Besides Italy, Repora village in Kashmir is perhaps the only place in the world where fresh grapes are available. And, this Kashmiri grape is no ordinary fruit. Ikhlaq Qadri reports.
Kashmir is well known for some of the best quality apple but not many are aware of the grapes produced in Repora village, which according to some experts exceed international standards fixed for the fruit. A great advantage of Repora grapes is that it is ready when fresh grapes are not available anywhere in the world except in Italy.
“When Maharaja [Hari Singh] once had [fresh] grapes in winter, he was surprised,” says Ghulam Nabi, a resident of Repora.
Repora is a village in block Lar, district Ganderbal. The south-facing aspect of the village makes it feasible for the cultivation of grapes besides being well irrigated and open to maximum possible hours of sunshine. Known for its grapes the village has mention in the first volume of Tareekh-e–Hassan, one of the most reliable historical accounts about Kashmir.
The villagers attribute the thriving of grapes in the area to the blessings of a saint, Mir Syed Shah Sadiq Qalandar (R.A) who they believe lived in the area. “It is the blessing of Shah Sahab (RA),” says Ghulam Muhammad, a resident of Repora.
The grapes of Repora got attention when someone gifted it to the Rai Bahadur Thakur Janak Singh-the military general of the Maharaja. Impressed by the quality he enquired about the place where the grapes were produced. He purchased most of the fertile area and introduced improved varieties of grapes.
“We have heard that the rulers used to make vine out of the grapes of Repora,” says Abdul Majid, a resident of the village.
Later Janak Singh built a Bungalow there which now is also called as Bungli Bagh as the remnants of the building exist there.”
Prominent commercial varieties grown in the area is the Hussaini- imported from Iran and Sahibi- imported from Hyderabad. There also is Kishmish, Anabeshai and Ruby variety. The department has now got Thomson seedless variety for raisin making. Lack of local techniques in making raisins is hindering growth in the produce. “We lack entrepreneurship in this field,” says Tasaduq Mueen, the horticulture officer who is the in-charge of the orchards.
“As in Ladakh they have the process of drying apricot at the commercial level, we don’t have that here,” he said.
The locals have their own techniques to preserve the fruit. They keep it in earthen pots and cover them with mud. This way the life of grapes is increased to six months.
The Repora grapes fetch a good price in the market. The per Kilogram rate of Sahibi is Rs. 200 and for Hussaini it is Rs. 100. “The local demand is so much that it seldom reaches outside,” Majid told Kashmir Life.
The quality of Repora grapes is considered to be the best in the world. “The international standard of best quality is to have berry size of 4 – 4.5 gms and our grapes have a size of 12.5gms exceeding international standards,” says Tasaduq.
The department has developed Kralbagh in the adjacent village of Repora as the model vineyard, measuring 67 kanals, for the purposes of demonstration. “We have put all the representative varieties there,” says Tasaduq.
The model vineyard has its own system of training in place, the ‘bower system’ for commercial exploitation in which a network on iron rods is built to make a vineyard. It takes around 9 lakh rupees for one kanal of the vineyard. The department has put this system only for 13 kanals of land. Annually this land is fetching more than Rs 10 lakhs annual profit.
“In 2009 the bid went for 6.5 lakhs and when we checked how much the contractor earned, it was around 18 lakhs,” says the officer in charge.
The other systems in place are the head system, telephone system and kniphion system.
To help the villagers in having vineyards in their homes, the department is giving 50 per cent subsidy in managing the bower system. “Until this point of time, we have covered around 400 beneficiaries. To have this off their own is very difficult,” Tasaduq told Kashmir Life.
The orchards are understaffed. The approved staff is 28 people but the present strength is only three including the officer in charge and two technicians. “We don’t have a gardener here,” says Abdul Rashid Leharwal, the technician. The staff inadequacy is marring the options of getting the best results.
“We had stock of 4000, in which only 2400 was fit to breed and my two member staff have managed 2900. What else I can expect from them,” says Tasaduq.
“The staff I have is not even fit for watch and ward.”