Srinagar is located in the heart of the Kashmir Valley, beautifully situated between two hills (Shankaracharya and Hari Parbat) around Dal Lake, the Jhelum River and a canal that joins the two and makes the downtown area an island. The city is known for its decorated houseboats, beautiful gardens, pushy hashish vendors, and delightful mountain and lake scenery.
Srinagar is home to around 1.1 million people and is the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir (Jammu is the winter capital). The old neighborhoods feature half-timbered and plaster homes. Souvenir wallahs sell crafts made carved of walnut, papier mâché boxes, hand-knotted wool and silk rugs, a variety of garments made of cashmere (wool from Kashmir goats, but often from China or Mongolia). Many lovely wooden and stone bridges cross the canals and the river. Nine bridges cross the Jhelum. The oldest bridges across the Jhelum have traditionally been the center of major shopping areas. The area between the second and third bridges was a center for silversmith and woodcarvers.
Located at an altitude of 1,730 meters, Srinagar also has chinar tree-lined roads, Sufi shrines, forts and restaurants offering tasty Kashmiri cuisine. Orchards with apples and walnuts surround the city. The city is particularly famous for its spectacular Mughal-era gardens and enchanting architecture. Much of the city’s tourism scene has traditionally been focused around the Nagin and Dal Lake. In winter, Srinagar is often covered in soft snow. In spring and summer wildflowers bloom in the meadows in the mountains.
Getting There: By Air: Srinagar has its own airport, Sheikh-ul-Alam, which is well-connected with all the major cities of India. By Road: The city is connected to major cities in India through good roads. By Train: Jammu Tawi is the nearest railway station that connects Srinagar with other parts of the country.
History of Srinagar
According to legend, Srinagar was founded by the Indian-Buddhist Emperor Ashoka during the third century B.C. Kalhana, the author of Rajatarangini, wrote in that emperor Ashoka founded a city called of Srinagari, which may have been situated a little away from the current city of Srinagar. King Pravarasena II of the Vakataka dynasty (400-415 B.C.) is credited with founding present-day Srinagar.
Over the centuries Srinagar has been occupied Hindu, Sikh and Muslim rulers, who often used the city as their summer retreat. Akbar was the first Mughal emperor to capture the Kashmir Valley and he and his son Jihangir built some of the most well-planned gardens in the world as well as mosques and shrine in Srinagar. The city's beauty was enhanced during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Before 1989 Srinagar was colorful place with mountain people and tribesmen, lively bazaar and horse carts fighting for space with auto-rickshaws and cars. Since the 1990s, city has been a center of separatist violence, kidnapping and curfews. It is sad that before all this, Srinagar was one of the world's most delightful towns.
Vale of Kashmir
Vale of Kashmir is the name of the Kashmir Valley, which forms the heart of Kashmir. It is 134 kilometers (90 miles) long and 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide and surrounded by mountains, which reach a height up to 5,150 meters (16,900 feet). The average elevation of the valley is about 1,500 meters (4920 feet). Many rivers and streams pour into the valley, providing its with ample sources of water. The climate is temperate with four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Much of the annual precipitation of 66 centimeters falls in the form of snow. The mean temperature for January is about 0 degrees C. In the summer temperatures often rise above 35 degrees C.
The first recognized historical narrative of India, the Rajatarangini (“River of Kings”), composed in the mid 12th century, by a Kashmiri Brahman, Kalhana, speaks of a mythical origin of the valley in a sacred lake. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in 1940 of his birthplace: "Kashmir calls back, its pull stronger than ever, it whispers its fairy magic to the ears, and its memory disturbs the mind."
The Vale of Kashmir is very fertile as a result of thousands of years of alluvial Himalayan soil accumulating on its floor. It is bordered to the south by the Pir Panjal Range and to the north by the Himalayas. It is filled with lakes, flower mustard fields, vineyards, large marijuana patches. rice paddies, saffron crocus fields, pine and fir forest and orchards with apples, pears, apricots, plums, walnuts and almond trees. Forests on the lower slopes contain sycamores, cedars, pines and oaks.
Shopping in Srinagar
The oldest bridges across the Jhelum have traditionally been the center of major shopping areas. The area between the second and third bridges was a center for silversmith and woodcarvers. Must-have buys from Kashmir include pashminas, walnut wood décor, Kashmiri baqerkhani and sheermal bread, especially when you are shopping at Lal Chowk or Badshah Chowk. Kashmiri red chillies, Kashmiri kesar (saffron), raisins, blueberries, cashews, dry walnuts, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and cardamom are some of the spices and dry fruits popular in the Kashmir Valley.
Pashmina shawls are a symbol of lavishness and luxury and also the embodiment of the ethereal beauty of Kashmir that is reflected in their texture. Believed to have originated in Nepal, Pashmina or cashmere wool is considered as the softest in the world and keeps one very warm.
The wool that is used to make the exquisite Pashmina shawls is obtained from a kind of goat called Capra Hircus (Chyangra) that is generally found at an altitude of 12,000 feet where temperatures dip as low as minus 40-degree Centigrade. Pashmina has also been mentioned in the epic Mahabharata where it was a favorite of the emperors and nobles. The art of making clothes from Pashmina is believed to be as old as 3000 B.C. and it is said to have graced the home of many kings and queens like Napoleon and Marie Antoinette.
