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Pits of Life: ‘Khow’ of Gurez


Dr. Parveen Kumar,
Dr. Bilal. A. Bhat

The title may seem a bit confusing; how can a pit be life? A pit usually refers to a hole or cavity in the ground. It is an area often sunken or depressed below the adjacent floor area. These are usually considered dangerous as accidental fall in these pits can endanger any life. The situation becomes worse during rainy season when these pits get filled with water and are difficult to see and result in many accidents.

Fortunately the pits being mentioned here are not those which have been described in the above lines. These are the pits which help sustain human lives during the period when climatic conditions are so harsh that agricultural production does not takes place due to freezing temperature outside and it becomes absolute necessity for all the farm households to have such pits to sustain their living during that time. These pits are infact indigenous storage structures and locally called as ‘Khow' commonly found in Gurez.  The beautiful valley of Gurez or ‘Gurais' is situated at a distance of 86 kilometers from Bandipora and about 123 kilometers from Srinagar. Standing at an altitude of 8000 feet amsl, the valley is surrounded by snow capped mountains which are rich in floral and faunal diversity. According to 2011 census the population of this entirely tribal valley was 37,992 with a literacy rate of 59.17% and a sex ratio of 1000:653 i. e 653 females for 1000 males. The inhabitants are ethnic Dards/Shins. Shina is the local language, Due to heavy snowfall which can go up to seven feet the Razdan pass connecting the valley with rest of country gets closed in November-December and valley remains cut off from outside for six months till April- May.

Agricultural activities are thus confined for six months and thus in winters the tribal populace consumes whatever they have stored in the summer season. For centuries, these communities have planned agricultural production and conserved natural resources by adopting indigenous knowledge. The development of indigenous knowledge systems including management of natural has been a matter of survival to these people who have generated these systems. Traditional environmental knowledge of tribal peoples of is greatly useful in developing location specific strategies for the protection of biodiversity and also useful in mitigation plans for coping with climate change and to sustain it. The location-specific knowledge gained through close interaction within natural and physical environments and cultural adaptation are now recognized to be more eco-friendly and sustainable. This local knowledge and practices have also been reported to help people in drought prediction and extreme management. One such example of how traditional knowledge has been exploited is the construction of indigenous storage structure ‘Khow' a five to six feet deep pit to store potato in winter months.

Khow are underground storage structures (Fig. 1) constructed by digging pits with length, breadth (3 feet each) and depth ranging from 6 to 7 ft (standard size) depending upon the availability of potato with the farmer. The depth can be even more; only limitation is that water should not come from below while digging the pit. Usually a circular shape is given to this structure for pits used to store potatoes with a diameter of 1-1.5 meter. In the picture above, a farmer Mohammad Subhan Najar from Gulshanpora in Tarbal of Gurez can be seen can be seen with his Khow, it shows the pit, potatoes being put in it and it is than covered with wooden pieces or steel sheets which are then covered by mud from outside to ensure that snow does not gets into the pit during winters. Mohammad Amin another farmer from village Gelendora in Bagtore block of Gurez told that every family in this valley has dig pits; one pit is for storing potatoes and another pit is for storing other vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower. The pit for storing cabbage and cauliflower is usually rectangular.

Mohammad Amin further says that 6 to 7 feet deep ‘Khow' has the capacity to store 2 quintals of potato. Large capacity storage Khow can also be found in potato farms under the control of government which have the capacity to store many tonnes of potatoes. However, the roof of this storage structure is a temporary one made up of small wooden logs, iron/steel sheets and then covered from mud outside. After the harvest of potato in the month of October, it is dried in the open in the fields for a few days and when it attains the moisture content required for its safe storage, it is put in these ‘Khow'. In the Khow, the potatoes remain safe and healthy for 5 to 6 months till April-May when the winter season gets over. The heavy snowfall in the winter season in this valley also cannot spoil them. Mohammad Subhan told that in case the potatoes are required in mid of winter for domestic consumption, the outer cover is removed from a small area; potatoes are taken out and again Khow is covered.

The Himalayas in general is counted among global hotspots for climate change and for a given level of global change; the produce during the summer months is extremely necessary to be stored for the winter. These indigenous storage structures and technologies are therefore a boon in this region.

These are tried and tested and do not require any electric or other kind of power supply, being done using the locally available resources. The stored vegetables serve as important source of nutritive food during the snow covered period in the region. As stored vegetables remain fresh in these structures, they also help peoples a great relief from consumption of dried vegetables and also ensure nutritional security for them during the entire length of winter season.

Authors are Scientist and Head at KVK
Bandipora-II (Gurez), can be reached at


The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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