Srinagar - Tulips and Silk from Kashmir

Amazing Places: Srinagar – Tulips and Silk from Kashmir

Kashmir’s green capital Srinagar is located at an altitude of 1585 meters. It is also called the Venice of the East because of its many waterways.

Therefore, you can explore it comfortably from the water and also stay overnight on houseboats — traces of the first settlement in this place date back to the 3rd century BC.

Time seems to stand still on the rivers, lakes and waterways of Srinagar.

After the many troubles and turmoils of the past due to the Kashmir conflict – tourists are only slowly recapturing this Garden of Eden amidst the mountain ranges of the Himalayas.

On the waterways of Srinagar, you really get the feeling that time is passing more slowly. So carefully, as if he does not want to disturb this sacred half-hour between night and day, our boatman dips his paddle into the canal.

Softly, the gentle ripple seeps into the almost perfect, early morning silence.

Srinagar - Dal Lake with floating houses
Srinagar - Dal Lake with Floating Houses

Discovering the city of Srinagar

Our Shikara, the Indian answer to a Venetian gondola, seems to move forward only inches at a time. Out of the pale and unreal light, tiny wooden houses emerge that seem to grow directly out of the water.

Only silhouetted in the morning mist we can make out the mighty shadows of the Himalayan mountains that protect this magical city from reality like the guardians of a secret treasure.

We had to get up very early to make our way through the maze of waterways and canals to Srinagar’s Floating Vegetable Markets. Even my usually talkative tour group is suddenly silent in the face of the mixture of fatigue and fairy tale world surrounding us. Only a few sleepy glances follow our three Shikaras as they move almost silently through the morning haze.

When suddenly the narrow waterway widens into a large expanse, we have reached our destination – the Morning Vegetable Market on Dal lake.

It doesn’t take long for the world around us to come to life. More and more of these slender boats trickle onto the water surface of Dal Lake. They appear on all sides from the numerous waterways of the city.

As suddenly as the rising sun turns the world from a dusky blue to a soft red, the scene has transformed into a bustle of barges, captains, and merchants. Packed full of potatoes, cabbage, kohlrabi or onions, with spinach and lettuce, the helmsmen balance their floating barges across the mirror-smooth waters of Dal Lake.

They trade their goods with gestures – rupee bills are passed from boat to boat, theatrically they haggle for the best price. Everything is in motion – the floating market on the lake, where the boats are not anchored, never stands still.

After a good hour, the lively circus is over. And the restaurants and houseboats in Srinagar are supplied with vegetables and fruit for another day, as fresh as it can be.

Srinagar is widely known for its numerous mosques and temples. The Hazratbal Mosque houses the hair of the Prophet Muhammad, and the Jāmia Masjid, built as early as the 15th century, is considered the largest mosque in Kashmir.

With its “Floating Gardens” and the surrounding Shalimar – and Nishat Gardens, Dal Lake is a popular tourist destination. Industries in Srinagar include carpet and silk factories, Cashmere, jewelry and copper manufacturing, leather processing, and fine woodworking.

The historical origin of weaving cashmere fabrics is also in Srinagar. The city is famous for its handmade ethical pashmina shawls, traditional handloom weaving and textile embroidery from cashmere yarns.

People have many names for the area surrounding Srinagar, such as the “Switzerland of Asia,” the “Dream Garden of the Mughal Rulers,” or the “Emerald among the White Pearls of the Himalayas.”

The white mountain peaks of the Himalayas rise above a dreamlike landscape full of lakes. In addition, lush green forests, wild orchards, fragrant meadows and mighty glaciers characterize the region.

Climbing the stairs to the Shankaracharya temple

We decide to look at the city from above. After the first relaxing day in Srinagar, we will venture up to the Shankaracharya Temple, one of the very few Hindu structures in this Muslim city.

The Shankaracharya Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located on Gopadari Hill, southeast of Srinagar. This temple is said to have one of the oldest shrines in Kashmir Valley and is named after the great philosopher Shankaracharya. He visited the valley over ten decades ago.

The temple is located at an altitude of 335 meters above the city and is built on a high octagonal plinth. To reach the temple, we have to climb a steep stone staircase. From up there, you should have a magnificent view of the whole valley and the city of Srinagar.

Slowly but determinedly, we climb the 243 steps that lead up the Gopadari Hill to the temple. Numerous pilgrims meet us on the way. The last of the 243 stone steps are so steep that some frail pilgrims scramble up to God Shiva on all fours.

They are rewarded with three strips of a sandalwood paste (Tika) by the Brahmins waiting on the mountain.