Sights in Srinagar
Shri Pratap Singh (SPS) Museum used to be the summer palace of the maharajas who earlier ruled Kashmir. It is named after Maharaja Pratap Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. Started in 1898, it houses a large collection of handicrafts as well as archaeological artefacts from across the Union Territory. While the facade of the museum reflects royal panache, the interior displays several antique objects that have been sourced from Baltistan, Gilgit, and other corners of Kashmir.
There are different sections in the museum. The archaeology section has Pandrenthan sculptures, Awantipura sculptures, Parihaspora sculptures as well as Buddhist antiquities from Ladakh. One will also find books and royal edicts that date back to the 17th century and late 19th century in the manuscript section. Some of these fascinating documents are written on birch tree bark called bhoj patra or on Kashmiri handmade paper called koshur kagaz. The documents include Tafseer-i-Kabeer, Kashmiri Koran, Haft Paikar Makhzan Asrar, Sikandernama and Shahnama. The metal section has exhibits of some royal utensils as well as normal ones. In the 300 displayed items, the metals used include tin, copper, zinc, iron, brass, white metal, chipped turquoise and Tibetan metal.
Hari Parbat Fort was established by Afghan governor, Atta Mohammad Khan, in the 18th century. On the western slope of the fort lies a shrine that is dedicated to Goddess Parvati. On the southern side of the hill is a Muslim shrine of famous sufi saint Khwaja Makhdoom Sahib, who is revered by people of all religions and faiths. At present, the fort is occupied by the Indian Army.
Badshah Tomb marks the final resting place of the mother of the famous ruler of Kashmir, Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1421-1474), in Srinagar. It has been erected on the plinth of an old Buddhist temple. An unusual five-domed brick structure, it is considered a unique piece of architecture, dating back to the 15th century. There are claims that it looks more like a structure from the Byzantine empire. The tomb is a peaceful place and provides a great view of the surrounding greenery from the top. When seen from the new Zaina Kadal (bridge), the city's oldest bridge, it forms an important part of the classic view of Old Town Srinagar. River Jhelum flows near the Badshah Tomb. It is believed that Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin deliberately had the tomb erected next to a water body according to traditional Muslim beliefs, ceremonies, rites and rituals.
Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1421-1474) is fondly remembered as the great king, the 'Budshah' or simply the 'Badshah'. He ruled over Kashmir for over 50 years and that period is counted as one of the most peaceful times that the region has ever seen. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin was the son of Shah Mir, who started the rule of the Mughal dynasty in India in the mid-14th century, when he migrated to India from Central Asia. The sultan was loved and hailed by his people throughout his reign and after the death of his beloved mother, he had the Badshah Tomb built in her fond memory.
Temples and Mosques in Srinagar
Temples and Mosques in Srinagar include the Temple of Shankarecharya, a temple decorated to Shiva built a 1,100 feet above the city on the site of temple that dates back to 200 B.C.; and Shah Hamdan Masjid, a mosque with its lovely papier mâché interior. Among the other prominent mosques are Pather Masjid, Shah Hamdam Masjid and Jamia Masjid.
Shankaracharya Temple (Gopadari Hill, southeast of Srinagar) is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is believed to be one of the oldest shrines in the Kashmir Valley. Named after the great philosopher, Shankaracharya, who visited the valley about 10 centuries ago, the temple was constructed on a high octagonal plinth and can be approached using a flight of steps. There are great views of the city. Like most temples of Lord Shiva, this one too represents the lord in phallic or lingam form. The idol is encircled by a snake and has been made of reddish black stone, which was revived from the valley of River Narmada in Madhya Pradesh. Open between 7:00am and 8:00pm, the temple holds arti (a holy fire ritual) in the mornings and evenings. The festival of Mahashivaratri is celebrated here with great enthusiasm.
Shah-i-Hamadan Mosque (on the banks of River Jhelum) is one of the oldest mosques in Srinagar. Also known as Khanqah-e-Molla, it is said that the mosque was originally built in 1359 and underwent reconstruction in 1732. In fact, it is the first mosque to be built in Srinagar by Muslim ruler, Sikander Butshikan, in the memory of preacher Mir Syed Ali Hamdani. The structure is a magnificent example of wood architecture and has been built without nails. The front portion and the interior of the mosque have been painted in papier mache reliefs and colored khatamband (faceted wood panelling). While the first tier of the mosque has double arcaded verandahs, which are all around the structure, the second tier has an arcaded balcony on all the sides. The second tier also has a pyramidal roof, which has an open pavilion for the muezzin (person appointed to lead the call for prayer). A pyramidal spire tops the building.
