At Almond Alcove | Splendid Spring

At Almond Alcove | Splendid Spring
Photo: Mubashir Khan/GK

While the tourists visiting the beautiful Srinagar downtown garden are pleasantly surprised and left spellbound with an experience to remember for eternity, locals go down the memory lane and recall the festivities the garden witnessed. Greater Kashmir Senior Editor, Nazir Ganaie interacts with the mesmerised visitors and locals at the fragrant Badam Waer.

Come spring and Badam Waer (Badamwari) becomes a must-go-to place for all tourists, visitors and locals as the officials have thrown open the park amidst the arrival of the spring season in the Kashmir region.

Badamwari garden has become one of the important spring tourist attractions of Kashmir. The garden is spread over an area of more than 300 kanal and is dotted with hundreds of almond trees—which bloom en masse, providing a soothing experience to the visitors.

Not just the Badamwari, the other gardens including the Mughal gardens of Kashmir are also turning into colourful and buzzing places with almond and cherry blossoms.

Officials at the Department of Tourism, Kashmir say that to promote tourism and revive traditional cultural activities across the region, the aromatic Badamwari located on the foothills of Hari Parbat in Srinagar downtown remains open for visitors who were coming in droves.

After a successful and booming winter tourism season in Kashmir, the officials are hoping to receive a record number of tourists during this season too for exploring the beautiful locales of the Valley.

‘’We decided to come to Kashmir. Luckily, our tour operator suggested that we visit this place and see almond blossoms. Since it wasn’t in our itinerary, we highly appreciated him for suggesting this place as we would have missed a great deal of fun and pictures by not visiting here,” says Treena Banerji, a tourist from Kolkata. “We thought it was going to be any other normal garden. We had resisted initially as we had just a few trees in our minds. It’s such a beautiful spot. I think everyone would be amazed. Kashmir has been a beautiful surprise for me, we really didn’t plan but spring is a lovely time to visit and everyone here is so genuine and hospitable. We are extremely happy with our visit to the Valley.”

A huge number of locals as well as tourists are thronging this ‘Almond Alcove’. The social media sites including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others are already filled with pictures of the Badamwari. The government hopes that all the previous records of tourist arrivals would be broken this spring.

“I’ve visited this place for the first time and I must say it has left me spellbound. It is an experience to remember for eternity,” says a blogger, Trishal, from Mumbai, Maharashtra. “What inspired me to write a blog on this aromatic garden are the experiences I’ve had when I visited this majestic place in the winter.”

Alejo, a tourist hailing from Argentina, told Greater Kashmir that he had arrived in India amidst the peak COVID scare and got stuck during the lockdown. He says that during this time he, along with his sister, visited many Indian states and cities.

“When we arrived in Srinagar, we thought we were back home. We have many beautiful valleys back in our county. Kashmir left us spellbound. When you talk about places like Badamwari, Mughal gardens, Doodptahri, and Drung, all you need is to take a deep breath and immerse in its natural beauty,” says Alejo.

A group of tourists says that Kashmir was an all-season destination. “Each season has its own charm. However, the infrastructure is not up to the mark. For that the government must rope in investors and also do the baseline surveys,” they say.

A Garden of Memories

Several bloggers say that they were enchanted to visit Badamwari after getting drawn by the watercolours depicting its erstwhile glory and the picnicking family re-created the magic that they had gone seeking.

Svetlana, a New Delhi blogger, says that while once a blooming Badamwari meant the advent of spring, in recent years, the restored garden symbolised a bleak ray of hope to the bruised psyche of the local people.

“It is better to be late than never, and maybe one day the blooming almond trees of Badamwari will again ring with greetings of Navreh Mubarak and spring festivities, just like the ‘good old days of peace and harmony,” she says.

“Badamwari is just not a garden, it is a witness to the winds of change in Kashmir,” Svetlana says. “I spotted a young couple with children seated under the trees on a picnic carpet. They had their Samovar steaming next to them, and Wazwan spread out in a multitude of serving trays as their small children kicked balls nearby. The image of the small family gathered under the blooming almond trees at Badamwari made my heart unreasonably happy that day and suddenly, my friend’s grandfather’s emotion-charged statement rang through my mind.”

