Kashmir, abode of lofty snow-capped mountains, lush green meadows, enchanting springs and lakes with vivid flower gardens truly encapsulates the heaven on earth. It is believed that the valley was a gigantic lake ‘Satisara’ which was surrounded by mighty Himalayan mountain ranges. Due to volcanic activities, water gushed out of this lake at Baramulla, draining the valley. Remnants of this vast lake are the Dal Lake, Wular Lake, Manasbal Lake and numerous springs. Areas surrounding these springs and lakes have been cultivated and developed as gardens.
The earliest form of gardens in Kashmir was conceived by the Buddhists and thousands of Viharas were built here. Kashmir valley has been acclaimed as a land of bliss, peace, contentment, ‘The abode of meditating monks’ and this tradition travelled to Central Asia, China and Japan with spread of Buddhism. Buddhist traditions were carried further by the Sufis, who planted shady trees wherever they stayed. Shahmir rulers and Sultans of Kashmir were pioneers of gardens in the valley and later the Mughals revived the tradition of cultivating gardens. Most of the Mughal gardens have since disappeared however, some of them still exist. Mughals added pavilions, fountains and cascades to the gardens in Kashmir.
Nishat Bagh or the “garden of delight” is on the eastern bank of the beautiful Dal Lake. It is a magnificent garden laid out by the eldest brother of Empress Noor Johan in 1634 AD. The garden had twelve terraces representing twelve Zodiac signs however, only 10 terraces can be found now. Colored flower beds are most delightful in the background of soft and green turf lined with avenues of Chinar and Cypress trees.
Shalimar Bagh the abode of love with its fascinating beauty captivated the king Praverasena II, who founded Srinagar in 2nd century. He built a cottage at this spot and named it Shalimar. Over years, the cottage was lost but the name of the village remained – Shalimar. Mughal Emperor Jahangir stumbled upon this location and built a dream garden and named it Shalimar Bagh or ‘the garden of solace and comfort’ as it was known in Turkish. It is the most beautiful among the Mughal gardens of Kashmir. The garden originally consisted of three enclosures of which the last enclosure surrounded by cascades and fountains with black – marble pavilion still exists. Its lawns are covered with flower beds and shady trees and the quote given above can be read on the painted interiors and the chamber walls here. The Mughal emperor Jahangir ruled India from the Shalimar garden for thirteen summers.
Achabal Garden is one of the most beautiful and graceful tourist spots in Anantnag. Achabal is the finest master piece of Mughal style gardens in India. Large numbers of trees and fresh water gives a person, feeling of heaven and in autumn, Chinar trees turn red and give a most mesmerizing view. The most distinctive feature of the garden is its largest spring, which irrigates the whole garden. The spring gushes out of the foot of the mountain densely covered with deodar forest.
Chasm-e-Shahi Garden in Srinagar is an elegant Mughal garden built by Emperor Shah Jahan. The garden is located on the foothills of the Zabarwan range. Its lush green lawns, water pool and mountain in the middle of the entrance give a charming spectacle of this garden. The fresh water stream inside the garden is very popular for its medicinal properties. Once Empress Mumtaj fell ill and she was made to drink the water of this spring. Miraculously the empress got healthy and the spring become popular and got royal importance. The spring was originally discovered by a female saint, Rupa Bhawani who was a Sahibi, an enlightened soul. She undertook a penance here and hence, the spring came to be known as Chasme Sahibi and later become Chasm-e-Shahi (the Royal spring). To the east of the Chasm-e-Shahi lies Pari Mahal built by Prince Dara Shikoh which looks like an enchanting fairy tale castle. The structure was built on the remnants of a Buddhist monastery.
Verinag Mughal Garden situated at the entry point of Kashmir is known as the ‘Gate way of Kashmir and is in the Pir Panjal range. The Verinag spring with octagonal stone basin surrounded by an arcade, gorgeous old Chinar trees, lush green meadows are its main attraction. The spring of Verinag is the source of Jhelum River and is a historical spot in Kashmir. Tulip Garden lies on Zabarwan mountain slopes and is spread over 74 acres. It is the largest tulip garden in Asia consisting of seven terraces each with a different variety of flower, especially tulips. Tulip garden is home to around 68 varieties of tulips. Besides tulips there are 46 varieties of flowers some of which are from Amsterdam, Holland.
The whole of Kashmir is a delightful garden made by nature. The Kashmiri gardens are rich repositories of Kashmir’s history and heritage and represent happy blending of the Persian, Central Asian and the Indian culture. Thus making Kashmir ‘A Paradise on Earth’ in the real sense with it’s hospitality.