Hazrat-bal Mosque: The Home of the Prophet Muhammad’s Hair
Hazrat-bal Mosque (on the left banks of Dal Lake, right opposite the Nishat Bagh garden) contains a single strand blond that is said to belong to Prophet Muhammad. The sacred hair, known as the Moi-e-Muqqadas, is kept in a silver and crystal bottle inside three cloth bags, which in turn are kept inside a locked cabinet protected by four guards. The hair is displayed during certain Muslim holidays in the mosque’s quadrangle. In spite of the heavy security the hair was stolen in December 1963. To the relief of everyone it was recovered within a few days and returned to the mosque,
Hazratbal Mosque is a highly revered place built in the 17th century. According to legend the hair relic was first brought to Kashmir in 1635 by a purported descendant of Muhammad Syed Abdullah, who left Medina and settled at Bijapur near Hyderabad. After his death, the relic was inherited by his son, Syed Hamid. By this time, Mughal conquest had started and Hamid was stripped of his family estate. As he was unable to take proper care of Moi-e-Muqqadas, he sold it to a Kashmiri businessman.
Emperor Aurangzeb came to know about this incident so he seized the relic and imprisoned the businessman in Delhi. He then sent Moi-e-Muqqadas to Ajmer s Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti shrine. Sometime later, Aurangzeb realised his mistake and decided to release the businessman and send him with the relic back to Kashmir. However, he had died in prison by then. The relic finally reached Kashmir in 1700 along with the body of the businessman and his daughter, Inayat Begum, became the custodian of Moi-e-Muqqadas and established the shrine.
Theft of Muhammad’s Hair from Hazrat-bal Mosque
On December 26, 1963, the hair relic mysteriously disappeared from the shrine but was recovered on January 4, 1964. After the news broke on December 27 that the holy relic was stolen from the shrine arround 50,000 people carrying black flags demonstrated in front of the shrine. According to The Times of India, police reported that they believed that the theft had occurred around 2:00am when the custodians of the shrine were sleeping. The theft led to communal riots in East Pakistan and the adjoining Indian areas of Calcutta and West Bengal, where many Hindus and Moslems were killed.
The next day, an award of 100,000 rupees was announced for providing information on the theft. On December 27, a curfew was imposed, and police arrested Congress leader Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, Sheikh Rashid. On December 31, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru set up the Sacred Relic Action Committee and sent investigators to Kashmir. On January 4, 1964 the relic was recovered, and prayers were organized at a Hindu temple to help dispel communal tensions. When Nehru was informed of the recovery, he told investigators "you have saved Kashmir for India".
Information about the investigation was not disclosed. Chief Minister Syed Mir Qasim writote that even though the relic was recovered, its authenticity was not verified. In February 1964, the New York Times reported: “Home Minister Gulzarilal Nanda named today three Kashmiri Moslems as having been arrested for the theft of a hair attributed to the prophet Mohammed from the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar on Dec. 26. They included Abdul Rahim Bandey, a custodian of the shrine, and avillager named Abdul Rashid, who was caught while running away after returning the hair to the shrine 10 days later The third was “an important person who we believe has some affiliation with Pakistan,” Mr. Nanda said. He gave his name as Kadir Butt. More persons suspected of having been involved in the theft will be named later, Mr. Nanda added.” [Source: New York Times, February 18, 1964]
Dal Lake is Srinagar's most famous landmark. Relatively shallow, it is greenish brown in color and is choked with weeds, lily pads, lotuses and other aquatic plants. Nestled at the foothills of Mount Shridhara, it is still a sight to behold. It is dotted with elaborate houseboats that are decorated with intricate wood carvings, and colorful shikaras (narrow wooden boats that resemble the gondolas in Venice). The lake used to have a reputation for being a pleasant place for a swim. Houseboats moored away from the shore had platforms and swimmers gushed about the bliss they felt relaxing in the clear water surrounded by the mountains of the Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain ranges.
Dal Lake is divided into four parts: Gagribal, Lokutdal, Boddal and Nagin. Nagin (eight kilometers from the city center) is the smallest and loveliest part of the lake. Here and there are islands, some of which have temples or serve as popular picnic areas. In some places farmers grow vegetables on planks that have soil piled on top of them and have reeds that hold them in place. The planks are strong enough to support the weight of person. Some are surrounded by barbed wire to prevent them from being towed away by thieves. Illegal squatters camped out on the marshy shore and tend vegetable gardens with turnips, cabbages and squashes.
Around the year 1200, Dal Lake covered an area of 75 square kilometers. At present it spreads over 21.1 square kilometers, with a maximum depth of 5.4 meters and a shoreline of 15.4 kilometers. Of the total area, only about 11.4 square kilometers is open water and the rest is under floating gardens, most of which have permanent settlements. The lake has a large mountainous catchment, spread over 316 square kilometers. It also has four interconnected basins Bod Dal, Gagribal, Nagin and Hazratbal with more than 90 per cent water entering the lake from its catchment through a perpetual inflow channel Telbal Nallah. The remaining 10 per cent water is contributed by the springs that rise from the bed of the lake. Through Nallah Amir Khan, the water of the lake drains into the River Jhelum.
Dal Lake used to polluted and still is to some degree. For a while raw sewage flowed into it. An effort has been made to clean up the unsightly vegetation. In 2004, weed-eating grass carp from China were introduced to get rid of the plants.
