Posts Tagged ‘Srinagar’

The sun shone in Srinagar as we set out to visit the famous Mughal Gardens which would give us an insight into the world of the Mughal Emperors who reigned in India from the early 15th century to the early 18th century.  Back in those days, when the summer weather in Delhi became too unbearably hot, the Emperors and their entourage would ride on elephants over the baking hot northern plains and up over the mountain passes to the relative cool and peace of the beautiful Kashmir Valley.  Here, in the shadows of the lower Himalaya, they established their pleasure gardens. These have now been restored and were one of the highlights of our time in Kashmir.

The first Mughal garden we visited was the Pari Mahal garden, located on the Zebanwan Mountain, 5 km west of the center of Srinagar. It consists of six terraces aligned roughly north-south, with arched retaining walls supporting the terraces against the mountain. Unlike other Mughal gardens in Kashmir, this garden has no water cascades or ‘chadars’ – ramps that transfer water from one terrace to another.

The terraces of Pari Mahal Garden  –  © JT of ‘jtdytravels’

Pari Mahal was built in the mid-seventeenth century on the ruins of a Buddhist monastery by Prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan (the Emperor of Taj Mahal fame).  The buildings in this garden were used as an observatory for the teaching of astrology and astronomy.

After coming down from the mountain, we visited the largest and most famous of the Mughal gardens of Srinagar, Shalimar Bagh.  Since the second century there has been a garden here on the northeast shore of Dal Lake.  The revamping of this ancient garden was the dream project in 1619 of Emperor Jahangir who wanted to please his queen Nur Jahan. Although Emperor Jahangir had married many times to girls from very high-class noble families of the Mughals and Rajputs, a Rajput princess known as Jagat Gosain was said to have been his favourite.  She was the mother of Shah Jahan, Jahangir’s successor.  But Jahangir was also attracted to the ‘unparalleled beauty and intelligence’ of Nur (or Noor) Jahan. He married her as well and she was the reason he wanted his Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar to be perfect.  The rebuilding of this ancient garden sat well with Jahangir’s interest in fine arts, poetry, paintings, dance and music. He was also a good writer and loved nature.

In 1630, Emperor Shah Jahan, Jahangir’s son, had extensions added to the garden.  Today, 380 years later, this garden is considered the high point of Mughal horticulture.

Beautiful ‘Shalimar Bagh’  –  ©    JT of ‘jtdytravels’.

The layout of this beautiful garden is an adaptation of the ancient Persian gardens which were built on a square plan with four arms radiating from a central location.  This design couldn’t be exactly replicated in the hilly conditions in the Kashmir valley.  So the design was modified to suit the terrain and the availability of water which was diverted from a higher elevation and runs by gravity down along the main channel that runs through the terraces of this rectangular garden.  Colourful flower beds beside the water follow the line of the vistas and add that extra dimension to delight visitors.

There are many fountains and pavilions in this garden of 12.4 hectares. It’s 587 metres long and  251 meters wide. The  terraces are lined with mature chinar trees (Plantanus orientalis), which create magnificent leafy vistas.  Many of these trees were in fact planted by Shah Jahan during the early decades of the 17th Century.

Mature Chinar trees (Plantanus orientalis) at Shalimar –   ©  Jt  of ‘jtdytravels’

But Shah Jahan did not stop garden design and building after completing Shalimar Bagh.  In 1632, he began to build Chesma Shahi, the smallest of the Srinagar Mughal gardens. It’s known as ‘Royal Spring’ due to the mineral-rich spring water that feeds the water courses.  The source of this water  emerges within a pavilion at the top of the garden. Many visitors to these gardens believe in the healing properties of this water and come here to the source to drink.

A pavilion covers the source of spring water –   ©   JT  of  ‘jtdytravels’

This much steeper site is at an elevation that affords grand views back to the mountains as well as out over the Srinagar valley and its lakes.  Chinar trees feature predominately here as do various conifers and other trees which are suited to the climate: hot and humid during the summer and snowy cold during the winter months.  Colourful flower beds along the water courses and out in the surrounding lawns again delight the visitor.

