The Beauty of the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar

Ever wondered how gardens in paradise look like? Look no further. The Mughal Gardens in Srinagar take you as close to paradise you can get on this planet.

WORDS BY- AMOG

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The land of Kashmir, popularized by old Bollywood movies as ‘Paradise on Earth’ stands quite true to this promise. In fact, Emperor Akbar, tired of the heat in his capital city, spent three consecutive summers in Kashmir and with each summer, his love for the place grew even more. Soon enough, Kashmir became the summer resort to successive Emperors as well, including Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. To Jahangir, Kashmir seemed a paradise of which ‘priests had prophesied and poets sung’. For nearly a century and a half, these four great Emperors came, from far away Delhi and Agra, with glittering retinues and splendid state, from the dusty glamour of an Indian court to the cool and quiet of a Kashmiri summer.

Jahangir spent fourteen summers in the Valley of Kashmir, coming in with the blossoming of the lilac and the wild iris in the spring, and setting out back towards the hot plains of India when the saffron flowers had bloomed in autumn. He died in Bahram-Galah (a small village near Poonch), almost within the sight of his beloved Kashmir.

The Mughal rule in Kashmir may not have been impressionable politically but it will always be remembered for the eternal legacy they left behind, including the gardens they built, and the arts and crafts they serenaded.

The celebrated Mughal Gardens of Kashmir owe their grandeur primarily to Emperor Jahangir and his son Shah Jahan. Jahangir was responsible for the careful selection of the site and maneuvering 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.

Almost all popular Mughal gardens in Kashmir except Verinag follow a similar pattern with a central water channel sourced at natural springs. Avenues of poplars or chinar trees further enhanced this channel, which formed the central visual axis of the garden. 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.

Laid out in the 17th C. (1634 AD) by Mirza Abul Hasan, the Nishat Bagh is amongst the most prominent gardens that the Mughals developed in the erstwhile Hindustan. The bagh or garden is located directly along the eastern bank of the Dal Lake on the foot of Zabarwan mountain range. 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.

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 royal garden of Achabal is located near Anantnag predates the arrival of the Mughals in Kashmir. The spring at the Achabal Bagh was popular at one time for its curative values and the amount of water it supplied. The Achabal Bagh, with its abundant Chinar trees and roaring water channels, is yet another embodiment of the Mughal landscape genius demonstrated in Kashmir.

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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. Pari Mahal is also located west of the city centre of Srinagar, near Chasma Shahi, on the slopes of the Zebanwan Mountains.

Verinag is an octagonal pavilion-garden, built around a spring. Verinag was the personal favourite of Emperor Jahangir and it was his great wish to be buried here.

These gardens seemed to be untouched by time. It still slows down a little when one takes a stroll across these gardens. And a first-hand experience is a must.