Houseboats of Dal lake
Many visitors to Srinagar stay in the lovely houseboats that are moored off the shore of the lake and can only be reached by row boats or shikaras. Some of them are a bit run down but others are as luxurious as a pasha's palace. Touts along the shores try to steer customers to their boats. Once you find one and looking for one is over they are a great place to relax and distances yourself from the maddening crowds.
The houseboats are made of polished wood and decorated with carpets. They are often 40 meters (120 feet) long or more and have intricate carvings and a shaded verandas that faces towards the shore. They have carpets, comfortable furniture, kitchens and servants and offer meals. There is no need to go shopping. Merchants selling apples, hashish, nuts, emeralds, carpets, saffron, shawls, flowers, silk and cashmere and other stuff come right up to boats. There are many floating restaurants and photography studios as well.
The houseboats became popular under the British as a way of bypassing restrictions imposed the maharaja preventing non-Kashmiris from owning land. One of the most famous groups of houseboats is run by Butts Clermont Houseboats. Over the years their guest have included George Harrison, Nelson Rockefeller and Joan Fontaine. It is still in business.
Guests at Dal Lake are often taken to the houseboats in gondola-like shikaras. Shikaras wait at docks along the shore of Dal Lake to ferry visitors to the house boats and move local people and goods on the lake. In the early morning shikars laden with vegetables and fruits form markets on the shores of Srinagar. Within Srinagar the boats have traditionally been used to move goods along the canals. The tourist shikaras have named like Paradise, Rolex, Serenity, Free Love, Noah’s Ark, and Queen of Hearts. Some have embroidered canopies and velvet cushions. The houseboats also often have names
Dal Lake Sights
Floating Vegetable Market is one of the foremost attractions of Dal Lake. It is the only major floating vegetable market in India and is said to rank in size with the ones of Vietnam's Mekong Delta. The vegetable-sellers have their own island in Dal Lake and start selling from 4:00am and often sell out by 6:00am. The market got international attention when a Japanese photographer published photos of it in a tourist guide. Around 1.25 square kilometers of land and the market itself covers about an acre. It takes around an hour to reach, so one has to book a shikara the night before, wake up early and head over there in the dark. The wetland of Dal Lake produces a variety of vegetables including cucumbers, tomatoes, brinjals, water chestnuts, lotus stems and kohlrabi.
Nagin Lake is an offshoot of Dal Lake located in the foothills of the Zabarwan mountains. With Hari Parbat to the west and Shankaracharya Hill to the its south, the lake is flanked by beautiful willow and poplar trees, and is often known as 'nageena' meaning the jewel in the ring. The lake is linked through a causeway walkers and bikers but not motor vehicles are allowed to use. The causeway carries the water supply pipeline to the city of Srinagar. The lake is also linked with Khushal Sar and Gil Sar lakes via a channel called Nallah Amir Khan. It is considered a better place than Dal Lake to enjoy a swim as it is deeper, cleaner and less crowded.
Indira Gandhi Tulip Garden is a beautiful expanse of lush greenery located at the foothills of the Zabarwan mountain range, on the banks of the Dal Lake. Spread over an area of 30 acre, it is the largest tulip garden in Asia, and is more commonly known as Siraj Bagh. Earlier called Model Floriculture Center, it was opened for public in 2007 to boost tourism and floriculture in the Kashmir Valley. More than 60 varieties of tulips numbering over a few lakh can be seen, along with many other species of daffodils, hyacinths and ranunculus. Beginning 2017, a Tulip Festival is organised with the onset of the spring season every year to showcase a wide range of flowers. The festival lasts a fortnight, between April 1 and April 15. The beautiful garden is surrounded by Dal Lake, Nishat Bagh and Chashma Shahi on three sides.
Emerald Pellot wrote in “In The Know”: The garden, which has seven terraces, is also built on the mountain’s slope. As travel website Skyscanner notes, the tulip garden is the government’s largest landscaping project since the Mughals created pleasure spots in the 16th century. “Framed by picturesque mountains, the garden is rated number two on Trip Advisor’s best 62 things to do in Srinagar. “It was an amazing and life-giving moment, I am full of memories from Kashmir this season. Truly Paradise,” one visitor wrote. “This place is so amazing. I haven’t seen so many flowers at a place like this. They smell of the wind from a distance is so amazing. I think this is a perfect spot for couples. I enjoy it a lot,” another said. “If there is heaven it is here it is here it is here… Rows and rows of tulips amidst towering mountains. This is a must visit season to see tulips and admire nature’s bounties,” a third added. [Source: Emerald Pellot, In The Know, April 21, 2020]
Gardens in the Srinagar Area
The Mughal Gardens in Kashmir area are world famous. Nasim Bagh and Cheshma Shahi (Royal Spring) were developed in the 17th century during the reign of Shah Jehan. Chesma Shahi is the smallest garden and the nearest to the city. Nasim Bagh is opposite Nishat Bagh across the lake. It has groves of magnificent chear trees laid out by Akbar. It was built on a rise from the lake to catch breezes. Pari Mahal, once a Buddhist monastery, was also converted during the same period into a Mughal garden. The Mughal gardens near Dal Lake are a favorite picnic area with local Kashmiris. Some people wear period costumes and vendors sell balloons and sweets to children.