The Tika can be applied round or oblong as a horizontal or vertical stroke. Preferred colors are red or yellow. It marks the energy center, the Third Eye,” which is supposed to be at this place and protects it. In this way, after a meditative walk around the historic temple, the third eye is said to open.

Our eyes are amazed at the breathtaking view from here on the city’s picturesque location – in the background, sublime the mountain giants of the Himalayas.

Picturesque view on Dal Lake and Srinagar

Like a gigantic triangle, the vast Dal Lake runs out below us in a bay, which is still adorned by a triangular, picturesque island in the middle.

On the shores of the mainland, the old and new cities spread out like a wildly jumbled Monopoly game. The Jhelum River intersects the board with its seven bridges.

Like Dutch Canals, the many waterways branch off from it and meander through the Metropolis of 1 million people, make a curve, flow past watered vegetable gardens and flow back into the gigantic Dal Lake, which is as large as the city itself.

A small blue dot marks the edge of Srinagar’s second lake, Nagin Lake.

Not only do the waterways of Srinagar remind us of Amsterdam – there is another amazing similarity.  Tulips – these do not originally come from Holland as many people think, but spread to Europe from what is now Turkey.

In Turkish, Persian and Urdu, tulips are known as Lâle, and this name has been used in ancient Persian writings since the 9th century. But it was not only in Turkey or the Ottoman Empire that rulers were fascinated by tulips; they were also admired further east in Central Asia.

The Mughal Empire was a state that existed on the Indian subcontinent from 1526 to 1858. At the zenith of its power at the end of the 17th century, the Mughal Empire encompassed almost the entire Indian subcontinent and parts of Afghanistan. Between 100 and 150 million people lived on 3.2 million square kilometers – almost 30 percent of the world’s population at that time.

All the early Mughal Rulers showed a great interest in the floral and wildlife of their surroundings, especially in the areas of northern India they conquered. Often we owe detailed descriptions of Indian nature and environment to the memoirs of the rulers.

Many species of tulips and roses, daffodils and hyacinths, among others, grew in the gardens they donated. Gardens, so the idea goes, reflect paradise with their blossoms and waterways.

This is another reason why the Mughal rulers had numerous gardens laid out in all the important cities of their empire. With its natural diversity of flowers and herbs, Kashmir was a special focus of the Mughals’ garden architecture.

In his memoirs, the Mughal ruler Jahângîr wrote that Kashmir was an “all-season garden” that pleased the ruler’s eye and provided a retreat for the poor people.

Meadows and waterfalls were so beautiful that they could hardly be described. In the enchanting spring, mountains and plains are covered with different kinds of flowers – and gateways, walls, backyards and roofs are lit up by tulips.

Even today, tulips play a major role in Kashmir. In 2012, Asia’s largest tulip garden, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden, was opened in Srinagar on the banks of Dal Lake.

On 12 hectares, tulips in numerous varieties and colors can be seen – including the black tulips that had fascinated the Mughal rulers more than 350 years before.

The Enchanting Mughal Gardens of Srinagar

After the strenuous climb to the Shankaracharya Temple, we decide to enjoy the fourth day after our arrival in the beautiful gardens of Srinagar. Early in the morning, we set off for the Mughal gardens of Srinagar. They were laid out in the 16th century during the time of the Mughal emperors and helped Kashmir to be called “Paradise on Earth.”

We were staying at Houseboat Ambassador and picked up by jeep – the drive to the Shalimar Bagh takes about 20 minutes. The Shalimar Bagh is probably the most famous Mughal garden in Srinagar, built by the Mughal emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan in 1619.

Immediately after entering the garden, we realized that we had seen a similar complex before. The fountains, the huge trees in whose shade visitors sit down to a picnic on manicured lawns, the perfectly trimmed flower beds with bright flowers, artfully pruned trees, terraced sections – everything reminded us of the Shalimar Garden in Lahore.

The gardens in Kashmir reportedly served as a template for the Lahore site. The place is a prime example of Mughal craftsmanship in horticulture and is very popular with tourists from all over the world.

The rectangularly designed complex, oriented in a north-east-south-west direction, is a good 12 hectares in size. It consists of four terraces, with a central axis in the form of a water channel called Shah Nahar.

The water channel is sourced from springs that rise above the Shalimar Bagh in the hills at the foot of Mount Bahmak. The canal connects the Ravi River with Srinagar, and it flows through the basins on all four terraces.

The garden also features fountains arranged in regular rows, sightlines of plane trees and rich floral decorations. After flowing through the garden, the watercourse pours into the Dal Lake. Access to the garden was originally only possible by water from the lowest terrace.