A steeply stepped ‘rill’ cascade at Chasma Shahi –  ©    JT  of ‘jtdytravels’

Because this garden is built on a hill, some very steep flights of steps need to be climbed from one terrace to the next. At one point, a water ‘rill’ tumbles down beside the steps taking the water into a pool of fountains – a nice place to rest.

It seems that there was plenty of work for the horticultural trades in those times, or otherwise, prisoners and slaves from defeated armies were ‘gainfully’ employed for in 1633 a fourth Mughal garden was built in Srinagar. Known as Nishat Bagh, or ‘Garden of Joy‘, it was designed and built by Asif Khan the father-in-law and Prime Minister of Shah Jahan.  As with Shalimar, a rectangular design was employed with the central axis being 548m in length. (Asif wasn’t silly enough to make his garden bigger than his Emperor’s)  There are twelve terraces, each terrace representing a Zodiac sign.  The cascades between each terrace and the numerous fountains create sound as the water falls.  The water sparkles when the sun shines.  Chinar and cypress trees again dominate the landscape.

Flowers and water are the essence of Mughal Gardens  –   ©    JT  of  ‘jtdytravels’

But this was not always a ‘garden of joy’!

When Shah Jahan saw his father-in-law’s completed ‘Garden of Joy’, he was most impressed – and he said so. He hoped that Asif would give him the garden.  But, when Asif didn’t take the hint, Shah Jahan was so piqued that he ordered the shutdown of the garden’s water supply, the Gobi Thirst, a natural spring which produces clean, clear water.  Asif was beside himself with grief as his garden began to die for lack of water. He became depressed. One day, however, so the story goes, whilst sitting under a tree in this garden, Asif heard the sound of running water.  When he realised that one of his gardeners had turned the water back on,  Asif was mortified. He feared the wrath of his son-in-law and immediately ordered the water to be turned off again.  However when Shah Jahan heard of the incident, rather than being upset, he rewarded the loyal servant for standing by his master. He allowed the flow of water to be restored.

Water channels require constant maintenance  –  ©  JT of ‘jtdytravels’

Wandering through the Mughal Gardens of Srinagar was indeed a highlight of our time in the Kashmir.  But, as always, after a day out exploring in the town, on the lakes or in the countryside of Kashmir, it was always a delight to return to the peaceful garden of our Lalit Palace Hotel. This garden, too, was designed somewhat along Mughal garden principles with pools and fountains, wonderful old chinar trees and long vistas of flower beds… but it lacks the water courses.

The lovely gardens of Srinagar’s ‘Lalit Palace Hotel’  –  ©   JT  of  ‘jtdytravels’

JT  of  ‘jtdytravels’

Photography  ©  JT  of   ‘jtdytravels’

 More of our photos of the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir are on            flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

Read Full Post »

India, Kashmir,Srinagar


When the opportunity arose to take Jennie with me to experience beautiful Kashmir, I jumped at the chance.  As we entered the airport I saw a T shirt which said, ‘I am in Kashmir, Heaven will have to wait’. I was glad to be back. But, I really should have taken more notice of the old adage – “don’t go back, you’ll be disappointed!” – for disappointed I was.

I certainly haven’t had the same good feeling about Srinagar this time as I had when I was last here in 1980.  Back then, it was a very attractive place full of half-timbered houses with orangey-red brick infill and thatched roofs. The Jhelum River, which meanders through the city, the large Dal Lake with its myriad timber houseboats and a couple of other minor lakes which lie in the shelter of the mountains, made this a truly idyllic place  – “Paradise on Earth”.

