Bakers of Bijbehara—selling ‘token of love’ on Kashmir’s escape route

Bakers of Bijbehara. [FPK Photo/Humira Tabassum.]

With its aromatic charm and health benefits, Bijbehara’s oven-fresh delicacy has become more than just bread; it has become a symbol of the town’s enduring legacy and the getaway gift for Kashmir.

In the crisp embrace of a chilly winter morning, a newly-married couple embarked on a journey to Pahalgam. As their hearts filled with awe while traversing the scenic landscapes, they knew they wanted to bring back a piece of this enchanting experience for their family.

Returning from their mountainous escapade, the couple found themselves near the bustling highway town of Bijbehara.

Known for its ancient roots, Bijbehara finds mention in Kalhana’s Rajtarangini. The oldest Chinar tree in the subcontinent, standing tall among 24 others in Padshahi Bagh, adds to the town’s historical allure. The Mughal prince Dara Shikoh had once constructed a bridge here, connecting the two banks of the Jhelum River, but the ravages of time and nature had washed it away. 

Amidst this historical backdrop, the aroma of the kandirwaans begins to beckon the couple. Drawn to the traditional kulchas that Bijbehara is renowned for, they decided that this would be the perfect token of love for their family. 

Preparatory Phase. [FPK Photo/Humira Tabassum.]

Bashir Waza, 50, and his sister, Saleema, 55, the custodians of one such kandirwaans, open their creaky wooden door as the first rays of sunlight paints the town in hues of gold. 

Waza, a third-generation baker, inherited the culinary craft from his father. He speaks passionately about his daily routine, starting at 4 in the morning, mixing dough with the help of modern equipment that ease the process.

The kandir chot, a round-bread with a long legacy, is not just a product for Waza — it’s a piece of Bijbehara’s cultural heritage.

Saleema, with her blue eyes shining with smile, stands beside her brother, breaking stereotypes in a town where traditional roles often define gender boundaries. She gracefully sells kulchas, bakerkhanis, and more, adding a contemporary touch to the ancient art of baking.

Like Waza, Aadil Ahmad sustains the town’s cultural spirit beyond commerce. With the help of seven other members, he runs another kinderwaan that has customers not only in Bijbehara but also in neighbouring districts. 

Aadil sees the kandirwaan not just as a source of livelihood but to serve the society by providing a staple that is not just delicious but also rooted in tradition. He emphasises the financial stability and success that this traditional occupation brings, surpassing even government jobs.

As the guardians of tradition, these kandirwaans are creating a bridge between the past and the present. As Waza and Aadil speak of their children studying in reputed institutions, it became evident that the future held a different path for the next generation. The delicate dance of the kneading dough, once a way of life, might fade with time.

Time to Roast. [FPK Photo/Humira Tabassum.]

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows over the town, the couple left the kandirwaan with a basket of kulchas, not just as a gift for their family but as a piece of Bijbehara’s soul. The aroma of the traditional bread lingered in the air, a reminder that in the heart of this ancient town, the spirit of the kandirwaans continues to thrive, echoing the tales of centuries past.

And there, in the health-conscious considerations of the modern era, lay an unspoken advantage of the traditional kulcha over its modern bakery counterparts. The couple, on their journey back, discussed how the kulcha, made with natural ingredients such as flour and ghee, offers not just a taste of tradition but also health benefits.

Unlike modern bakeries that often use ingredients like chocolate and additives, the kulcha retains its simplicity and authenticity. Waza, with pride in his eyes, mentions that the kulcha is not just a delicious treat but also a healthier option, especially in the winter months. The use of natural ingredients makes it more suitable for those with health concerns, providing warmth and nourishment without compromising on taste.

What adds another layer of significance to the kulcha is its role as a heartfelt gesture of love. Waza shares stories of families from Kashmir, purchasing his kulchas as tokens of affection for their relatives or sons and daughters studying or living in foreign countries. 

The nostalgia-inducing aroma and the familiar taste of home encapsulate in these traditional breads and become a bridge connecting hearts across continents.

Good to Eat. [FPK Photo/Humira Tabassum.]

The couple, as they savoured the traditional kulchas during their journey, couldn’t help but appreciate how the kandirwaans of Bijbehara were not just preservers of tradition but also guardians of a healthier culinary choice. Their bakery item has emerged as a timeless and wholesome alternative to its contemporary bakery counterparts.

As they continued their journey, the couple felt a sense of fulfilment, knowing that the gift they carried for their family not only encapsulated the rich history of Bijbehara but also embodied the health-conscious choices that resonated with the spirit of the times. 

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