The Mughal Gardens in Kashmir were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The celebrated Mughal gardens of Kashmir owe their grandeur primarily to Emperor Jahangir who had an undaunted love for Kashmir, and his son Shah Jahan. Jahangir was responsible for the careful selection of the site and manoeuvring it to suit the requirements of the traditional paradise gardens. Although the Mughals never deviated drastically from the original form or concept of the gardens, their biggest challenge in Kashmir was to exploit the chosen site and the abundance of water resource to its maximum potential. The sites selected were invariably at the foot of a mountain, wherever there was a source of water either in the form of streams or springs. This feature eventually resulted in terraced garden layouts. Undaunted by the challenges offered by mountainous terrain, the Mughal engineering skills and aesthetics helped in exploiting the dominating natural landscape and the available water resources to their maximum potential and achieved an unparalleled height of perfection. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“'...Typically, in the pleasure gardens of Kashmir, the garden site is at the lower elevation of a hill, between the hill and the lake. It is not accidental that this particular location is the perfect place from which spectacular views of the regional space of the valley are revealed: to one side the mountain at the back, on the other, the lake view. Towards the lake, the visual link between garden and valley is marked by the flow of water in that direction and the progression of terraces downwards with the grand chinars on either side. These direct the eye away from the details of the garden to the extended lake panorama and hills beyond. The garden celebrates the beauty of the valley. It transcends its visible physical limits, and the internal space engages dramatically with the larger setting....' (Shaheer, n.d.)
“Almost all popular Mughal gardens in Kashmir except Verinag follow a similar pattern with a central water channel sourced at natural springs. This channel which formed the central visual axis of the garden was further enhanced by avenues of poplars or chinar trees. There are one or more baradaris or pavilions with a central open space 'dalan' placed over these water channels. These water channels cascade down from one terrace to another in the form of chadars or falls, where they fill in the larger water tanks, hauz, squarish in form and having an array of fountains. Finally, the water from the central channel joins a water body, either a flowing stream nearby, as in case of Achabal, or a lake, as in case of Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh.
Gardens in Pre-Mughal Kashmir
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Before the advent of Islam, Kashmir was predominantly a Hindu region, the concept of pleasure gardens was not alien to it even during this period. Influenced by the concepts of vatikas (or wooded pleasure gardens), of ancient India, a variety of such gardens were created in the Valley mostly in the form of orchards. These gardens were endowed with a variety of flowers, herbs and aromatic plants. Many ancient myths and plays revolve around events happening in these vatikas. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“Among the earliest of such gardens in Hindu Kashmir, was the Bagh-i-Tut or Mulberry Garden. This was basically a grove of mulberry trees located near the present day Maisuma area and was laid out by a Hindu saint by the name of Maya Swami. The garden was later maintained by succeeding Muslim rulers and is said to have existed way down until the late 19th C., albeit in a much modified form.
“Islam came to Kashmir in the 14th C. with the establishment of the Shahmiri Sultanate in the region. Some of the leading members of the new dynasty were immigrants from Persia or areas with heavy Persian influence. Thus along with language, dress, customs many types of Arts And Crafts linked to Persia also flourished in the region. Among them one was also the art of gardening.
“During this period the most notable gardens are said to have been created by the legendary king Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen, endearingly titled Budsah (Bod-Shah) or the 'Great King'. Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen is credited with construction of many gardens in his capital Naushehar, at Andurkot (Bagh-i-Safa) and the island garden of Zani Lank within the Wular Lake. The garden of Zani Lank may well have set the precedent for the later Mughal island gardens of Ropa Lank and Sona Lank within the Dal Lake. Another Sultan, Hassan Shah Chak also constructed a vast garden at Nauhatta around the Lachma Kul.
“From historical references it seems that these gardens followed a similar pattern of Persian Paradise gardens, with terraces arranged around a central water channel, lined with fountains and planted with a variety of flowers and trees that grew in abundance within the Valley. By the time Kashmir passed into the hands of the Mughals in the 16th C., these gardens embedded with the Persian spirit were already established in Kashmir. What perhaps the Mughals did later was to work on a refinement of the set pattern, and thus taking them to a new height.
Outstanding Features of Mughal Gardens
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The six mentioned gardens “are generally categorized as later Mughal Gardens, which have evolved from their earliest prototypes like the Humayun's Tomb Gardens and thus are representatives of Mughal Gardens in their highest state of development. These gardens therefore, apart from being of exceptional beauty, are important and irreplaceable physical evidence to the understanding of Mughal Garden evolution and culmination. As key examples of this tradition these gardens are also an outstanding and irreplaceable resource for the understanding of garden history in general and the Mughal Period in India. The spectacular, mountainous natural settings, within which all of these gardens are laid, are perhaps impossible to be found in any of the other Mughal Gardens of India. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“In addition to these factors, the Mughal Gardens of Nishat, Shalimar, Achabal, Chashma Shahi, Pari Mahal and Verinag also demonstrate the excellent engineering skills of the Mughals in making optimum use of the difficult topography and abundant supply of water when laying out these pleasure gardens at the specifically chosen sites. The use of the terraces as raised walkways (khayabans) and the numerous cascading chadars are given the topography key features in the Mughal gardens of Kashmir. The gardens of Nishat, Shalimar, Chasma Shahi and Pari Mahal near Srinagar also demonstrate an outstanding ingenuity in creation physical and visual links with Dal Lake and key landmarks.
