The Story of “Bokhari”: A revolutionary Indigenous Invention

By Raja Tariq Abbas

It is a story that dates back to 1964 when in a cold evening of one December an inventor was the guest at the Raja Shah Raise Palace. He had been called to Gilgit for some repair work from the former Nagar State.

The season of fall was almost over, unforgiving chilly weather was on its peak. The mountains attached with Naikuwe, Napura , Barmas and Jutial valleys towards southern side and mount Harali and Konodas towards northern side of Gilgit had put on white dress of snow. Only the dark brown Himalayan ibex could be spotted walking on the rough terrains of the Konodas mountain. People were busy fighting a war of survival against the unseen enemy, the coldness!

Yellowish blazes were coming out from open burning of wood at the corner of the drawing-room of Shah Rais, which was discomforting rather enjoying anyway.

Ustad Labar Hassan an eminent local engineer and carpenter from former Nagar State was Shah Rais’ guest in this situation.  The word “Ustad” itself was enough to praise him as this title had been given to him by the people in recognition of his mastery  of decorating spaces.

The drawing-room where Raja Sahib and Ustad were sitting was filled with smoke emitted by the burning of wood in an open space inside the room. There was no tradition of chimneys at that point in time. In order to keep the room ventilated, the Raja Sahib ordered his servants to open the door every now and then. The practice was highly inconenient, and with each opening of the door the cold air outside will rush in, sending shivering cold down the back of all the people present inside.

A sketch of Bokhari, the traditional stove
A sketch of Bokhari, the traditional stove

The Raja was fond of listening to stories and the Ustad had loads of stories to tell, about the culture, traditions and societies of the former state of Nagar. The story-telling, the burning of wood, and the opening-closing-opening-closing of the door continued, as people listened to the Ustad, with watery eyes, and choking throat.

During that night wooden crafts, including specially crafted spoons and bowls made of walnut and mulberry tree’s wood were presented to Raja Sahib.  After having the gifts, the appreciative words of ‘Behal’ were expressed for the ‘Ustad’, the master.

It seemed that Raja Sahib was indeed expecting such a handy piece of gifts.

The smoky environment inside the house was not highly convenient. A solution had to be found for this. It was a high time for the visiting Ustad to find a solution for the problem of smoke inside the house of the Raja. And, so, he went into deep meditation over the situation to bring any novelty that might help reduce the menace of in-house smoke.

Soon, the solution was found, and presented in front of the Raja.

The solution was a technological innovation. It was an iron-stove, circular in shape, and having inlets for firewood and outlets for smoke. Within a few days, the stove was placed in the room of Raja Shah Rais. It was called “Bukhari”. The intelligently designed stove had two benefits; it kept the house warm, and channeled the fire-wood smoke out of the room. The design of the stove improved over the years. And it replaced the open-stoves in the traditional houses over many decades, becoming a household item throughout Gilgit-Baltistan.

Times passed by swiftly, still this tradition and manners to fight against this invisible enemy (the extreme cold) is practiced now a days with great trend all over Gilgit Baltistan. Aga Khan Building and Planning Services (AKBPS) has innovated and designed it with multiple purposes. This practice has made Bukhari a basic necessarily in Gilgit-Baltistan region, as well as in Chitral.

On the other side its adverse affects has posed key threats to the environment, by exacerbating use of wood for fuel purposes. Gilgit-Baltistan is facing massive air pollution due to burning of saw dust and wood in the season of winter. This can be observed clearly if one can pass through the University Road in Gilgit during the evening, when the temperature is low. Smoke hangs over the city, turning the otherwise blue sky murky and unpleasant.

According to Health and Environment published by IUCN and NorthernAreas Program: “Indoor air pollution due to biomass smoke is one of the largest environmental risk factors for ill-health which needs attention. Indoor air pollution implicated in alarming health problems. Oxygen in atmosphere gets heavily polluted with smoke that contains large amounts of toxic pollutants such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen,sulphur dioxide, aldehydes, dioxin, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and respirable particulate  matter.

Prolonged exposure to biomass smoke is a significant cause of health problems such as;   -Acute respiratory infections(ARI) in children; -Chronic obstructive lungdiseases (such as asthma and chronic bronchitis); -Lung cancer -Pregnancy-related problems”.

Keeping the importance of environment, number of scholars and researchers across the globe participated an international conferences namely “International Conference on Mountains and Climate Change ICMCC-2015 was held at Karakoram International University Gilgit, where ln this context. It was observed during the conference that “Emitting biomass smoke increases the risk of acute infections to health as well as it is major factor causing effect the environment. Thus, it was suggested, that the Karakoram International University can play a vital role to take significance step to clean the environment free from vulnerable issues through conducting a research base programs and seminars to bring the awareness among local communities”.

Instead of acknowledging the clean environment as the final frontier for the survival of life, man seems to devastate it for the increasing needs. The protection of environment is embedded in human attitude and cannot be protected without recognizing the social value of environment by the modern-day man.

The contributor is a graduate of Krakoram International University (KIU) in the discipline of Environmental Science. He can be reached at raajatariq@hotmai.com

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  1. Great information shared by Abbas. very unique and revelatory information about the very common traditional stove of GB.. I am surprised to know its history… wonderful efforts by Raja Tariq Abbas..

  2. Great story indeed! especially the word saying “Behal” is the best part!

    Also it should be born in mind until, unless keep focusing the clean environment, the biodiversity of our area will be in alarming situation.
    Nice story written ever… in romantic way. Good addressing to people.

  3. Very beautifully written and well described story,,”Nazur na Ja Jee” your work and efforts for unveiling the myth of such an integral and revolutionary Item of our Winter season “BUkhari” will always be appreciated… I would love to visit Your Deeran Guest house if you have also showcased the first ever invented Bukhari or its pieces….. Best of Luck

  4. I have seen similar type of Bokharis, particularly the one used for heating purposes in Northern Afghanistan.

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