AP PHOTOS: Water chestnuts a blessing in cold Kashmir winter

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AP PHOTOS: Water chestnuts a blessing in cold Kashmir winter
In this Dec. 1, 2015, photo, Kulsooma, a Kashmiri village woman wearing locally made wooden slippers walks over marshy water of Wular Lake as she collects water chestnuts in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Dec. 1, 2015, photo, a Kashmiri woman cleans water chestnuts collected over the marshy water of Wular Lake at a canal in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Dec. 1, 2015, photo, Rifat Ara, a Kashmiri woman wearing locally made wooden slippers walks over marshy water of Wular Lake as she collects water chestnuts in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Dec. 1, 2015, photo, Kashmiri women clean water chestnuts collected over the marshy water of Wular Lake at a canal in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies and the largest of the lakes in India-controlled Kashmir. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Dec. 1, 2015. photo, a Kashmiri villager rows his shikara filled with water chestnuts after collecting them from Wular Lake in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies and the largest of the lakes in India-controlled Kashmir. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Nov. 29, 2015, photo, a Kashmiri woman sells water chestnuts kernels at roadside stall in Lankreshipora, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
SRINAGAR, INDIA - NOVEMBER 23: A Kashmiri woman walks over marshy land while wearing wooden boards on their feet to collect water chestnuts from Wular Lake on November 23, 2015 at Bandipora, about 65 km North of Srinagar, India. Water chestnuts are locally known as Singada. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
SRINAGAR, INDIA - NOVEMBER 23: A Kashmiri woman walks over marshy land while wearing wooden boards on their feet to collect water chestnuts from Wular Lake on November 23, 2015 at Bandipora, about 65 km North of Srinagar, India. Water chestnuts are locally known as Singada. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
SRINAGAR, INDIA - NOVEMBER 23: A Kashmiri woman collects water chestnuts from muddy water of Wular Lake while wearing wooden boards on their feet to walk on marshy land on November 23, 2015 at Bandipora, about 65 km North of Srinagar, India. Water chestnuts are locally known as Singada. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
In this Dec. 1, 2015, photo, Kulsooma, left, along with other Kashmiri villager women walks towards a canal for cleaning the water chestnuts collected over the marshy water of Wular Lake in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
SRINAGAR, INDIA - NOVEMBER 23: Kashmiri women walk over marshy land while wearing wooden boards on their feet to collect water chestnuts from Wular Lake on November 23, 2015 at Bandipora, about 65 km North of Srinagar, India. Water chestnuts are locally known as Singada. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
A Kashmiri woman walks over a marshy area while wearing wooden boards on her feet as she collects water chestnuts from the waters of Wular Lake at Bandipora, about 65 km (40 miles) north of Srinagar, on November 23, 2015. Water chestnuts are locally known as 'singada' and are eaten raw, boiled or grounded into flour after they are dried. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Kashmiri women collect water chestnuts from the marshy waters of Wular Lake at Bandipora, about 65 km (40 miles) north of Srinagar, on November 23, 2015. Water chestnuts are locally known as 'singada' and are eaten raw, boiled or grounded into flour after they are dried. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Kashmiri woman walks over a marshy area while wearing wooden boards on her feet as she collects water chestnuts from the waters of Wular Lake at Bandipora, about 65 km (40 miles) north of Srinagar, on November 23, 2015. Water chestnuts are locally known as 'singada' and are eaten raw, boiled or grounded into flour after they are dried. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Dec. 1, 2015, photo, a Kashmiri woman wearing locally made wooden slippers collects water chestnuts from the marshy water of Wular Lake in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Dec. 1, 2015, photo, Kashmiri village women unload water chestnuts collected from the marshy water of Wular Lake for cleaning at the bank of a canal in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Nov. 29, 2015, photo, Shafeeqa Hassan, a Kashmiri woman uses winnowing basket to separate shells from water chestnuts flour after grinding in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies and the largest of the lakes in India-controlled Kashmir. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Nov. 29, 2015, photo, Kashmiri villagers collect water chestnuts over the water of Wular Lake in Lankreshipora, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies and the largest of the lakes in India-controlled Kashmir. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Nov. 29, 2015 photo, a Kashmiri man grinds water chestnuts at a mill in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
In this Nov. 29, 2015, photo, Rafeeqa Wangnoo, a Kashmiri woman collects water chestnuts after drying them over an earthen hearth in Kulhama, northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asiaâs largest freshwater bodies and the largest of the lakes in India-controlled Kashmir. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
SRINAGAR, INDIA - NOVEMBER 23: A Kashmiri woman walks over marshy land while wearing wooden boards on their feet to collect water chestnuts from Wular Lake on November 23, 2015 at Bandipora, about 65 km North of Srinagar, India. Water chestnuts are locally known as Singada. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
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WULAR LAKE, India (AP) — As the chill of the winter night breaks and the morning haze clears, the young woman wrapped in a woolen tunic rows her shallow boat through the weed-choked waters of Wular Lake until she reaches a marshy spot where a prized crop of water chestnuts grows wild.

She puts on short wooden skis, slides over the dense tangle of green, reaches down through the floating canopy and starts picking the sweet, aromatic berries. Across the lake, thousands of other women and men are going after a harvest that will total some 5 million kilograms for the year.

"It's a hard job, but this is what our families have been doing for ages," said 26-year-old Kulsooma, who along with two brothers has been harvesting water chestnuts with their father since she was a child. Like many people in the Himalayan territory, Kulsooma goes by only one name.

Spiky, triangular water chestnuts have long been a major crop for those living near Wular, one of Asia's largest freshwater bodies and the largest of the lakes in India-controlled Kashmir.

The marble-sized fruit must be shelled of their dark brown casings and dried in the sun until they are crispy and white. Then they are ready for market, where they are a popular item for Kashmiris who eat them raw, roasted or fried during the harsh, snowy winter.

They can also be ground into a flour used by diabetic patients, because it is free of both cholesterol and fat, and by fasting Hindus on days they are forbidden from eating cereals and pulses. The shells are used as cooking fuel. Some researchers are even investigating whether the fruit has cancer-fighting properties.

Farmers near the lake rely on water chestnuts during winter. A kilogram of raw water chestnuts sells for about 15 rupees, or about 23 U.S. cents.

"When most farmers in Kashmir have very little or nothing to do during the bitter winter months, we've at least some source of income," farmer Mohammed Afzal said. "This is truly God's blessing."

Water chestnuts are ready for harvest each year from November through February. The job sometimes requires entire families, with the men thrashing the water with boat paddles to separate floating chestnut leaves from other foliage and debris clogging the marshy water.

Some families spend weeks together, camping on their boats within the lake, until their hulls are filled.

"My grandfather would tell us a story that, when floods and famine devastated Kashmir more than a century ago, the chestnut flour saved Kashmiris from starvation," said 65-year-old farmer Mohammed Subhan. "This is not a mere fruit, but our source of livelihood."

Related: See more Kashmiri history:
Pakistan And India's Long History Fighting Over Kashmir
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