Srinagar: 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 here.
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 — and costly — vegetable. This year nadru is available in large quantities thanks to the revival of the crop in Dal Lake after a gap of three years following the 2014 floods. The large-scale destruction of 2014 was caused by unprecedented rainfall.
Nadru growers of Dal Lake say that they worked hard to revive the crop there and took seeds from various other water bodies such as Mansbal and Anchar over the past three years to revive its cultivation afresh in the iconic lake.
“Nadru had totally vanished from Dal Lake because of the floods,” Mohammad Ayoub, a nadru grower in the Saida Kadal area of Dal Lake, told indiaclimatedialogue.net.
“This year, I am harvesting nadru of Dal after a gap of three years. The flooding of 2014 had completely devastated it,” said Sher Ali Akhoon, a Nadru-grower in the interiors of Dal Lake, as he pushed down his long stick fitted with an iron hook to pull out nadru from 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 (though) we have managed to have the first crop after three years, it has not totally revived. We think we have only revived it up to 70 per cent. Next year, we hope we will have a 100 per cent 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 said.
“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 at between Rs 180 and Rs 250 in markets across Kashmir. The price often rises to Rs 300 during festivals.
Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, one of the skilled labourers working with Akhoon, said that he earns Rs 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 tranquility. According to boatmen who ferry tourists in the lake, many tourists inquired in the past three years why lotus flowers are not visible any more.
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 into batter) and Nadir Aanchar (pickle). Outside every shrine in Kashmir, vendors selling Nadir Monji are a common sight.
When it comes to Kashmiri cuisine, the most famous preparation using lotus stem is 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.