Irfan Yattoo & Syeda Rafiyah
The age-old tradition of pigeon keeping has remained ingrained to life in various parts of Kashmir where flocks of pigeons on rooftops, in the courtyards of mosques and shrines and around marketplaces are a common sight.
Once seen as a hobby of the working class, pigeon keeping gradually managed to climb up the social hierarchy.Now, irrespective of profession, everyone, be it businessmen or other professionals, pigeons have made their place in everyone’s heart.
For young and the old alike, pigeon keeping is the hobby for many and it has exponentially increased since Covid-19 pandemic.
For Mudasir Yousuf, a pigeon lover from Kokernag area of Anantnag, pigeons are the symbol of love and peace. They are birds of sacrifice, dream, kindness, and understanding.He says they are also part of his family.
“My family asked me to get rid of them, but I am too fond of them. It is my passion rather than my business. In future, I will make a permanent space on our rooftop for them,” Yousuf said.
There are many species of pigeons people love to rear.“The roller pigeons with long wings which are also known as bold and aggressive birds. While fantail pigeon has the fan-shaped tail appearance and silky feather textures," he said.
Yousuf said homing pigeons are known for its homing ability to return to its nest. They are also known for the flying skills, despite the long distances and are used in competitions. They were also called as messenger pigeons during the early times, he said.
This year, he said, he also participated in pigeon competition that was held in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
Initially, judges are appointed, who approve pigeon racers in the game. Mostly competitions are organized in summer when there are blue skies.
“To see a bird come in from a five or six-hundred-mile race is breathtaking. It's just a marvelous feeling," Yousuf said adding that winters are not considered good for pigeon races.
Yawar Shahfrom Hajin area of Banipora is rearing pigeons for the past 13 years and has become is popular among pigeon lovers in the entire Kashmir.
He said,“Pigeons have been grouped into four classes: tumbler, racing utility, high flyer, and fancy. In each group there are separate categories and all these breeds are popular in Kashmir.”
Shah says apart from his studies, he spends most of his time rearing his pigeons and he makes good money out of the foreign breeds.
“Most of these pigeons are imported from foreign countries including Bangladesh, Iran and other countries. Then after reaching Kolkatta, they are sent to Jammu, where we purchase,” he said.
Shah said still there are 50-60 persons in his village, who are rearing these pigeons and it has become now profession for many.
Faizan Ahmad Shah, a pigeon keeper from Magarmal bagh says initially his family opposed him rearing pigeons, but he later motivated them.
“I have made a coop for the pigeons that is further divided in several parts: a cage and a breeding room,” he said, adding “these birds make me happy, keeps me away from depression and anxiety. There are people in our society who are indulging in drugs, and other wrong activities, pigeon keeping is 1000 times better than those things,” he said.
Faizan said from his childhood, he was inclined towards pigeons. Our elders used to tell us that if pigeons stay in the house, that means it is fortune for the whole family, he said.
There are different types of pigeons that are classified on the basis of their texture, kinds of beaks, nails, and eye colour.
“I love to keep Moesur(dotted), Chot (full white), Zug (black), Zawdogh(white and black), and Kal-Wozul (red headed)," he said.
Faizan said that the interest in pigeon rearingis increasing each passing day and during the Covid19 lockdown, there was a surge in local demand.
Mohammad Abbas Sofi, who is well-known pigeon fancier from Moti Mohalla area of Dalgate is rearing pigeons for the past three decades. He says he has a special bond with his pigeons for decades and helps him to relieve depression and sadness.
"Our family has a long history of keeping pigeons and when I grew up, I also started rearing them," he said.
Presently Sofihave 60-80 pigeons of various breeds. Throughout the year, he sells, and purchases new ones, following his love towards his passion.
Sofi is a businessman by profession and spends most of his free time with pigeons. He feeds them three times a day and it has become an addiction for him. During mating season, there is a need for more care as compared to normal days, he said.
Pigeon breeds including Musier, Khatri, Check, Lal Anch, and Matakali are most lovable types for their unique look and long tail, but they cannot fly so high, Sofi said.
45 year old, Sofi says Lal Anch (Pigeon with red eyes) is most popular these days and is loved by passionate youth. Now foreign pigeons are also being sold in Kashmir including Sun season pigeons, Turkey, and Pakistani pigeons, he said.
Sofi said tippler pigeon is a category of domestic pigeon breeds and mostly developed to participate in competitions. They are well trained, intelligent, and known for their strength, he said.
"Local Kashmiri pigeons are mostly reared in villages as they require less attention and can survive on their own without any care. It includes red, tajdar pigeons," he said.
About the rates of pigeons, Sofi said it depends that on the choice of the owner. Normally a pair of pigeons costs around rupees 2000-3000, while sometimes it can go beyond that.There are people who purchased one pair of pigeons for rupees 10000-15000 in Srinagar, he added.
"There is more enthusiasm among the younger generation about pigeon fancying. In Srinagar, there are famous points where pigeons are sold, purchased, and exchanged including Malkhah, Chattabal, Sadakada, Ranger stop, and other areas of the city," Sofi added.
At commercial hub of Lal Chowk, people can often be seen feeding the pigeons near Clock tower. While at Kashmir's famous shrines pigeons can be spotted at every corner and devotees love to feed them.
Abdul Hameed Bakshi, a pigeon fancier from Yadipora Hyderbeigh in north Kashmir's Baramulla is in the pigeon business for the past 12 years. He said he left his education midway because of pigeons.
"Over the years, there has been a massive decline in pigeon keeping in villages, but now it has started gaining momentum. I purchase and sold pigeons throughout Kashmir. From Uri to Qazigund, there is demand particularly from the people living in cities and towns," he said.
Bakhshi says in Kashmiri villages there are popular pigeon breeds including, Tajal Mozul, Masakali and foreign Tajal Mozul. They can be purchased at the cost of rupees 20000-30000 each pair and sometimes beyond that," he said.
Pigeon keeping is nothing but love for them, but it required passion. My morning starts with calling these pigeons and ends with feeding them properly. It gives a unique feeling when a pigeon becomes happy, he said.
"The key to good health of a bird is prevention. Sick racing pigeons can’t produce healthy offspring. Keeping our pigeons healthy is everybody’s business," Bakshi said, adding "we have to take care of their health. Usually, we vaccinate them several times throughout the year. It relieves depression and sadness when pigeons are happy and spends maximum time in the air.”
Bakshi says high flying pigeons are part of Kashmiri traditional society and their history go back to the Mughal era, when Akber introduced it in Valley.