Fruits

by P.N. Wanchoo

Koshur Samachar

It is the soil, climate, and environment those must suit to the culture and preservation of temperate fruits producing tree stocks. Kashmir probably is most ideal unparalleled such area in the world. Temperature is the most important climatic factor affecting the geographic distribution of various kinds and varieties of temperate fruits over which man has little control. Apples are produced in all temperate regions of the world in northern and southern hemisphere. In South Asia, because of tropical climate apples are not grown except in higher elevations where temperatures are low enough to meet the chilling requirements of such trees. Hence these are grown in the Himalayan region of Indian sub-continent, Kashmir placed as it is in monsoon shadow of greater Himalayas, has thus been more favourably located for growth of apples and other temperate fruits since times immemorial-a true, habitat of temperate fruits.

Kashmir essentially covers the valley (15,130.3 sq. km) with small minor Himalayan valleys comprising the districts of Anantnag, Badgam, Baramulla, Pulwama, Srinagar, and Kupwara. It is a unique oval plain approximately 85 miles in length and 25 miles in breadth at an average altitude of 5300 feet ASL with surrounding habited mountain areas/ plateaus rising upto 7000 feet ASL nestled securely in the Pir Panjal ranges of Himalayas, rising 11,000 to 15,000 feet ASL. The mountains that surround the valley are varied in form, height, and colour with forest and sub-forest areas - protracted and excessively wet winters. Nowhere else in the world can one find such an amphitheater of snow capped mountains surrounding such a large plain, traversed through its length by a navigable river "Jhelum" serving also as a relief for the valley and the extensive catchment.

Soil and water conditions vary considerably with an annual rainfall of 26 inches most of which is derived from winds associated with winter depressions. Temperatures are modified by altitude - minimum temperatures of about 11 degree F(-12C) occur in January and maximum temperatures of about 99 degree F(37C) in July. December to March are very cold months with mean temperatures of between 34.2 and 46.9 degree F and receive a rainfall of over 11 inches (including snow). April and May are cold and mild with precipitation of over 6 inches and mean temperatures between 55 and 64 degree F. June to August are hot months with over 6 inches precipitation and mean temperatures varying between 71 and 76 degree F. September is mild with mean temperature of 68.5 degree F and precipitation of 1.6 inches. October and November are cold and dry with rainfall of 1.8 inches and mean temperatures of between 47.7 and 57 degree F. All indexes put together, the valley climate is cold temperate.

Upto about 7000 feet ASL woodlands of Deodar (Kashmir Cedar), Blue Pine, Horse Chestnut, Walnuts, Pome and Stone fruits, Elm, and Poplars are grown- and occur in nature too. From 7000 to 10,000 feet ASL Coniferous forests with Fir, Pine, Spruce, and Berries occur. At and around 10,000 feet ASL, Birch is dominant and above Birch line there are meadows. This lush green basin is the historic heartland of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and of the Himalayas.

Kashmir has the unique distinction of possessing an unbroken historical record from ancient times to the present day. In the words of the "Chronicler" (ancient times) 'learning, lofty houses, saffron (crocus), grapes and icy water-the things which are difficult to get in heaven are common here' (Nilanultpurana and Rajtarangni). Fruits of which was an abundance in Kashmir, formed an important article of diet. Huen Tsiang, a Chinese pilgrim (AD 631) who travelled and stayed in the valley for 2 years mentions Pears, Wild Plum, the Peach, the Apricot, and the Grape as being cultivated in profusion. Grapes were particularly valued as fruits and were also used in making wines. "Muss" was the local name for wine.

The astounding beauty of Kashmir has been lavishly praised by writers and travellers of many ages and nationalities. Its snow capped peaks and sparkling streams, high pastures carpeted with alpine flowers, fertile valley rich with fruits and grain and its lakes and springs inspired the Mogul Emperor Jehangir to call the region "Paradise on Earth". The soaring Himalayan ranges surround the heartland like the ramparts of a natural fortress.

Although it is not possible to say with certainty whether food crops or fruit plants were man's first cultigens, but historical and other evidence place it at par. Fruit plantation have always been used by every great culture as an evidence of social success of advancement of the achievements of some measure of wealth, ease, and taste. Poets have celebrated richness of orchards/gardens as one of the most moving accomplishment of the arts of peace and fitting only too well to the eco-system then and now. "One is nearer God's heart in a garden than anywhere else on the earth."

The history of culture of temperature fruits in Kashmir is very ancient, about 3000 years old. Kalhana in Rajtarangni makes mention of it in the reign of King Nara (1000 BC). Forests in Kashmir were rich in flora and fauna. Indigenous fruits and nuts etc. that provided food for wild animals in the forests existed in abundance.

Some places/areas in the valley now habited are still known as Chaere-van (Apricot Forest), Chunt- var (Apple yard), Tangdar (Pear fields), and Alkhi Bag (Sour (bird) cherry garden). The fruits trees then were grown also on the path edges and sporadically in the agricultural fields and slopes to provide shade and food. The regeneration was natural by various ways from indigenous kinds and types. Animals and birds after eating the pulp of the fruits deposited the seeds and stones on the ground with residues here and there. The forest litter and snow cover over winter provided for stratification resulting in natural regeneration under natural conditions (habitat). Many arose as chance seedlings of plants and trees. Palweth - Ambri apple of Kashmir and several others are instances existing.

