The Chameleon Bukhari

For centuries Kashmir survived winters with focus on its hearth. Once it started hunting for alternatives beyond the mountains, it returned with a basket full. Syed Asma goes to market to understand the changing face of heat-radiating Bukhari in last three decades

A gujjar family in Yousmarg busy cooking the food.

A gujjar family in Yousmarg busy cooking food.

For many it is nostalgic. With winter curtailing outdoor activity, daan, the hearth, was at the centre of life. It would help them cook their food, feed their kangri and, above all, keep the daan-ie-kouth – the kitchen, warm. Villages had an additional luxury. Most of the bed-rooms were on first floor, atop the room housing herds and poultry. Their heat would warm the house-owners bedroom.

It had its own costs. The urge to have smokeless and efficient cooking system led to the entry of kerosene stoves. Recently, the LPG stove took over. With this the daan lost its importance and the home felt the hearth shift. Now cooking, warming up home and managing kangris are three different processes. It was in this process that Bukhari was discovered.

In Kashmir’s Bukhari-abundant demography, the origin of the heating appliance is untraceable. But it seems to have emerged as the concoction of European wall fireplaces and the Angethis that Indian planes have used for centuries. Once Kashmir adopted it, Bukhari has changed colours in the last few decades.

Apparently Bukhari is just a tin-cylinder with a primitive exhaust system. But within the same design, it has its own diversity. The basic model once used widely within the society including government was based on firewood. Then, two more variants were added – one has saw-dust as raw material and another has coal. Even charcoal Bukhari exists.

The real improvisation came from the armed forces. Manning coldest spots, it used coal-based heater. Nasty emissions led to casualties and still is making within and outside the armed forces set up. Then came the kerosene-based Bukhari that is expensive but is hugely safe. But all the variants are still dangerous especially for the children.

Kashmir survived on jugaad throughout. But once it started moving out, it found alternatives. In 1980 when orthopedic Dr Farooq Ashai returned from Iran, he had a clear idea of alternative heating system. He had traced it in Germany and swiftly purchased the patent from Wamsler.

Winters keep Bukhari makers in Srinagar busy.

Winters keep Bukhari makers in Srinagar busy.

Subsequently, Ashai set up a manufacturing unit in Shalteng Industrial estate area and named it HeatKing. The first product was out in the market in 1988. After the orthopedic was killed by CRPF in 1990, his son Zia took over. An engineer with M Tech (Mechanical) from Wisconsin (USA), Zia was aware of the dream his father had seen.

Initially they would import in bits and pieces and assemble in Srinagar. Now, the imports have reduced to the oil control valve that comes from Switzerland. Rest, they say, is locally manufactured.

The company used word of mouth as its main marketing tool than advertising. Two decades later, HeatKing is major heat radiator manufacturer with marketing offices in Delhi, Shimla and West Bengal. “The product demand is huge,” says Rafi Manzoor, HeatKing Marketing for 21 years. “We sell outside J&K too.”

Apart from selling an average 400 pieces to the local market, it is driven by the army demand. Apart from supplying 2000 units to the Leh based 14-corps, Rafi says they are busy manufacturing 750 units BSF and 175 for BRO. It costs Rs 15500, apiece. Normally a litre runs the giant heater beyond two hours.

The company is busy innovating. Almost five years back, it created a duel-fuel variant that consumes LPG in addition to kerosene. “Of 500 units we sent to market, 60 percent is sold out,” Rafi says.

Kashmir’s hunt for alternatives in the ‘outer’ world had fetched a basket full. In last 15 years, market suggests, at least 30 brands were introduced in Kashmir. Quite a few survived.

The major survivor is a Turkish heat radiator. An Amritsar based trader Harry Singh Oberoi imports and distributes two premier Turkish brands – Gazal and Aygaz.  Selling in the range of Rs 7000 to Rs 10,000, the twin brands have topped the chart throughout. Quite recently, Oberoi says they have imported a highly economic variety which is costly. “Priced at Rs 27,000, it has an automatic thermostat and consumes an LPG cylinder in 50 hours,” Oberoi said. “With an output of 12.5 KW, it heats up to 800 sq ft area.”

Oberoi does not reveal numbers but insists his twin imports are doing well. “Apart from fresh sales, we have routine yearly repairs too,” he said. Off late, various alternatives like DeLonghi and Bharati have emerged but the Turkish still rule Kashmir market.


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