Once my trip to Kashmir was planned, I started dreaming of having Kahwah while sitting near a Bukhari and looking at the snow all around. What else can a teetotaler dream of? Once I reached The Khyber in Gulmarg, I realized Bukharis are a thing of past. But the rest of my dream came true beautifully. While still in the aircraft we saw the snow-covered peaks of Himalayas. Spread out like unwashed pieces of white linen waiting to be laundered. The drive from Srinagar to Gulmarg added a couple of thousand feet of altitude to the ground beneath our feet. And we came face to face with some Himalayan peaks while the others still stood tall challenging us to climb them. It felt like being a part of the panorama and my body needed some heat to withstand the cold.
The hot cup of the traditional drink with flakes of almond floating in it was just what I needed. It became an addiction for all the 4 days that I was in Kashmir. We would sit by the glass window overlooking the sunshine peak in the morning as the sun rose and its first rays met the snow-clad peaks sipping the traditional drink in the clay Kulhads. We would come back after the heavy Tarami lunch to clear our throats of all the oil. And just about any time, we felt that like having a hot traditional drink of the region.
Video of Kahwah Making
I eventually asked the person behind the Chaikash counter to show me how to make the traditional drink. And he obliged with this small video.
It is also spelled as Qahwah, Kehwa or Kahwa has its root in the word ‘Kah’ that means eleven, yes the number 11. It is said that a traditional recipe has 11 ingredients that include
- Green Tea Leaves
- Cinnamon Bark
- Cardamom Pods
- Saffron Strands
- Dried Rose Petals
- Crushed Almonds
- Crushed Walnuts
- Honey or Sugar to taste
- Milk for elderly & Sick usually
Samovar or Copper Kettle
A copper pot called Samovar is used to make this popular traditional Kashmiri drink. This is like a Kashmiri treasure – intricately carved with a hollow cavity in the middle to hold the burning coal that keeps the traditional drink boiling hot at any point in time. All the ingredients are put in the Samovar and left and one can just pour a cup out of it anytime. It is not easy to handle this copper vessel. It is heavy, it is hot and you need to know how to handle it. Good news is that you can make it at home in your regular kettles and pots. You can also pick up pre-mixed powder of the drink from most places in Kashmir. And all you have to do is add hot water and optionally dry fruits to enjoy this Kashmiri drink.
Types of this traditional Kashmiri drink
In different parts of Kashmir, you get different types of this warm drink. Like in Gulmarg we got the one with green tea and almonds. While in Srinagar, we got it only with Saffron and honey. Each home has its choice of mix and proportions just like our regular Chai across the country. I assume the green tea is a later addition. As tea may not have been available in this region until a couple of centuries ago. The herbal infusion though would have been popular since ages to keep warm in the extremely cold environments. At some places, Saffron, which is the costliest spice in the world, is added only for special guests or for celebrations.
A day in a Kashmiri household begins with Kahwah – beginning as a bed tea and then accompanying the Girda or baked Kashmiri bread that is eaten with the warm drink for breakfast. It is served to the guests as soon as they land and then the conversations flow holding the warm drink in one hand and Kangri in another. It is served after the sumptuous Wazwan meals, I assume to wash down all the fat consumed.
Houseboat in Kashmir
My best moment in Kashmir was sitting on a houseboat early morning as the haze played hide and seek on the Nigeen lake, and I tried reading an interesting book on my Kindle while sipping the warm drink. Though I must admit I liked the Gulmarg version with nuts at the bottom far more than the plain jane version of Srinagar.
Go ahead and try making your own variety of it and tell me how it was.
Recommend you to read the following tourist attractions of Jammu Kashmir on my Travel Blog.