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Updated on: Monday, August 30, 2021, 03:10 PM IST

'Learned this process the hard way from ancestors': How water chestnuts from Jammu & Kashmir's Wular Lake sustain families; see photos

Kashmiri women wait for local traders to sell water chestnuts that they extracted from Wular Lake in the Bandipora district of North Kashmir.  | Photo by Sajad Hameed

Kashmiri women wait for local traders to sell water chestnuts that they extracted from Wular Lake in the Bandipora district of North Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

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Wular Lake is more than a popular destination. It houses the stories of many who depend on it for their livelihood. One of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, it is located in the north of Kashmir.

One of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, Wular Lake is located in the north of Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

Around 5-7 thousand fishermen earn their livelihood from the lake, says a report published by the Department of Ecology, Environment and Remote Sensing, Government of Jammu & Kashmir. The lake contributes more than 60 per cent of the fish production in Kashmir.

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Kashmiri women extract water chestnuts at the Wular Lake in Bandipora, Northern Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

Kashmiri women extract water chestnuts at the Wular Lake in Bandipora, Northern Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

Abdul Rahman Kawaa, a fisherman, works 11-12 hours a day at the lake to survive his family. "We're fishing too, for our livelihood, but as of now, the major focus is on water chestnuts," says Kawaa.

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Abdul Rahman Kawaa extracts water chestnuts at the Wular Lake in Bandipora, Northern Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

"We're fishing too, for our livelihood, but as of now, the major focus is on water chestnuts," says Kawaa. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

Overall, more than thirty villages located on the periphery of the pristine lake are associated with the chestnut trade with youngsters leading from the front.

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A man collects water chestnuts extracted from Wular Lake in the back of his vehicle in Bandipora district, North Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

Mafooza and Kulsuma who are friends drive a boat full of water chest nuts at Wular Lake in Bandipora, Jammu and Kashmir.

Mafooza and Kulsuma extract water chestnuts at Wular Lake in Jammu & Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

The families with low economic status are involved in the chestnuts business. The villages taking pride in water chestnuts businesses include Lankrishipora, Kehnusa, Kunzpora, Saderkoot, Zurimanz, Ashtangu, Garoora, Banyari, Kunzpora, Kanibathi, Bakhchibal, Kulhama and Laharwalpora.

Kashmiri women wait for local traders to sell water chestnuts that they extracted from Wular Lake in the Bandipora district of North Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

Kashmiri women wait for local traders to sell water chestnuts that they extracted from Wular Lake in the Bandipora district of North Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

The buyers at the banks of Wular Lake document sales before procuring it in the market. Usually, water chestnuts cost INR 50 ($0.67) per kilogram.

A man shows water chestnuts to a trader at the local market after extracting them from the Wular Lake, in Bandipora district of North Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

A woman helps a trader to collect the water chestnuts inside their boat at Wular Lake in Bandipora district of North Kashmir. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

"We have learned this process the hard way from our ancestors. It's good to keep this tradition alive, but at the same time, things have changed rapidly," says Saleema Begum who collects water caltrops along with selling fishes to feed a family of four.

Saleema Begum collects water chestnuts from the Wular lake. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

The Lake, which acts as a natural flood reservoir for the River Jehlum, has shrunk to about a quarter of its original size largely due to siltation from rivers feeding into the lake and human encroachments.

Due to human interference, there has been severe depletion of some important endemic and endangered plants. Wular Lake looks more like a flat marshy plain than a large lake now because it is silting up rapidly due to run-off from its denuded catchment.

A view of the Wular lake that is it is silting up rapidly due to run-off from its denuded catchment. | Photo by Sajad Hameed

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Published on: Monday, August 30, 2021, 01:56 PM IST
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