Haris Bhat, a resident of the picturesque Rafiabad area of Bandipora, has dedicated 11 years of his life to the art of pigeon rearing, earning a well-deserved reputation among pigeon enthusiasts across the entire Kashmir valley. He elucidated the diverse classifications of pigeon breeds, which are categorized into four distinct classes: tumblers, racing utility, high flyers, and fancy breeds.
Within each of these groups, there exist separate subcategories, all of which have found immense popularity in the Kashmiri pigeon-loving community. Bhat's commitment to his feathered companions is evident as he allocates the majority of his time to their care and well-being, alongside his academic pursuits.
His dedication not only fulfills his passion but also proves financially rewarding, particularly through the rearing of foreign pigeon breeds, attracting fellow pigeon enthusiasts from all corners of Kashmir.
Within the utility pigeon breeds category, Haris Bhat emphasizes the prevalence of a diverse array of pigeons. Notable examples of these include the White Kings, Red Carneau, French Mondaine, Giant Homers, and the curiously named Runts.
"A significant portion of them is imported from foreign nations like Bangladesh, Iran, and various others. These pigeons typically arrive in Kolkata and are subsequently acquired by enthusiasts in places like Jammu," he added.
Bhat said that the selection of pigeons depends on their unique characteristics, personalities, and the specific interests of the breeders.
"In Kashmir, hundreds of youth remain dedicated to the rearing of pigeons. For many among them, this has evolved beyond a mere hobby and transformed into a full-fledged profession. These individuals now earn their livelihood by nurturing and tending to these remarkable birds," he added.
Nasir Ahmad Wani, pigeon enthusiast hailing from Bemina, reminisces about the initial resistance he faced from his family regarding his passion for pigeons.
However, with time and determination, he successfully persuaded them to embrace his interest. He even went to the extent of creating a well-organized pigeon coop, which includes distinct sections such as a cage and a breeding room.
Nasir passionately expressed how these birds bring him immense joy, providing solace from the clutches of depression and anxiety.
Reflecting on his lifelong affection for pigeons, Faizan underscored their endearing nature, referring to them as "love birds" and asserting that they hold a special place in the hearts of the people in the Valley.
He shared the wisdom of the elders, who believed that having pigeons inhabit one's home symbolizes good fortune for the entire family.
"I take delight in nurturing a range of pigeons, including the beautifully dotted Moesur, the pure white Chot, the strikingly black Zug, the distinctive white and black Zawdogh, and the locally renowned Kal-Wozul," Nasir shared.
"This community continues to grow steadily, and interestingly, during the challenging times of the COVID-19 lockdown, there was a notable upswing in local demand for pigeons, underscoring their enduring popularity," Nasir added.
For the past thirty years, Irfan Ahmad Sofi, a well-renowned pigeon enthusiast hailing from the Char-e-sharif Budgam, has been nurturing his avian companions. This enduring connection with pigeons has been a source of solace for him, offering relief from the burdens of depression and sorrow, he said.
"We are nurturing hopes, and it evokes a truly unique sensation. Pigeon-keeping runs deep in our family's history, and as I grew up, I naturally continued the tradition, rearing these remarkable creatures, he said.
Presently, Sofi tends to a flock comprising 60 to 80 pigeons, each belonging to various breeds.
His commitment to this passion shines through in the continuous cycle of selling and acquiring new pigeons throughout the year, a testament to his unwavering love for these birds.
Sofi highlights the growing popularity of the Lal Anch, or pigeons with red eyes, among passionate young pigeon enthusiasts in Kashmir.
Additionally, he notes that foreign pigeon breeds have made their way into the region, with Sun season pigeons, Turkish varieties, and pigeons from Pakistan gaining traction.
Sofi delves into the world of tippler pigeons, a domestic breed primarily developed for competitive pigeon races. These pigeons are distinguished by their advanced training, intelligence, and notable physical prowess.
In contrast, he discusses the local Kashmiri pigeon breeds, which are commonly raised in rural areas due to their self-reliant nature, requiring minimal care and attention. These breeds encompass the red and tajdar pigeons, embodying the distinctive pigeon culture of the region, Sofi added.
Regarding pigeon prices, Sofi explains that the cost varies according to the preferences of the owner. Typically, a pair of pigeons falls within the range of 2000-3000 rupees, although in some cases, prices can exceed that range.
" There are even instances of individuals purchasing a pair of pigeons for 10,000-15,000 rupees in Srinagar, indicating the high value placed on these birds. There ie growing enthusiasm among the younger generation for pigeon fancying," he said.
Mohsin Yousuf, hailing from the Kokernag region of Anantnag, holds a deep and heartfelt affection for pigeons. To him, these birds symbolize love and peace, embodying qualities of sacrifice, dreams, kindness, and understanding.
After successfully completing his graduation, Yousuf chose a different path by opening a garment shop in the bustling market of Anantnag.
Interestingly, a significant portion of his earnings, approximately 2000 to 2500 rupees per month, is dedicated to the care and feeding of his extensive pigeon flock, which numbers around 100 birds. These pigeons are not just pets to him; they have become an integral part of his family.
Despite the occasional objections from his family, who have suggested he part with the pigeons, Yousuf remains resolute in his passion for them.
He emphasizes that his love for these birds goes beyond a mere hobby; it's a calling.
He says, unlike many other regions where pigeon races are organized as competitive events, in Kashmir, people have confined this practice to a realm of pure passion and affection.
"There's a diverse range of pigeons that enthusiasts in Kashmir take great pleasure in raising, such as the roller pigeons with their distinct long wings, known for their bold and spirited nature. Additionally, there are the elegant fantail pigeons, characterized by their fan-shaped tail appearance and luxurious, silky feather textures," Yousuf explained.
Furthermore, Yousuf highlighted the remarkable qualities of homing pigeons, renowned for their innate ability to navigate and return to their nests with precision.
" Beyond their homing skills, these pigeons are recognized for their exceptional flying capabilities, even over vast distances, often participating in competitions. In earlier times, they were aptly known as messenger pigeons due to their vital role in conveying messages," he said.
Yousuf said last year, he took an active part in a pigeon competition held in the scenic region of north Kashmir, specifically in Baramulla district.
" Participating in these competitions demands considerable patience and dedication. The process typically commences with the appointment of judges responsible for vetting the pigeon racers. Such competitions are predominantly scheduled during the summer months, when the azure skies provide an ideal backdrop," he added.
Yousuf shared his enthusiasm, saying, "Witnessing a bird return from a grueling race covering distances of five or six-hundred miles is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It's a truly marvelous experience."
He said that winter is not an optimal season for pigeon races, given the challenging weather conditions.
In Srinagar, several well-known locations serve as hubs for pigeon sales, purchases, and exchanges. These places include Malkhah, Chattabal, Sadakada, Ranger Stop, and others, where this cherished tradition thrives.