the-south-asian.com January/February 2006
Heaven and Hell
Page 2 of 4
Basmati – The King of Rice
Salman S. Minhas [Information Engineers, Lahore, Pakistan]
On The Basmati Trail – Punjab , Pakistan. It is around 9 a.m. on a wintry November morning. We are
driving by road, on our way to the heartland of the King of Rice – Basmati –
a few miles away from where Waris Shah [author of the famous epic poem "Heer
Ranjha" from where the above verse on Basmati is taken] lies buried at the
village of Jandiala Sher Khan. Beyond Hiran Minar, where the Mughal emperor
Jehangir hunted deer in the forests, [
On The Basmati Trail – Punjab , Pakistan.
It is around 9 a.m. on a wintry November morning. We are driving by road, on our way to the heartland of the King of Rice – Basmati – a few miles away from where Waris Shah [author of the famous epic poem "Heer Ranjha" from where the above verse on Basmati is taken] lies buried at the village of Jandiala Sher Khan. Beyond Hiran Minar, where the Mughal emperor Jehangir hunted deer in the forests, [see- http://www.the-south-Asian.com/December2004/Hiran_Minar.htm] is the historical village of Jandiala Sher Khan, which is the birthplace of poet Waris Shah, the author of the Punjabi classic 'Heer'..
We leave Lahore to cross the river Ravi Toll point on the new motorway to Rawalpindi & Islamabad. A slight winter mist still hangs in the early winter morning. As we cross the Ravi bridge, one can see the lychee & guava orchards that have been planted north of the greater Ravi River flood plain. Upstream dams [courtesy the 1960 "Indus Water Basin Treaty" ] have all but reduced the flow of water in the Ravi to a mere stream. Small vegetable patches cultivated by the "Arain" peasants cover the actual river bed now, including yellow flowering mustard greens.
About 35 kilometres from Lahore later we take the Kala Shah Kaku Interchange and meet the old Grand Trunk Road turning north towards the old town of Gujranwala, the birth- place of Ranjit Singh and currently home to industries such as sanitary fittings, electric fans, motors and ceramic tiles industry]. A few kilometres past 3 Petrol/Gas Stations on the main old Grand Trunk road built by Sher Shah Suri in 1550, we see the sign for the famous Kala Shah Kaku Rice research station where Basmati rice was formally born as Basmati 370 in 1933 by Sardar Mohammed Khan.
Basmati at Kala Shah Kaku
The Kala Shah Kaku Rice Research Institute [KRRI] was started in 1920s under the British colonial rule. The original 1920s buildings, where Sardar Mohammed Khan made the Basmati 370 variety, are situated about a kilometre away from the main GT Road. Worn down, they have become home to the farm machinery used at the institute. Tractors, harvesters and other farm implements lie parked in the courtyard of the original building. A small patch of ripe Basmati rice lies to the right of the main gate, waiting to be threshed. The KRRI scientists & agricultural engineers provide some interesting information.
KRRI is now affiliated with the famous IRRI [International Rice Research Institute] in the Philippines which created the high yielding IRRI rice. Just as the French retain the name rights to their wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and the "Scotch" whiskey of Scotland due to the unique soil, water and climatic conditions, so too is the case with Basmati rice. The Basmati is grouped in the following tables at the KRRI.
Driving onwards to Gujranwala [about 80 kilometres from
Lahore] , one passes the Market towns of Kamoke [ a well known market town
for Basmati rice], Eminabad [ famous for its old glory and Havelis and an
old Sikh Gurudwara] . Near Naushera Virkan, another big Basmati market, we
cross the lower Chenab canal built in 1933 [ originating from upstream
Khanki Headworks built in 1891. On the Gujranwala by-pass road, about 10
kilometres on the by-pass, we turn towards the Alipur Chattha village from
where the Qadirabad Barrage  on the river Chenab lies 20 kilometres
away. The barrage is one of the many refuelling/resting stops for the ducks
migrating from Russia to Bharatpur in India. Alipur Chattha’s old name was
Akaal Garh. Enroute we pass the villages of Classi-ke, Verpal Nagar,
Gondlawala, Kot Barey Khan, Beg-Chattha, Klare, Verpal Chattha, ,Kot Rehar,
Hazrat Kayaley wala, Kot Haraand and finally Qadirabad. On this road Basmati
rice is being threshed and the unhusked rice is packed in jute sacks. They
are then taken to "Shellers" where the Basmati is husked and the husk is
also saved for making rice bran oil and making sheets of chipboard.
Sugarcane is also being harvested and villagers are making the local brown
sugar balls called "Gur".
"Kernel Basmati" Bogey & Basmati across Borders:
The name "Kernel Basmati" is not a correct Basmati variety according to the scientists at KRRI. The name apparently was the handiwork of some ambitious colonel of the army, who grew Basmati in his farmland near Daska town.
Surinder Singh, a Sikh pilgrim to Nankana Sahib, [reported in Chandigarh Tribune of August 4, 2003] in 1998, after having finished listening to the ‘kirtan’, went to the local ration and grocery shops in the vicinity of the gurudwara. Being a farmer his keen senses caught the aroma of basmati rice that wafted in the air. Finally helpful shopkeepers pointed him to the grain market where he was given 2 kg of Super Basmati rice, gratis as a goodwill gesture to a "neighbourly" farmer. The Super Basmati brought home to east Punjab by Surinder Singh was sown and the seeds multiplied on their farm. As news of this spread to the Punjab Agricultural University’s (PAU) Krishi Vigyan Kendra, the Director of PAU Extension Education, Dr J. S. Kolar, visited Barindpur in 1999 and was given 5 kg of the seed for the PAU in 2000. Ultimately Super basmati now covers 1,200 hectares in the state. Surinder Singh claims that Super Basmati gave a yield of 45 quintals per hectare. This performance is even better than the PAU’s own basmati, B-386 or B-370, which yields around 30 quintals per hectare.
Varietal improvement of Basmati was initiated in 1920 at KRRI in now Pakistan. It was here that Basmati-370 was selected and released by Sardar Mohamad Khan in 1933. Thereafter, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) undertook varietal development of Basmati like Pusa Basmati-1, Kasturi, Haryana Basmati-1, and Ranbir Basmati.
Rice is a tropical crop, with a high water requirement of 1.83-ha m. If Basmati & other rice cultivation is to double from its current tonnage it will require almost five Tarbela dams or double the total water reservoir capacity of Pakistan. This is a huge quantity of water. In view of present squeeze on water resources due to El Niño phenomenon, it appears appropriate to shift to crops with low water requirements to conserve the scarce water resources of Pakistan.
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