Shahida Fazili, a local entrepreneur, recalled how she was brought up by her grandmother at Nowshera.

“Badamwari was a kind of must-visit place for us. My grandmother used to make tea in Samovar and the entire family used to have tea there in the garden,” she recalled, “I remember eating water chestnuts (Gaer) was a must for all of us. I have many memories and emotions attached to this place. In school, I had a friend at Hawal and she used to invite us when there was a mela at Badamwari,” enchanted Fazili says.

Pertinently, a watercolour ‘Kashmiri’s enjoying almond blossoms at Badamwari painted by eminent artist Dina Nath Wali in 1952 depicts families dressed in watercolour additional Pheran, enjoying the day out. From 1953 to 1963, when former Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad headed the state government, musical programmes were regular weekend events here.

Prominent painter, Masood Hussain, recalls how he used to enjoy going to Badamwari with his parents in the early 1960s to enjoy the Kashmiri Wazwan and be with friends. But like so many things, the Badamwari festival fell prey to years of violence. The area around the orchard was encroached upon, the chabutaras and resting places turned into ruins and the orchard became a caricature of its past glory. In 2008, an effort to revive what was left of Kashmir’s rich heritage was made in a public-private partnership with the J&K Bank. The area was given a formalised layout with hundreds of trees adorning the paved walkways, and the arched gates and chabutaro were rebuilt in accordance with old Kashmiri architectural styles.

Recalling his childhood days in the garden, Medico and columnist Dr Suneem Khan, says the moment someone talks about Badamwari one gets nostalgic. He says that the people of Srinagar downtown have countless memories of the garden.

Samovar of Nun Chai, Kandi Kulcha, Tchtvor, day-long excursion with the heavenly sight of seeing both my grannies (maternal and paternal) chit-chatting and lounging in the most graceful manner one could imagine,” he says.

Badamwari: Garden of Festivities

Prominent artists, especially folk singers of the Kashmir region would perform and people carrying tea in traditional Samovars and goodies in willow baskets would converge at the almond orchards. The boundless beauty of Kashmir is reflected in its iconic images. If autumn is about blushing Chinars and pale poplars, the white and pink almond blossoms typify spring in the Valley.

The almond flower is a delicate, beautiful thing, with its pale-blush petals. When in bloom, the whole tree looks like a prettily-painted umbrella.

Badam or almond trees grow all over the Valley, but the two gardens at Badam Bagh and Badam Wari went beyond beauty to become symbols of cultural, social, and artistic celebrations.

“I remember going to Badam Bagh and Badamwari with my grandfather and Sufiyana maestro, Ghulam Muhammad Qaleenbaaf as he used to perform Maqams at these places and people used to throng in good numbers,” Sufiyana Mausiqi maestro, Muhammad Yaqoob Shiekh, told Greater Kashmir. “Today if you go to Badam Bagh, there won’t be any trace of any almond tree and the Badamwari too fell to encroachers and official apathy.”

Another artist and composer, Muneer Ahmad Mir says that there was a time when visitors came from far and near to the thrill and beauty of the almond blossom.

“After the harsh winter, spring brought back cheer and a reason to celebrate. In our childhood a proper spring festival used to be organised in Badamwari,” he says.

Seetha Venkatesh, a south Indian traveller, told Greater Kashmir that the beautiful landscapes of Kashmir lent colour and hue to her book last summer with many pictures and stories to tell.

“As one traverses through the Valley, we experience that, unlike other places where we search and go to tourist spots and attractions, every inch here is one that takes one’s breath away with its beauty,” she says. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. This is the mantra that I live by, and it fills not just many colourful pages in my travelogue but also fills my life with many stories to tell.”

Seetha says that amidst the chaos and controversies that surround the place which initially makes a tourist wonder if they should choose Kashmir as their next holiday destination, they experienced a certain oneness and serenity with Kashmir’s beautiful nature and people.

“Definitely this ‘Paradise on Earth’ we all should explore and experience once. The serene Dal Lake with its hustle and bustle activity of tourists and houseboat vendors, the snow-capped mountains at Gulmarg which offer one the taste of a winter feel, and the breath-taking beauty of Pahalgam with its picturesque hills, streams and rivulets on the way make us feel that we are indeed in another world - a literal paradise! If I am to share how it felt in very few words all I can say is, ‘There is magic in the air!’ Magic that weaves its way into the hearts of all who visit and like a child one is awestruck with that experience for a lifetime.”

