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Friday, June 29, 2012

Gardens at Srinagar (Kashmir) – Chashme Shahi

Until the recent past, we had all wooden bridges over rivers, rivulets and canals which got dismantled and replaced with concrete ones. The highway to Jammu is getting widened and a railway line is fast coming up. We shall see a direct train service from Srinagar within 2 years. The number of tourists visiting Kashmir this year is  phenomenal and all past records got broken. We do not have beggary as such but there are few who, to remain lazy, avoid working and solicit alms. This was what our driver had to share with us enthusiastically. He was taking us for a local tour of Srinagar. We were passing through the narrow strip of the extensive Dal Lake, a little early in the morning. On the other bank of the lake we could see many of the house boats in a row and few shikaras (roofed boats) floating around. The road we were taking is referred to as the Marine Drive locally which offers an excellent view of the lake for the whole distance. Roads and the footpaths were exceptionally clean.

Shalimar, Chashme Shahi and Nishat are the names of the major parks at Srinagar which are all Mughal Gardens. All of them are located on the Eastern banks of the Dal Lake with a shore line of over 15 kilometres. On the rear side, there is the  Zabarwan mountain ranges with many springs that are the source of perennial water supply to the gardens below. The topography would have facilitated the development of these gardens, not only during the Mughal period but much much earlier. The city of Srinagar was founded by a king known as Pravarasena.

Before our vehicle could reach the tail end of the lake along with which the road went, our driver made a right turn on a road adjoining the Botanical Gardens and told us that we are approaching the Governor’s residence. The security positioned on the road made all of us to climb down leaving behind children. The vehicle moved on and we made our way on foot to catch our car at a distance. We could not understand the purpose of this exercise, may be security considerations. After a short distance from that point the famous Chashme Shahi stood before us. The same road leads to another place known as Pari Mahal which was a Buddhist Vihara once upon a time.

We were required to buy tickets for entry into this park, There were tourists from all parts of the country but strangely no foreigners. Kashmiri folk lore attributes the discovery of the natural spring to a women saint named ‘Rupa Bhawani’. Her family name or nick name was ‘Sahibi’ and therefore the spring waters came to be known as ‘Chashme Sahibi’. Over a period of time the name got corrupted and  is now known as ‘Chashme Shahi’. Shahi stands for being Royal. However the garden around the spring was developed in a systematic way at the instance of Ali Mardan, a Governor of the Mughals in that region.

The outlet of the spring waters has been encased in a small structure and the waters fall in a square shallow tank and from here  the water channel facilitates further flow downwards. There were many who were queuing up to have some mouthfuls of the spring water which is said to have medicinal properties. Some say it cures many kinds of stomach ailments. Normally spring water from the mountains is considered to contain minerals and supposed to be pure. Medicinal and/or magical attributions are simply an exaggerated view point. We also struggled our way to the spot wherefrom waters flowed out and filled couple of bottles. Definitely the water was much superior to the ones we buy (processed and bottled).

This is the rear view of the main entrance

The mountain slope seems to have been levelled up in three tiers (terraced) for the development of a beautiful garden. There are Chinar and Cypress trees at the far end. Some exotic flowering trees have also been spotted. The flower beds have seasonal flowers in bloom. Roses have been grown extensively but looking to the grandeur of the garden, the varieties available (4/5) seem to be inadequate. However, the blooms and greenery all around was very soothing and captivated us.

The crowd here is to get them photographed in the traditional attire

Interestingly, the gardeners  were offering the seeds of the seasonal flowers of all shades at a high price.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Kashmir - a dream comes true

We have been looking forward for an opportunity to visit the northern part of India called Jammu & Kashmir. However, militant activities thereat prevented us from risking ourselves for decades. Now that peace seems to have been restored a suggestion from a friend encouraged us. We decided to go in a group of 10. We had to decide upon the mode of conveyance. There are regular flights from New Delhi to Srinagar but the fares seemed to be prohibitive. Therefore we ended up booking ourselves with a reliable tour operator at Srinagar and surrendered to him for the week long itinerary.

Our actual journey began by train from Bhopal to Jammu Tawi on the 5th June morning. After over 24 hours we were at Jammu the next day morning around 10.30 AM. We had a very nice time for having had the company of a cute little friend and his frolics.
Two vehicles were already positioned there at the Jammu Railway Station to take us onwards to Srinagar which is at a distance of 300 kilometres. Jammu station seems to be built on a hillock because all the roads from there make you go down.

Jammu Railway Station

The journey by road was not all that pleasant although the vehicle was spacious and the terrain we traversed was picturesque. The vehicle was winding its way through the hills, sometimes going down to be very close to the Tawi river and some times going too up to catch the clouds. When we were happy to learn that  we were half through our journey, we were caught in a terrific traffic jam. Incidentally the vehicular traffic between Jammu and Srinagar is very high and domesticated buffalos have a right of way. 

Traffic moved inch by inch and after about 2 hours we were able to speed-up  to be caught in yet another jam. This time we came to see a dam in a beautiful surrounding where some eating joints existed. The dam is known as Baglihar. Hydel power is generated there. We had our fill and continued our journey.

After completing around 240 kilometres, it seemed as if we are in the plains. We were at a place known as Kazigund, a small town full of activity. There were plenty of restaurants around and we thought of finishing off our dinner there but some wanted to reach the hotel, we were booked in at Srinagar. Therefore we rang up the hotel management to arrange for our dinner past 10.30 PM.

Area surrounding our hotel
By the time we reached our destination, it was well past 11.00 PM with a delay of 3 hours.

This post is just a preamble. Subsequent posts will take your through the beautiful valley, glimpses of people and a peep into the culture.