Christmas in Kashmir (technically it’s Eid)

We woke up this morning again at 4:30 am which is getting to be a regular thing so far with this trip. But this time we both managed to get back to sleep until 8 which was really nice.

While waiting for the driver to get us to Bashir’s house to celebrate Eid–we ran into the Australian woman, Rita who we originally met in the travel agency in Delhi. She is the one who recommended the houseboat and told is about the morning market and pretty much sealed the deal for us on going. She apparently came up to celebrate Eid with Bashir & his family as well.

We bought flowers for our hostesses and headed over to Bashir’s. We were immediately welcomed into a fabulous guest living room and served a spread of breakfast that was unbelievable. Kashmiri bread, eggs, pound cake with nuts, another sort of cake with nuts, an assortment of cookies, pastries filled with chicken and some with mutton (though I am still unsure of what mutton is), an actual 4 layer chocolate cake with frosting and of course Kashmiri tea. We didn’t touch 80% of the food but did what we could to be respectful and then went to the kitchen sitting room and visited with more of the family.

As I’ve mentioned before 4 or 5 families (well, one if you are Kashmiri) live in the house. All sons stay in the house and bring their wives who need to be given permission from their new mother in law to be able to visit their own respective families. So all of their children stay too.

Bashir’s family consists of his mother Mary, and 2 of his brothers families (one of his brothers (Nazir) lives in Canada and the other (Manzur) is in Delhi–who is the one who sent us here). His older brother Rafik is actually a brother not by blood but a close friend of the family who donated a kidney to his father so is now considered the oldest brother he has a wife and two sons. Then Bashir and his wife Wahida and their son Amir and then there is Hilla the youngest brother who is unmarried but engaged to be married in 18-24 months.

During our kitchen visit Kris was able to use one of Rafik’s kids laptops to Skype with Ryan. She introduced him around and we all said hello.

We then went to the backyard and watched the lambs fighting–just a warning a significant part of Eid is the sacrifice of sheep so if you don’t want to hear in detail how that happens your should skip this post.

I think the number of sheep you sacrifice is directly correlated to wealth. Bashir had five in his backyard when we arrived. All eating unaware that they only had a short time left.

One by one they had their throats slit by a butcher in a ceremony where designated members of the family hold the knife and say a prayer. After each one is drained of all blood–into a hole in the garden (it’s good luck/a blessing), one of the butchers pumps air through a slit in its leg so the whole skin expands like a balloon almost reaching the breaking point–it’s surreal.

Then the skinning process begins which looks (from an inexperienced point of view both easy and requiring a lot of skill). Halfway through skinning the lamb they cut off the head and hooves and hang it from a tree where the skinning is finished and the gutting begins. Then large pieces are carried to a blanket in the center of the lawn where the other butcher cuts it into smaller pieces directed by Mary the grandmother.

The pieces of the 5 lambs are then distributed to friends, family and neighbors and they reciprocate in kind so basically local children are running around all over delivering specific cuts of lamb to each other’s families as well as distributing money to the poor, who seem to go door to door (I’m still unclear about how that works).

In some ways it is exactly like Christmas except they include everyone on their list, give to them within a 2 day window and everyone gets lamb. What cut of meat they get depends on who they are, saving the best cuts for family and elders.

It was really cool to be with a family while all of this was happening. It was weird how not grossed out I was by the slaughter of the sheep. Don’t get me wrong, I did feel pretty bad about their deaths–so much so that I let an escapee eat a rose bush in the garden without telling anyone he’d escaped (mostly i just wanted him to have an enjoyable last meal). And frankly every single part of the sheep was used–if not by the family they donated the rest to the mosque which uses the proceeds to fund their orphanage (apparently all of the troubles have caused a lot of orphaned children in Srinagar).

So I was surprisingly calm and was able to take some photos of the whole process which I will spare you all.

After the slaughter we sat down to one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever eaten–seriously fantastic and amazing food. Paneer with tomatoes and onions, lamb meatballs, lotus roots in spinach, chicken in a yogurt sauce, spicy cole-slaw type food, rice and yogurt it was honestly one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. And I ate with my hand. It’s really weird to eat rice without naan or utensils of any kind but I’d was definitely an experience.

After our amazing lunch we retired to the guest sitting room with Rita where for last 5 hours we’ve just hung out I front of the gas heater digesting and chatting. Members of the family keep coming on and out, Bashir came in with all of our travel documents and tickets and explained them all to us one by one and then he left with a large portion of his family to go deliver lamb while we continued to chill out.

It was amazing.

Later that night the men grilled some lamb kabobs and despite my deeply personal internal squabbles about a variety of issues (I am pretty sure we were eating my favorite sheep)–I still have to say it was absolutely hands down the best lamb I’ve ever had.

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One thought on “Christmas in Kashmir (technically it’s Eid)

  1. Kim,

    You made me hungry, and I just ate dinner! I must say that I was a bit skeptical about your planned adventures to India. And you have so proven me wrong. It so far sounds amazing, even the Disaster in Delhi.

    Glad you two haven’t been arrested yet!

    -Jon

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