“A factor common to all the mentioned gardens is ecology and the experience of senses. Rich in verdant qualities, and in particular the Chinars, the gardens experience a change in color with changing seasons, from the pale green tones of the spring to the rich greens of summers which transform to the warm tones of red, browns and orange in the autumn, before the foliage turns stark and melancholy in the winters. This unique characteristic of the gardens can greatly influence the sense of experience while visiting the gardens.
“The Mughal Gardens of Kashmir are an exceptional testimony of the creative and innovative ingenuity demonstrated by the Mughals in taking maximum advantage of the rising slopes of the mountains and the natural setting to fulfil their extraordinary landscape ambitions and needs. The gardens demonstrate the excellent engineering skills of the Mughals in making optimum use of the difficult topography and abundant supply of water.
“These gardens are unique and most representative surviving ensembles of a period of prolific activity that saw the creation of over 700 gardens in Kashmir during the Mughal Period. The methods and traditions employed in the creation and development of the gardens and their wider landscape settings are significant examples of the interactions between people and the natural environment. The existing continuity in land use and management of the gardens and, most importantly, their wider landscape settings is a significant tradition within the context of safeguarding the environment under growing pressures of urban developments and change.
“The gardens are categorised as later Mughal gardens and therefore, apart from being of exceptional beauty, are an important and irreplaceable physical resource for the understanding of garden history in general and the evolution of Mughal garden and landscape history and traditions.
“In terms of visual quality and physical attributes, the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir are unique and singular. The gardens and wider landscape settings are outstanding examples of the Mughal type of architectural and landscaping ensembles in a mountainous environment. The gardens are directly associated with the Mughal Period in Kashmir and are a testimony to the flamboyant lifestyle of the Mughal Empire which flourished in India between the early 16th and mid 19th Centuries. The annual reopening on the 13th of April of the gardens is associated with Baisakhi, a popular festival of the Sikhs, which marks the formal arrival of spring in most of India.”
Shalimar Bagh (16 kilometers from Srinagar) was built by Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his 20th and last wife Nur Jahan. Located on the right banks of the Dal Lake, the garden features four terraces, rising one above the other. The beauty of this garden is enhanced by the presence of tall chinar trees on the periphery as well as Persian lilacs and blossoming cherry trees.
Shalimar Bagh is the largest Mughal garden in the Kashmir Valley. It offers sweeping vistas over the surrounding lake and mountains as well as being beautiful in its own right. Narrow canals that you can step across separate groves of trees. At the center lies a black marble pavilion surrounded by fountains. Shalimar, derived from the Sanskrit language, mean “Abode of Love.”
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: ““Shalimar Bagh is more ostentatious in architectural quality when compared with its other parallels in Kashmir. Almost all the terrace edges at the Shalimar Bagh have something interesting to offer in the form of pavilions, pools, or water cascades. The whole texture of the garden, in fact, is a result of the relationship of the garden's built and landscaped environment. The scale and decorations of the buildings, however, seem to have been intentionally underplayed by the Mughals to avoid offering competition with the overarching natural beauty that surrounds the garden. The two most important structures within the Shalimar Bagh are the Pink Pavilion, in the Diwan-i-Aam zone of the garden, and the Black Pavilion, located in the Diwan-i-Khas. Considering that there was not much building activity by the Mughals in Kashmir, compared to the rest of India, these structures offer a rare opportunity to witness Mughal architecture in this region. The Pink Pavilion is located over the water channel of the second terrace. It is a rectangular open pavilion constructed in traditional badshahi bricks. The significant architectural details of the Pavilion comprise the papier mache ceilings, the carved columns, brackets and railings made of stone. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The Black Pavilion (also an open Pavilion), rectangular in plan, is located on the fourth terrace in the zenana. Constructed principally in brick masonry, the walls of the Pavilion have stone facing, with recessed niches and naqashi (paintings) on walls. Outstanding workmanship is displayed in the carvings of the stone columns and brackets around the Pavilion. The name, Black Pavilion, is related to the stone used for the walls and columns, which appears very black when polished.
“The enclosed garden has six watch towers; at each of its four corners and also in the middle. Despite the fact that the original Mughal planting scheme has worn-out over the years, the garden is lush with, flowers, well-mowed turf and some fruit trees. The outstanding quality of Shalimar Bagh lies in the synthesis of its landscape and architectural features. The wider setting of the rural agricultural landscape, the rice fields and hamlets, the historic canal that links the garden to Dal Lake, and the mountain backdrop, all contribute to the significance of Shalimar Bagh.
“In addition to this, while most other significant Mughal Gardens of India are commonly an associated feature of a mausoleum or a monument, the Shalimar Bagh should be valued for the fact that it is amongst the very few surviving authentic Mughal gardens that were developed for pleasure, enjoyment and also for holding Court. The Shalimar Bagh therefore is testimony to the lavish Mughal lifestyle which made the Court escape, every summer, from the scorching heat of the Indian plains, and travel hundreds of miles to find respite in the greens of the garden.”
