by Nida Mehraj
SRINAGAR: With new heating appliances inundating the Kashmir market, charcoal, known as Tchine in Kashmiri, is still preferred by the native population to stay warm in chilling winters.
With sales in the doldrums post the Covid19-pandemic, the Tchine traders reveal that people still throng their shops looking for a sack of charcoal. Multiple types of Tchine power Kashmir’s quintessential heating pot, the Kangir which a Kashmiri usually carries along either inside the traditional winter cloak the Pheran or outside it.
While winter is the main season for sales of Tchine in Kashmir, people also buy them for preparing some Wazwan cuisines along with the Kehwa and Nun Chai (Kashmir’s pink tea). Some restaurants and barbecue shops along with other street food vendors also use the Tchine.
Even as snowfall is playing hide and seek this year coupled with Covid-19-induced lockdowns leaving people with lesser cash, charcoal has a booming market in Kashmir.
Mehran Javaid, a worker at a wholesale charcoal shop said, “The Bhateh Tchine has a huge market in Srinagar and Kaeshiri Tchine especially Kath Tchine are mostly sold in other districts where they have a good market.”
Batheh Tchine are the charcoal remains of the brick kilns. They are very strong and offer a lot of heat and sell at a huge cost. Unlike all other varieties of charcoal, the thin Bhateh Tchine are sold throughout the year. While people use them for firing Kangris during winters, 100 times more of this particular charcoal is consumed by the Tuji-makers – Kashmir’s barbeque sellers, coppersmiths and ironsmiths.
Batheh Tchine are the most expensive, the thick ones sell at Rs 45 a kilogram and the thinner variety – that is in domestic use – for Rs 25. All other charcoal, barring the baker’s made, sells upward of Rs 500 a sack.
“We usually sell 200 bags of coal every day to shop owners and sometimes we even make sales of almost Rs 2 lakh per day,” Mohammad Sayed, a wholesale charcoal deader said. “However, this year due to the lack of snowfall sales are affected a little.”
A Diverse Basket
Charcoal is a diverse basket. Even though it is the remains of the hot, biting embers, it varies in material input. There are different kinds of charcoal available in Kashmir. Batheh Tscine apart, the Kaeshiri Tchine (Kashmiri charcoal) has multiple variants, Kath Tchine and Pun Tchine. There is a huge demand for Kander Tchine, which in firepower, are next to Batheh Tchine. This is the output from a baker’s oven that consumes fuel wood.
Kath Tchine is made after the pruning of the apple orchards is over. The branches and twigs are cut and burnt with or without almond and walnut shells. Apple growers retain their own requirements and sell the surplus to the market.
The Pun Tchine is made from dried fallen leaves and twigs. Unlike the countryside, this is a major money spinner for a very small section of the city population who collected these leaves around Chinar plantations and convert them into the charcoal
Interestingly, Bhatheh Tchine are mostly imported from neighbouring states in Pathankot, Punjab, and Rajasthan. There are two varieties in it – thick Bhatheh Tchine and thin Bhatheh Tchine. “Once Bhat Tchine are brought to Kashmir, wholesale dealers sift them into the thick and thin coal and then sell them separately,” said Mohammad Syed. The thin Bhatheh Tchine are also called Patre in Kashmiri.
Bhatheh Tchine is very powerful. A huge section of kangri users, mostly in the city, use a mix of three charcoals to make a loaded Kangri lost for almost 24 hours, if not more. They use a major portion of Bhatheh Tchine which is layered with almost 10-15 per cent of Kath Tchine and the top layer is the ignition – the Pun Tchine. Kander Tchine is also used in the same way, though it lasts not so long.
A Decline, Yes
Even after new heating appliances, people still buy charcoal for winter but the amount has reduced a little.
“Our sales are going down a little for the last few years because of the usage of heating appliances such as room heaters and air conditioners by people, otherwise it didn’t affect us much in the past,” Arif Ahmad Rah, owner of Azam Enterprise said.
As this winter season has not seen snowfall as it used to in previous years, the business of a few people who have orchards or charcoal got affected. “Currently, our market is down because it has not snowed this season as a result people are not buying charcoal as much as they used to. Every winter season I used to buy almost 30-40 truckloads of coal to distribute to other shopkeepers or to directly sell to customers but in this winter season, I have only ordered 16 truckloads of charcoal which is very less in comparison to that,” Mohammad Sayeed added. “We used to be very busy during this season, but this time due to the lack of snow, our work was reduced.”