Bowled over by Siraj Bagh

When you visit the picturesque Kashmir Valley in spring, do not miss the opportunity to tour Siraj Bagh garden overlooking the Dal Lake, writes Ehsan Fazili

The garden shot into the limelight for the first time in last April for being the only garden with such a large number of tulips in Kashmir. Thousands of local as well as domestic tourists visited the garden last summer. It is spread over 700 kanals and located between between Harwan-Shalimar and Nishat-Chashmeshahi.

The biggest and ideally located tulip garden to be developed in Asia, Siraj Bagh can serve as a locale for shooting movies. The biggest and ideally located tulip garden to be developed in Asia, Siraj Bagh can serve as a locale for shooting movies.
The biggest and ideally located tulip garden to be developed in Asia, Siraj Bagh can serve as a locale for shooting movies. ó Photos by the writer

It was known as Shirazi Bagh in earlier times, after the name of a senior official who headed the department in the Maharajaís times. The development of the tulip garden is expected to give a fillip to the tourist industry and could become a locale for shooting films.

About four lakh tulips are being planted this season. The garden will be ready by the coming spring. The peak flowering season for tulips is between March and May.

The Mughal gardens are being developed with the help of INTACH. Siraj Bagh should emerge, within two years, as the biggest garden in Asia decorated with rare local, national and international flower species.

Having found the garden in a dilapidated condition, the Chief Minister had issued instructions to develop it on a priority basis. Immediate steps were taken by the Floriculture Department and according to R L Pandita, former Director Floriculture, the garden was opened in April last year. It was decorated with lakhs of tulips that were planted in November last.

"This is the biggest and ideally located tulip garden to be developed in Asia", said Syed Imtiyaz Ahmad, Project Manager, Siraj Bagh. "This is a unique place for the emphasis would be only on tulip cultivation", said the official.

This garden will have European variety of tulips. The garden is the part of a three-unit landscape of floriculture which is becoming a great attraction for tourists, local, domestic and international. The other two units are the famed botanical garden spread over 1380 kanals of land and PI section, spread over 460 kanals.

With this the entry system would be introduced for Siraj Bagh next April like six other main gardens under the Floriculture Department, the officials said.

Not only the natural landscape snowcapped and pine-dotted mountains, lakes, rivers and rivulets, make Kashmir valley attractive for tourists from across the country and the globe, the gardens have also been laces of great attraction. In Srinagar, the Dal Lake and Mughal Gardens of Shalimar, Nishat and Cheshma Shahi are the most famed.

Shalimar garden, built by Emperor Jehangir for his beloved wife, Noor Jehan, with four terraces is 539 by 182 metres and gets water from Harwan through a canal lined with fountains. The fourth terrace had been once reserved for royal ladies. Nishat garden was laid in 1633 AD by Noor Jehanís brother Asif Khan in the backdrop of Zabarwan hills. Cheshma Shahi or the Royal Spring was laid by Emperor Shah Jehan in 1632 AD, and is famous for refreshing digestive water. Two kilometres uphill from Cheshma Shahi is situated the Pari Mahal, a school of astrology founded by Prince Dara Shakoo, Emperor Shah Jehanís eldest son who was killed in the
war of succession. The Cheshma Shahi-Pari Mahal has been developed as a tourist village. The Siraj Bagh located between the botanical garden and PI unit is close to the Cheshma Shahi.

One of the most beautiful flowers, tulip has its origin in Persia (Iran), and had been introduced in the Europe in 17th century, where it had been developed in different varieties, opine the experts.

Kashmir due to its geophysical and climatic conditions has also its "indigenous variety of tulip, but now Europe leads the world in its commercial and recreational cultivation", comments Syed Imtiyaz Ahmad Project Manager.

Siraj Bagh, which has become home to tulips in Kashmir, has a unique and feasible topography with a plane area in the centre that suits different varieties of flowers. It has slopes suited for different varieties of fruit plants and hilly slopes with wilderness suitable for wild flora and bushes.

Out of the total land, 400 kanals have been marked for flower cultivation including cultivation of tulips. Other flowers include gerberas, gladiolis, alestromaria, roses, carnations and lillium that are being grown for cut-flower business and local consumption.

Flowers would be in full bloom, beginning with the tulips in the spring. But the entry would be only on a nominal payment like six other major gardens under the Floriculture Department.

Last year the Department earned Rs 1.50 crore from the entry fee into the gardens.