The hearts of plants – a hamam keeps warm

An ingenious, and unique, Hot House in Kashmir has been lush with tropical life since the 1980s

The hamam has not just kept Kashmir’s homes and mosques warm, but also a variety of exotic plants that grow in Kashmir University’s Botanical Garden.
A “subtropical climate” has been created inside the Hot House at KU’s Botanical Garden by a traditional hamam, enabling hundreds of species to flourish during winters.
Contrary to the present-day hot houses that are functional on computer-based climate control systems, this four-decade-old facility has kept running smoothly on the base of the hamam.
Set inside the more than four-hectare Kashmir University Botanical Garden, which was set up in 1961 to preserve and promote bio-diversity of the state, this wooden hot-house structure is similar to a giant greenhouse, with enough windows and a transparent roof to allow warmth and light of the sun.
It is not the sun, though, that is the powerhouse of this unit. It is a long row of rectangular limestone slabs set over a hollow floor, with a fireplace to burn the wood – the design of the hamam – which maintains the ambient temperature for these exotic plants 24 hours.
The smoke escapes through a single chimney rising outside the hot-house. Abundance of plant life on both sides of this hot-house is amazing. Officials say many species are propagating, instead of merely being preserved, in this warm sanctuary.
Professor Zahoor Ahmad from the Department of Botany, who is keenly associated with the garden, said that the forerunners of the institute aptly used the traditional hamam to safeguard a number of plant species from around the globe that needed high temperatures to survive.
The lead gardener at the facility, Ghulam Hassan, said that the hot-house was set up in the 1980s, and the eminent professors at that time got together to use the concept of hamam. Hassan said that the exotic plants growing in the hot-house are highly susceptible to cold and freezing temperatures.
Akhtar H Malik, Curator at the Centre for Biodiversity and Taxonomy, Kashmir University, said it was a great use of traditional technology that also helped in the effective propagation of many species. He said that several different varieties of cacti, Aloe vera, Fuschia, date palm trees, orange and lemon trees, which could easily perish in the Kashmir winter, have been grown and transplanted from this hot-house.
He added that it was Professor P Kachroo, who in 1961 set up this botanical garden that today houses defined sections of coniferatum, shrubbery, rosary, rockery, salicatum, bulbous-plant section, rosaceous-plant section, medicinal-plant section, lily pond, protected grassland, and separate area for research purposes, was keen on getting some of the exotic species, but winters were a problem for them.
“To allow growth of tropical and subtropical exotic plants, a hot-house facility was set up with a hamam inside,” he said, adding that such a system of heating is not used anywhere else.
Malik said that KU now has a modern glass house that is used by researchers, but the traditional hamam is still offering us great value and keeping the plants safe.
Malik said that the whole of the university garden represents a gene bank for about 400 native and 150 exotic plant species, a good number of which owe their existence to this hot-house.
In summers, the plants inside the hot-house are kept in the open outside, where they thrive naturally.
Malik added that the garden has been awarded a certificate from the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and has been put on the global network of botanical gardens.
Officials said that efforts were being made to enrich the garden by adding more of the flora from Kashmir Himalayas.

Courtesy Kashmir Reader

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