We spent quite some time at Shalimar Bagh, eating the watermelon we had brought with us and enjoying the sun, the view of the mountains and the relaxing peace.

Nishat Bagh - Garden of Delight

After we had refreshed ourselves at the Shalimar Bagh, we went on to the Nishat Bagh on the shores of the Dal Lake. We covered the distance on foot because you can walk along the Foreshore Road along the promenade of Dale Lake and reach the Nishat Bagh Mugal Garden in about 25 minutes.

Nishat Bagh is considered the second largest and most important garden in the valley of Kashmir after the royal Shalimar Gardens. “Nishat Bagh” is Urdu and means “Garden of Delight.” – Although it was not commissioned by a Mughal emperor and is therefore not a royal garden, it received great admiration everywhere because of its beauty.

Like other gardens in the Dal Lake region, the Nishat Bagh is not on level ground. Therefore, the typical Chahar Bagh Design had to be modified to suit the land’s topography. The architects had to move the water source from the traditional center of the square garden to the garden’s highest point.

The garden is rectangular shaped, 544 meters long and 329 meters wide, facing east-west towards Dal Lake. The garden has twelve terraces, each associated with a zodiac sign.

The terraces begin at the public’s road level that connects the garden’s watercourse to Dal Lake, and the twelfth terrace is located in the Zenana Garden.

A central watercourse, almost four meters wide and 20 centimeters deep, flows from the top of the garden through a fountain-adorned channel that occasionally splits into fountain pools.

Chadars, stone ramps engraved with wave patterns to embellish the flowing water, convey the water between the different terraces. At several points, stone benches cross the axial watercourse near a chadar and serve as seating platforms for visitors to rest on and enjoy the beauty of this garden.

The garden was initially planted mainly with cypresses and fruit trees.

Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden

If you are still in the mood to find out how beautiful nature can be, Srinagar is the place to be. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden, covered in tulips in every direction, feels like a place straight out of a movie.

It is the largest tulip garden in all of Asia! Everywhere you look, there is a variety of colorful flowers. Besides the tulips, roses, hyacinths and daffodils also adorn this garden in the lap of the mountains. Note, however, that the tulips only bloom in March and April

We can really recommend a visit to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden to every visitor of  Srinagar, as it is unique in its location.

Surrounded by mountains, some of which are still covered in snow, you can let your eyes roam over the vast 30-hectare sea of tulips.

Over 1.2 million tulips of 60 varieties, spread over 200 channels, are displayed in the garden. Several benches invite you to linger and enjoy the view.

Opposite the exit of the garden, there is an interesting exhibition of Kashmiri handicrafts and some offerings of traditional Kashmiri food, Wazwan.

We could taste the latter at very reasonable prices, in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian forms – a masterpiece of Kashmiri cuisine.

The Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in Srinagar is the largest tulip garden in Asia! The magnificent garden is covered not only with tulips but also with roses, hyacinths and daffodils.

The best time to visit the garden is in March-April when the tulips are in full bloom.

Cashmere Sweater

Cashmere Sweater

Cashmere Sweater

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Silk and Cashmere from Srinagar

In former times, the former Silk Road led from Kashgar – the last stop on Chinese territory – over the Pamir Mountains through the Nubra Valley to the former capital of Kashmir and from there on to India. Camel caravans brought valuable silk from China to Srinagar.

The Silk Trade flourished in ancient times and has remained the most important industry in Kashmir to the present day. Even today, silk fabrics from Srinagar are in great demand because of their excellent craftsmanship. Kashmiri silk textile and silk goods, have established a name for themselves worldwide for their incredible quality, stunning shades and colors.

According to historical evidence, the silk fabrics from Kashmir were exported to many different cultures worldwide, like the Persians, Greeks and Roman Empires. Moreover, during the medieval period, the Mughals were great admirers of silk clothing and highly supported this specific industry in the Kashmir Valley.

Making Kashmiri Silk Carpets and other handmade goods is a major process in itself, and even though the prices may seem high, it is the amount of work and time that goes into it.

From those perfect designs in stunning colors and excellent quality, owning a piece in Kashmiri silk is nothing less than owning a work of art.

Today Srinagar is a major center for carpet making in the region. The Silk Industry and its associated activities employ over 50000 people and provide approximately Rs. Six crores (60 million) to the state’s income.

It also offers raw materials for the production of Shawls, Sarees, Carpets, Gabhas, Namda, Hosiery, and Needlework. Furthermore, it aids in the usage of culturable waste and less productive tracts for the various silk textile operations.

Srinagar definitely occupies a special place in the city textile industry. The beauty of the handicraft and silk carpets and goods will continue mesmerizing everyone who lays their eyes on it.


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