Planting a tree then especially a fruit tree or nut tree was considered a sacred act. When a boy's head was shaved first time, the crop of hair thus cut used to be buried underground along with few walnuts in a field or compound/backyard. Grapes apart from other fruits are recorded to have been grown widely over Martand plateau in Anantnag until it was ravaged and destroyed by Phylexra pest probably never to revive. It was after this catastrophe that an irrigation canal presently known as Martand canal was laid for irrigating the vast plateau area and rice cultivation extended there after (724-761 AD). The State records reveal that in 1876 AD a French resident Monsieur H. Denvergua had made wines from wild grapes of Kashmir. Maharaja Ranbir Singh was enthused and engaged Monsieur Enmers and Monsieur Peychaud of Chateau and others for wine making in the valley.

Long before the Moguls (16th Century), the Shamir rulers had laid out gardens and orchards in the valley. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin "Budshah" (1420- 1470AD) imported many fruit grafts for furtherance during his reign along with art of grafting from Central Asia.

The historical and other evidence available reveal that Kashmir in Himalayas was rich in Pome, Stone, nut fruits, and grapes (vinefera group) from very ancient times. Modern Pomologists consider apple native to a vast area of temperate zone from Britain in the northwest to Himalayas in southeast. Likewise there is a reference with regard to Apricot (P. dasycarpus) reported mainly grown in China - Kashmir, and Afghanistan (Alan E Simons 'Growing unusual Fruits' Walker Publishing Inc., USA) to lead about hardy fruit tree growing in Kashmir in wild form. Walnut (Jugling) are another example which in ancient times in Kashmir were grown and nuts were used in sacred offerings to Gods. Likewise Cedrus-Loud 'Kashmir' the Kashmir deodar (cedar) though similar to the species in general morphological characters, but being much harder. The writer in his long career (Jammu and Kashmir State) in horticultural development in Kashmir has been gathering rootstocks, seeds, nuts, and stones of Malus Sp., Prunus Sp., and Juglaus Sp., as propagating material (rootstocks) from the wilds. Many species of Malus (Crab Apples) with fruits of the size of bird cherry to 1.8 inches, likewise the prunus sp., (wild and indigenous plums, apricot, and cherry), pyrus sp., (wild and indigenous pears), Juglaus regia (hard and thin shelled walnuts), and Grapes (vitis riparia) are found growing in the woods and nearby. Seed pips of Hapat Trel (Malus Sp.). Bears Crab Apple considered to be Bear food, have been widely used as apple root stock in Kashmir. Kashmir has been a source for a longtime of propagating material of temperate fruits and nuts for other temperate areas of Indian subcontinent.

In Kashmir every aboriginal tree, plant, fruit, and flower are known and identified by their local nomenclature like Chunt for Apple, Tang for Pear, Chaer for Apricot, Duon for Walnut, Fresst for Poplar, Weer for Willow (Salyx), Alich-for Wild cherry, Aer for Plum, Dach for Grape, and so on. Improved varieties and types have flourished overtime at the expense of wild aboriginal. We have been ruthless in felling broad leave species of aboriginal fruits for fuel and commerce over time thus minimizing their existence.

Scientific nomenclature and other details of fruit trees-varieties of various kinds grown in Kashmir were not available until after 1945, when survey was commenced and revealed identification and location of 113 varieties of Apples, 62 varieties of Pears, 31 of Plum, and 14 of Cherry in early, medium, and late groups, besides scores of wild crabs/Pip (Malus Sp.) etc.

With the improvements in fruit tree raising, management, and marketing over time the area under cultivation of fruits in Kashmir has increased from abare 14,000 hectare with blanks in 1950 to 187,000 hectare in 1993-94 with apples covering over sixty per cent area. Apples and other temperale fruits grown under different environment conditions vary considerably in their character, but qualitatively apples and other fruits generally produced in Kashmir are by far better than those of the same varieties produced in other regions in the Himalayas which receive monsoon. Kashmir apples have exhibited better keeping quality (shelf life) under local conditions. A western expert, who was coopted as one of the judges at a fruit show/exhibition declared that the Cox orange apple produced in Kashmir was qualitatively superior (taste, juice, and crispness) to one produced in his home country. About 15-20 per cent of the total area under fruit plantations is assessed irrigated and over 80 per cent area as unirrigated. Approximately 300,000 households are the owner operators of fruit crop holdings in Kashmir with over 70 per cent of the holders owning and operating 0.2 to 0.4 hectare holdings and only 4 per cent holders own holdings between 1 to 12 hectares. Kashmir is now forging ahead with standardized rootstocks as in other countries with Italian and Bulgarian assistance. A lot more remains to be done to enhance productivity per tree/unit area.

Vavilov (1887-1942), the great Russian geneticist and plant Explorer/Collector has made study of the distribution of the economic plants in 60 countries of the world. Vavilov's conclusions 1926 and 1935 determine the centers of origin of almost all cultivated Pome, Stone, and nut fruits of temperate regions to Persia and Afghanistan.

Search of ancient literature - Sanskrit, Hebrew, Chinese, for names of fruits has provided another valuable source of information concerning the native habitat of many cultivated plants and some of Vavilov's conclusions have had to be modified on this score.

It appears that Vavilov did not peep into Kashmir Himalayas and thus left valley of Kashmir pomologically undiscovered. Kashmir was a princely state then within British India and continued so until late 1947. The British Government had taken Gilgit area of the state bordering Russia on lease from Maharaja of Kashmir. The British must have been controlling therefore the entry and movement of Russians particularly into Kashmir valley then.

This has obviously deprived Kashmir the real habitat in Himalayas of temperate fruits (Pomes, Stones and Nuts) being explored, recognized and recorded as the oldest home of temperate fruits.

I hope the present day Pomologists, Horticulturists, Plant Explorers, and Collectors will take a view and seek amendments of generic records known so far.

Kashmiri Overseas Association
 Koshur Samachar