A Dutch man is living in Kashmir for five years, making and selling Dutch cheese. Hamidullah Dar meets Chris Zandee to find out what makes him churn out a living here.
“God created the world and we created the Netherlands”. Thus goes a famous Dutch saying; and the inhabitants of Netherlands create opportunities for themselves anywhere they go. Chris Zandee, a Dutch visited Kashmir six years ago and found the landscape and the climate similar to his native country. He returned in 2004 and has been living here since, along with his wife, not only enjoying the stay in Kashmir but also owning a business that ensures their decent livelihood.
“I love Kashmir as it bears resemblance to my native Zeeland area of the Netherlands that is a delta surrounded by water and patches of land. The people here are hospitable and can share even their meals with those who happen to come their home; acquaintance or stranger which cannot be seen anywhere in the Europe,” says the over six feet tall Chris.
Soon after his arrival in the valley, Chris thought of living here and generating the resources for expenses his stay in the valley would incur. “I scanned the market to see which product I can make has a demand. I thought of Dutch cheese making and started working on cultivating necessary contacts,” said Chris. He came in contact with some villagers in Pahalgam who assured him of supplying milk.
“Initially I started with 50 Kg of milk and personally made the product and supplied it to a few hotels and departmental stores. My aim of initiating this business was social and economic development of those uneducated people who reside far away from the din of progress. I purchased milk from poor people on regular basis at a fair price which ensured regular income to these families besides their economic development,” adds Chris.
With time, Chris increased the milk procurement to 150 Kg as he started producing cheese in many flavours. Today he sells cheese in chilli, cardamom and almond flavours. “I intend to introduce walnut and many more flavours in near future as people have accepted and adopted the product and now seek more varieties to satiate their taste buds,” says Chris.
A car engineer by profession, Chris says he was brought up with a “struggle and rise” character. “We have the national banner in Zeeland which shows a lion half immersed in water and eyeing at a stretch of land which depicts struggle in life and coming out successful. It is our national character and we do not shy away from doing anything,” he said.
Chris claims that he is not in the valley to make money alone. “If it was the case of making money, Netherlands has a lot more opportunities to offer than Kashmir. Basically I am interested in helping people to empower themselves socially and economically. My venture in Kashmir is based on sharing the benefits of a business that now has four Kashmiri men as the cheese makers whom I trained. Tomorrow if I leave the place, at least I will be satisfied that I have empowered some people to earn their livelihood independently,” says Chris.
He is lavishly dismissive when asked about his future plans in Kashmir. “I believe in present, and future plans depend on how long I am welcome in Kashmir,” Chris said.
Netherlands is famous for its developed agriculture sector and Chris is not interested in it; at least not in Kashmir. “For agriculture sector I need land and presently I am not interested in extending my business. Anyway there is no comparison between Kashmir and Netherlands. Here everyone living in the countryside has some land and in absence of money he still can have a meal. That is quite marvellous use of land,” says he.
Chris is all praise for the local businessmen for carrying out their job despite all odds. “I have learnt a lot from Kashmiri businessmen like networking. There is brotherhood and traders help each other. Their forte lies in the tact to do business and sustain it during the most turbulent times. There are numerous places in the world facing Kashmir-like situation but nowhere will you find so much money in business as in Kashmir which manifests the capability of Kashmiris,” says he.