Revival of Badamwari

Jammu and Kashmir Bank took the initiative to revive Badamwari and the restored popular garden was reopened for the public in 2008. The revival sent waves of happiness and hope among the Kashmiris in particular. Locals say that the Badamwari is a symbol of spring as this almond blossom is the first to bloom in Kashmir valley. During the opening ceremony, local artists perform several cultural activities including traditional Kashmiri folk songs and group dance.

The early bloom of flowers on almond trees in the sprawling historic Badamwari garden downtown has become a source of attraction for nature lovers and tourists alike.

The historic garden is situated on the foothills of Koh-e-Maran. The 300 kanal garden was dotted with trees, flowers and cascades providing a soothing experience to the visitors. Historians maintain there was no record to suggest who laid the garden but they say it existed even before the rule of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin in the 14th century. A well-covered dome covering a well in the garden is named after an Afghan ruler, Waris Shah and would be referred to by the locals as ‘Waris Khan’s Tchah’. The bloom on the almond trees heralded spring. The garden is ideal for family picnics or enjoying the beauty of nature. The place has since become a destination for youngsters.

“I went with my friends and clicked selfies; it’s so much fun,” says Zareen, a law student from the University of Kashmir. “One can only hope that these efforts will result in Badamwari returning to its original glory.”

On the arrival of the spring season in Kashmir, she is reminded of this famous couplet from the poet of Kashmir, Mehjoor, “Wanda tchali, sheen gali, beyi yi bahar,”— “winter will end, the snow will melt and again spring will come.”

 Officials Speak

Newly appointed Secretary to Government, Department of Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir, Syed Abid Rasheed Shah told Greater Kashmir that the visitors must feel the joy of spring in the air and take a dip into the beauty of vibrant tulip and almond blooms.

He says that there are several splendid places in Jammu and Kashmir, where tourists and visitors must go and get enthralled, adding that the Department of Tourism was taking every possible measure to ensure hassle-free services reach the tourists visiting the areas.

Director, Department of Tourism, Kashmir, Fazl ul Haseeb, says that after a successful and booming winter season, the government was expecting that more and more tourists would come to Kashmir this spring.

He says that the Department of Tourism had done all the formalities to welcome tourists from across the world.

He says that with each passing season, the department was redoing its strategy and working closely with the stakeholders to ensure that the tourists have a pleasant stay in Kashmir.

The director said that the Department of Tourism, Kashmir was anticipating a comparatively much high flow of tourists this year, as over one lakh tourists had already visited the Valley in February.

“The Department is working on several methods to prepare itself for the upcoming tourist season. We are working on scientific methods to calculate the number of tourists given it is an age of big data,” he says. “We are collecting data based on scientific methods besides also collecting data from registered and unregistered hotels also.”

The Tourism Department of Kashmir is planning to celebrate the full spring season across the various gardens of Srinagar City. The festival will start from Badamwari as almond flowers are the first to bloom.

‘’We will have a full-fledged Badamwari festival by mid-March. We are waiting for the full bloom. We are also planning festivals in offbeat destinations like Yusmarg and Pampore. We are expecting a good season. We had a great season last year and even this year we will have a great season. A lot of promotion will bear fruit and it’s a great place to visit and I am sure people will,’’ Fazl ul Haseeb, told Greater Kashmir.

Haseeb says that in order to mark the beginning of the spring season in Kashmir, the Directorate of Tourism, Kashmir organised a cycling expedition from Badamwari, Srinagar.

Talking about the garden, Director Floriculture Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad, says that the almond tree was one of the earliest blooming trees whose bloom is magnificent and attracts both local and national tourists and visitors equally.

He says that the bloom percentage in the garden is almost 30 per cent and in a week’s time peak bloom was expected.

“As of now only 20 per cent of almond trees are in bloom but in a few days, the garden will witness complete bloom. Apart from almonds, different varieties of flowers are also present which make the garden more breath-taking and colourful,” he says, adding “Badamwari has a very rich legacy and we want to preserve the same. More and more people should visit Badamwari like they visit Tulip Garden every year.”

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