So why was I here in Srinagar way back in 1980?  I was here for work, if visiting a place like this could ever be called WORK.  At the time I was working in Nepal on the Nepal-Australia Forestry Project.  My driver and I drove across from Kathmandu in a 4 ton truck to collect 2 tons of apple seed and some walnuts – as you do!  Why?  Once safely back in Nepal, these seeds were to be dispersed among various community nurseries which our Project was supporting. We were attempting to introduce a new activity and potential cash crop for the villagers concerned.  It took us 5 days of driving each way but it was well worth it for the experience, the scenery and, of course,  the seed.  Although I didn’t actually drive the truck at all, I “drove” every inch of the way.  It was a nerve-wracking experience travelling that ‘Grand Trunk Road’ with cars, trucks, buses, push carts and the odd camel or two, not to mention people and animals, all coming at you from every direction, at any and every speed and often on the wrong side of the road.

 In Srinagar, today, gone are the half- timbered houses, except for a few derelict ones. The lovely old houses have been replaced with concrete buildings covered in ceramic tiles and the thatch roofs are now corrugated iron.  Although the locals are still friendly, there is something of a disturbing, unsettling ‘air’ about the place.  Of course, this city is not very far from the disputed Pakistan border, so India maintains a huge military presence here to maintain its position in this section of Kashmir. And why do they do that?  Water is the answer – water from the Himalaya – water that is such an important life force for both countries.

For example, the Jhelum River, which flows through Srinagar in the Indian administered part of Kashmir, meanders on along the Kashmir Valley north west to Wular Lake. It then cuts through a gorge 2,100 meters deep with almost perpendicular sides to find itself entering the Pakistan controlled area of Kashmir.  Later it becomes the border between the two countries. And this is an important river fed by waters arising in the Indian controlled part of Kashmir. So even back in 1980 the border with Pakistan was disputed as a result of the division of the subcontinent into the countries of India and Pakistan.  And also as a result of that division, the mix of Muslim and Hindu residents hasn’t always been a happy one.  But it’s much worse now that many Kashmiris want to be separate and have their own country.

As a result of these pressures, in Srinagar today, thousands of police and military personnel stand around virtually close enough to hold hands. They could, except for the fact that they are all carrying heavy weaponry of one kind or another. There are also sand-bagged en-placements on many corners and camouflage netting, razor wire, road blocks, sentry boxes and military vehicles are everywhere. It’s not good. In just the last few days (September 2011), there have been several incidents.  In one skirmish, five ‘separatist insurgents’ (those wanting Kashmir to be a free independent country) were killed in a gun battle with Indian police and army personnel in a forest up near the Pakistani border. Two army officers were also killed as well as two police officers.  Thankfully all is quiet here in the city at present.

These days Srinagar is a dirty, dusty place and Dal Lake is highly polluted from the hundreds of house boats which discharge effluent straight into it.  This has resulted in a huge weed problem that has to be tackled by giant floating weed cutters as well as individuals who cut the weed for their own purposes such as feeding to their animals.  The saturation of the place by military and local police certainly doesn’t help the ambience either.  So, unfortunately Srinagar is not the wonderful place I remember it being back in 1980.  Others I know who visited the place back then, and those who did the ‘overlander’ London-Kathmandu adventure, would, I think, also be disappointed.

Some things have not changed, like the markets with the fresh fruits and vegetables, much of it grown in the valley.

Farmers still come to town in their horse drawn drays.

 Public road transport is colourfully decorated buses.

But there are also some things that have changed for the better – especially the Moghul Gardens.  (Photos in a future blog.) These gardens were difficult to find on my first visit. They are now on city maps, and sign-posted! They’ve also been renovated. This is particularly for the benefit of the domestic tourist trade which is growing at a very fast rate due to the rising affluence of India.  Few foreign tourists visit Srinagar nowadays as most Western governments have travel advisories suggesting that you don’t visit the area! Mind you, I didn’t feel unsafe at any time even though I spent three days out in the countryside where I didn’t see another westerner – so the advisories must be working for most people.

So that’s my impression of Srinagar now.

DY  for “jtdytravels”

Photography  ©  DY of ‘jtdytravels’

More of our travel photos on flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

Read Full Post »