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Chai Ho Jaaye 'Kashmiri Kahwa'

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

Nikit Bisht

Rich or poor, tourist or natives; the Kashmir's exclusive tea ,regionally called as ‘Kahwa’ possesses the magical potion to bind everyone together. The tea cup has been protagonist of many folklore and tourists' travel logs, but never before featured in 'Army men and Awam' affable tale. Nikit brings us his special Chai amidst mammoth snowfall.


‘Kahwa’ is a traditional Kashmiri drink known not only for its health benefits and flavour, but also for the warmth and hospitality it brings to the rich Kashmiri culture. Rich or poor, tourist or natives; the ‘Kahwa’ possesses the magical potion to bind everyone together. Everyone in Kashmir can tell you a light hearted, touching story over a cup of ‘Kahwa’. Kashmiris, tourists and army personnel, all have one common interest; their love for a hot sipping cup of ‘Kahwa’. The stories may vary from towns to villages, from the Valley to mountains and jungles, but the warmth of the ‘Kahwa’ bringing people together remains eccentric.

Indian Army men with Kashmiris
Kashmir Natives with Army men. Representative image only

“Kashmir has always been more then a mere place. It has the quality of an experience, or a state of mind, or perhaps an ideal.”

Jan Morris

My love story with ‘Kahwa’ began in the cold, wintry night of Jan 2013, when after a long and heavy spell of 7-8 ft of fresh snowfall, I had to move down to Kupwara from my Battalion Headquarter which was on Samshabari ranges. To be the first to move after such a heavy spell of snowfall is only imaginable to the men in Olive Greens. Having walked for almost five hours at a snail’s pace, we had just reached the treeline and breathed a sigh of relief to have covered the dangerous part of the trek without any incident. But we were all exhausted, having covered the journey in thrice the time than usual. It is only now, sitting on a desk with a pen in hand, that the picture of a man sunk chest deep in fresh snow, failing miserably at all his attempts to extract himself out, sounds funny and hilarious. But when you are there, it is completely the other way round, feeling humiliated to be extracted by minimum two other fully grown human beings having surrendered to the otherwise beautiful Snow. To make things worse, the ‘God of Wind’ was in a festive spirit, displaying his majestic artistry at singing and dancing. It was at that movement, when we heard a familiar, stern yet humble voice, screeching through the Pine jungles.

It was Karim Baba, a local villager who used to prefer staying in those jungles even during the severe winters, to look after his dhoks. Fully comprehending the weather condition and our exhaustion, he immediately offered us a hot cup of Kahwa. All of us entered his dhok which was amazingly warm and comfortable. Within minutes he and his son were serving us all a hot cup of ‘Kahwa’, a drink which at that movement was no less than an ‘elixir of life’. Over the next few minutes, we had a heartily conversation about how challenging it would be for him and his son to be staying there all winter. But our Karim Baba, as gracious and humble, as he was brave, declined to have ever faced any problems.

Especially with the Army troops deployed close by, he claimed never to have faced any problem in terms of rations or medical support. Having been rejuvenated and recharged we continued our journey for another five hours after thanking Karim Baba and his son for serving us a life saving Kahwa at the middle of the night. Everyone of us felt grateful and indebted to them for their compassion & hospitality and we shall never forget how a hot cup of Kahwa can fill you with eternal warmth and compassion - the true essence of ‘Kashmiriyat’.

The Kahwa tea leaves draw their history from the ancient ‘Spice Route’, of which Kashmir was a focal point. Some believe that this beverage originated from Xinjiang province in China back in the 1st and 2nd century AD. On the other hand, ‘Kahwa’ is also called as the ‘Mughal Chai’ by other communities in Kashmir, which means that this tea was probably introduced by the Mughal emperors. To add to the mystery of this magic potion, the word ‘Kahwa’ also seems to be related to the Turkish word ‘Kahveh’ meaning coffee, although in Kashmiri it means ‘sweetened tea’. In essence, one can definitely claim, that ‘Kahwa’ is not bounded by religion or boundaries, but is a ‘pool of goodness’ & ‘harmony of cultures’ like its eleven ingredients. Whether it is served after Wazwan or to guests and friends, it shall always bring with it the warmth which binds people together, spreading the true message of Kashmiri hospitality which is filled with ‘love’ and ‘compassion’.

So...what’s your Kahwa Story ? Write to us at

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