Moving from the murky waters of Dal Lake, ‘Nadru’ has now a new address in Kashmir: Ganderbal’s paddy fields. The amazing agricultural collaboration that made it possible hasn’t only left tongues wagging, but also helped regaining the lost roots.
As the morning mist gently paved way to daybreak in the interiors of the serene Dal Lake, a bustling floating garden—overlooked by the militarised Hotel Leeward (famous for hosting celebrated author Sir VS Naipaul in 1962)—began crowding up with laden boats and chirpy boatmen. The Shikaras loaded with vegetables seem to be in short of the Dal Lake’s traditional specialty: Nadru—or, Lotus Root.
Nadru has been conspicuously missing from the lake since the fall of 2014 when the floods of massive proportions marooned Kashmir—mainly throwing life out of gear in the summer capital of Srinagar. The boatmen who suffered massively in the floods are mindful about the missing edible plant.
“In that flood,” said Gowher, a fresh-faced boatman in the lake, “Nadru seed was completely destroyed in the Dal Lake, which used to be one of the major sources of lotus root.” Three years later, intriguingly, the aquatic plant has surfaced 18km down in Ganderbal.
Away from the construction boom in the province known to throw kingmakers in post-1975 Kashmir, Nadru has cropped up to the wonder of many.
Beyond the busy Behama, a road to Kangan is the spot of change. It’s called Malshahibagh. What used to be a vast paddy field once has now become a Nadru swamp. Even some locals, aware of the change in their backyard, are surprised.
“A year after the floods devastated Nadru seeds in Dal, some farmers here shifted from paddy to lotus-root cultivation,” said Bashir Ahmed, a mechanic in Behama. Before the new crop would be introduced, the paddy fields had suffered from the repeated water-lodging menace in Malshahibagh.
In 2015, the water in these fields rose to a level where paddy cultivation became difficult. This is when, the locals decided to bring home the traditional Nadru growers from Srinagar and other parts.
“The idea was to cultivate Nadru on an experimental basis,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a well-built farmer in Behama. Once it clicked, many others began filling the irrigation canal, blocking the stream and flooding their fields. This made a pond out of their paddy fields.
When more and more workforce from Soura, Aanchar, Hazratbal, Telbal, Manasbal and Dal Lake visited Behama, the beleaguered water-borne community grappling with the living crisis in the face of shrinking and stinking water bodies saw a new hope. Being a part of the collaborative vegetative project meant that they could grow their crop in places other than natural water bodies now.
For years, they would plant the lotus roots at the lake bottom. At Behama, however, these men grew it at the put on pond bottom. By the time leaves began floating on the water surface, they realized that their experiment was already a success. Then the flowers sprouted and stems attained a normal 150cm length.
The outcome spread a festive mood around. As growers had already entered into a deal with their landholders—that they would sell their produce to them at a wholesale rate—the new crop was now good to go to the markets.
“I have given my land for cultivation to Nadru growers from Aanchar and Dal Lake on an already set price,” said Behama’s Abdul Rashid, a retired irrigation department official. “For every acre, I earn about Rs 8,000.”
These growers sell these Nadrus either in the main Mandi or the local markets. While a normal stack of Nadru—or, Nad’er Gead is sold at around Rs 250, the one grown in Behama is being sold a notch higher at Rs 300 for its richness in taste.
With the emergence of Malshahibagh Behama on Srinagar-Leh Highway as the new address of Nadru, Kashmir is no longer dependent on Dal Lake, Wullar Lake, Aanchar and Manasbal for tasting the aquatic delicacy.
Today at Dal Lake, the winds of change are already sweeping. As the Naipaul’s Doll’s House on the Dal—as he called Hotel Leeward in his travel book An Area of Darkness—remains a floating panopticon, the boatmen are talking about regaining the lost roots.
“After the 2014 flood destroyed the Nadru seed,” said Arshid, a boatman, “the lotus is slowly and gradually coming back to its place with the help of borrowed seeds from Behama.”
From Dal to Behama, and then from Behama to Dal, Nadru has come a full circle in Kashmir after passing through an eventful vegetative journey.