History of Shalimar Bagh
Around A.D. 2nd century, king Pravarsena II of the Vakataka dynasty (79-139) constructed a cottage, which was surrounded by a park near the Dal Lake and called it Shalimar. He often visited Saint Sukarma Swami at Harwan and after his meeting, Pravarsena II stayed in Shalimar Cottage. The cottage remained in perfect condition until the king came calling on the saint but after that, lack of maintenance ruined it. However, the name remained with the nearby village being called Shalimar. To impress his wife, Noor Jahan, Mughal emperor Jehangir decided to construct a garden in Kashmir and chose Shalimar as the location. In 1619, the old garden was renovated into a royal Mughal garden and named Farah Baksh, meaning the delightful. The king and queen spent summers here and it served as the royal summer residence. Around 10 years later, on the orders of Shah Jahan, the governor of Kashmir, Zafar Khan, extended the garden and called it Faiz Baksh, meaning the bountiful.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Early origins of the Shalimar Bagh garden and cultural landscape go as far back as the 6th century. As it is believed that at Shalimar a villa was built by Pravarassena II in the late 6th Century, when the garden was a sacred site. The small village at the site retained the name Shalimar, while the villa and garden vanished. In the 16th century. An early Muslim King, Zain-ul-Abidin, is said to have created the canal and a bund (embankment) to Shalimar. The Farah Bakhsh, the 'Joy-Imparting' garden or lower garden of Shalimar Bagh was created by Emperor Jahangir around 1620. The construction was overseen by Prince Khurram, the later Shah Jahan. Like the Nishat Bagh, this garden was also developed along the lines of traditional chahar bagh concept. After his accession to the throne Shah Jahan added the Fayz Bakhsh, the 'Bounty-Bestowing' garden or the zenana to the earlier Farah Bakhsh at Shalimar Bagh. The work was carried out around 1630 by Zafar Khan, the Mughal governor of Kashmir and included the building of the black marble pavilion in the zenana. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The present size of the garden measures approximately 594 x 250 meters and represent five main terraces that make up two and a half chahar baghs. The whole of the royal garden was divided into two major parts according to the requirement of the royalty. The lower portion, comprising the first three terraces was the Diwan-i-Aam where the emperor used to hold public audience. The upper two terraces were exclusively for the Emperor and his courtiers and hence rightly called the Diwan-i-Khas. These two parts were screened by means of a thick masonry wall having two similar gateways at each side of the water channel. This area was also called the zenana and, as the name suggests, was a private zone for the Empress and her ladies.”
Nishat Garden (on the eastern end of the Dal Lake) is the second-largest Mughal garden in the Kashmir Valley. With the Zabarwan mountain range forming an idyllic backdrop,Nishat Bagh. was designed and built by Asif Khan, the elder brother of Mughal queen Noor Jahan, in 1633.
Nishat Bagh means or “Garden of Joy.” According to a report submitted to UNESCO:“Laid out in the 17th C. (1634) by Mirza Abul Hasan, the Nishat Bagh is amongst the most prominent gardens that the Mughals developed in the Hindustan. The bagh or garden is located directly along the eastern bank of the Dal Lake on the foot of Zabarwan mountain range. The garden stretches out over a rectangular area of approximately 116.70 acres, and measures about 556.50 x 350.00 meters, which equals 6 quarters (3 x 2) of the traditional chahar bagh concept. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“Nishat Bagh's exceptional quality lies therefore in its setting, the complex terraced layout, the play of water cascades, the views it offers, and its ecology. Length-wise, the garden consists of twelve terraces, supposedly symbolizing the twelve signs of the zodiac. The width of the garden consists of seven linear sections, which make up three main sections; a central wing with the main water features and two lower laying side wings. The terraces in the garden rise not only from the Dal Lake up the mountain side, along the length of the garden, but also along its width from the side wings to the central channel axis. The sophisticated geometrical manner by which the chahar bagh concept and terraces have been adapted to the contours of the mountainside contribute towards making Nishat Bagh one of the finest representations of traditional chahar bagh garden layouts spread across the Islamic world.
“Of key significance is the location of the garden along the bank of Dal Lake, with the lowest terrace directly connecting to the lake and with key historic views from the terraces and pavilions to the lake. The Oont Kadal, a historic bridge located in the lake, forms an integral part of the composition, as key views from the garden align with it and continue across it to the Hari Parbat Fort, which rises above Srinagar across the lake. The views towards the vast Dal Lake from each of its ascending terraces are wide and uninterrupted, presenting the full expanse of the wide Dal Lake and its western shores. The historic approach to Nishat Bagh, coming from Dal Lake and passing under the Oont Kadal on a boat, similarly offers remarkable views and reveals the full scope of the rising terraces and the wider historic agricultural landscape and mountain backdrop.
“The central axis with the water features contains the main ornamental water features and pavilions. The side wings and terraces were predominantly terraced orchard plantations with irrigation channels, terraced walks and shading avenues. The uppermost terrace was the zenana or the private section of the garden. Nishat Bagh was a more private garden than its near neighbour, the Shalimar Bagh, which was also used for holding Royal Durbars. It therefore did not require having as many associated buildings as Shalimar Bagh. Yet the magnificence of the garden is so powerful that it often enjoys more praises than the Shalimar Bagh. Key historic architectural structures include the water channel, the water cascades and pools, the fountains, the terrace walls, the boundary walls, stone abutments at the bank of the lake, pavilions, and the watch towers (burjis) at the corners of the zenana retaining wall.”
There is an interesting story about the jealousy of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who appreciated the beauty as well as the grandeur of this garden after he saw it for the first time. It is said that he articulated the admiration level three-fold, hoping Asif Khan would gift it to him. But when there was no offer from Asif Khan, Shah Jahan ordered the water supply to the garden to be stopped. The garden apparently remained deserted for some time, which left Asif Khan heartbroken. One day when he was resting under a tree, one of his loyal servants turned on the water supply source from Shalimar Bagh. Fearing the wrath of Shah Jahan for the disobedience of his orders, Asif Khan immediately ordered the water supply to be stopped. However, Shah Jahan, on hearing about this courageous act by Khan's servant, did not punish him. In fact, he appreciated the servant for his loyal service to his master and ordered full restoration of the water supply. As far as the architecture of Nishat Bagh is concerned, the layout of the garden is based on the basic concept of Persian gardens.
Chashma Shahi (Chashm-e-Shahi)
Chashma Shahi (on the southeastern side of the Dal Lake) is a garden with beautifully terraced lawns, dotted with flowerbeds. It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Kashmir, and was built in 1632 during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It is said that Shah Jahan himself had named it Chashma Shahi (Chashm-e-Shahi), after a mountain spring that watered the garden. The 108-meter-long and 38-meter-wide garden is spread over one acre and is the smallest garden among the three famous Mughal gardens, the other two being Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh.
Chashma Shahi is laid out in three tiers with a picturesque view of the Dal Lake below and snow-clad mountains providing a backdrop. The layout of the garden draws inspiration from Persian architecture and the design has Persian influences. The spring is the best time of year to visit when water flows in abundance down the terraces. The garden is divided into three parts: the aqueduct, the waterfall and fountains. On the first terrace stands a two-storey hut from where a spring originates. To the east of the garden stands the Pari Mahal or the Fairy Palace where Shah Jahan’s eldest son, Dara Shikoh, studied astrology and was later killed by his younger brother, Aurangzeb.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The garden was developed on the orders of Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 by Ali Mardan Khan around an abundant spring emerging from the slopes of the Zabarwan Mountains. The waters of the spring are renowned for their cool and rejuvenating qualities. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“Oriented on the north-south axis, the garden is arranged on three ascending terraces. The total area within the rectangular garden perimeter is approximately 1.73 acres with a width of 70.83 meters and length of 122.81 meters, approximately. The spring is sheltered under a pavilion which is of a later Kashmiri period. The water from the spring, located at the uppermost edge of the garden, is led through narrow water channels that drop sharply in the form of cascades to successive lower terrace levels. The defining feature of this garden is its very high terraces and strong Mughal character of its gateway, cascades and retaining walls.
“Chashma Shahi continues to retain the natural spring around which it was built and is unique for its high terraces, and distant, yet outstanding, views of the Dal Lake from its terraces. The garden is known to be at its best during late afternoons and evenings. This garden stands out from the rest of the gardens for its narrow rills and singular fountains within its pools - adopting the typology of early Mughal gardens of India.”
Pari Mahal (on Zebanwan mountains, overlooking Dal Lake) is a six-terraced garden. Surrounded by colorful and beautiful flowers, the garden boasts a small spring. It is quite different from other gardens in Srinagar as it does not have cascading waterfalls but a multi-terraced structure. Originally, it was planned as a Sufi school by Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The ancient monument, located on the mountain of Zabarwan, is known for the saffron that is grown here in the months of September and October.
Pari Mahal means “Palace of Fairies.” According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Pari Mahal is also located west of the city center of Srinagar, near Chasma Shahi, on the slopes of the Zebanwan mountains. Prince Dara Shukoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, built the gardens around 1650. It was built at the site of the ruins of a Buddhist Monastery and as a residential School of Sufiism at the instance of his revered spiritual tutor Mullah Shah Badakhshi. It is believed that Pari Mahal was constructed for astronomical observations and teachings or astrological calculations under the Mughals. Dara Shukoh named it after his wife Nadira Begum, supposed to be known as Pari Begum, the daughter of Prince Parviz, a son of Jahangir. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“Pari Mahal has a domed ceiling with gardens laid out on six terraces around. Arched retaining walls support the terraces, which vary in width. The garden is 122 meters by 62.5 meters at its widest. The terraces can be accessed via sets of steps on their corners. A pavilion or baradari can be found on the fourth terrace and another one connects the fifth and sixth terrace. The garden is entered from the fourth terrace where there are a series of entrance buildings, which are believed to have contained a hamman. The gardens are said to have been watered by a nearby spring. There are water tanks on the terraces, but unlike most Mughal Gardens in Kashmir, the garden contains no water channels and cascades (chadars) that feed the water tanks. Instead water is supplied through a system of underground pipes.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020