Blooming dale

Splash of Colours

Blooming dale

The Tulip Garden in Srinagar. Photo by author

It appeared as though a rainbow had descended from its towering abode. Beautiful VIBGYOR colours, all laid out in a meticulous fashion. There were rows of yellow competing for attention, while baby pink was rubbing shoulders with crimson red. Not a shade from the palette seemed to be missing. To my eyes what looked like an endless sea of colour was in effect a floral profusion of the graceful tulip at Siraj Bagh in Srinagar, a first-of-its-kind garden in India.
 
Many an ode has been penned in honour of the Valley’s beauty. Each season here is to be cherished for its uniqueness. Spring in the naturally-blissful summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir got an added flavour ever since tulips were introduced here three years back. For around 45 days from mid-March, the tulip garden overlooking the popular Dal Lake  has over a million blooms of nearly seventy varieties. Sprawling over many acres, it’s prettily built in three tiers and dotted with fountains. In its backdrop are the Zabarwan hills, which seem to hold it in an embrace, completing the picture-perfect setting. 

Earlier, countries in Europe, with Holland leading the list, were the closest destinations to see such a spread of tulips. No longer. Srinagar has drawn over a lakh of domestic and international visitors till date, who come here to admire the tulip garden. As I took my maiden stroll among these tulips, I came across a group of school boys who said they made it a point to be here as often as they could. “The flowers are so stunning! But they last for such a short while. So we come here at least thrice a week to see this carpet of beauty.” The arrival of tulips has, in fact, advanced the tourist season in the Valley by two months. In keeping with the rush and demand for added features, a tulip museum, food court and gaming arena for children were introduced last year at the adjacent Zabarwan Park.   

Tulip festival 

To mark the peak blooming season, a Tulip Festival is organised during the first week of April, held amidst the silken fields at Siraj Bagh and a few other venues. The 10-day celebration presents a slice of ‘Kashmiriyat’. On view are some distinct demonstrations of art and culture but the real treat is getting acquainted with such cultural expositions that still haven’t stepped out of the state as part of inter-region fairs.

Amongst the popular performing arts is ‘Rouf’, a dance where a group of women pirouette to lilting tunes. Their already beautiful frames are accentuated by heavily-sequined traditional costumes and their gentle swirling adds fluidity to a performance.  ‘Bhand Pather’ is the other typical event. In this traditional musical folk theatre of Kashmir, artistes scorch the stage with their forceful portrayals. Most plays are based on social ills and satire is gainfully used to send across a message for uplifting society and spreading harmony. The state’s multi-dimensional heritage is also witnessed at stalls exhibiting handicrafts such as paper-mache, wood carvings and copper smithery. The numerous vendors retailing eye-catching embroidered—crewel (aari) and sozini (needlework) such as pashmina shawls, stoles, suits, bags and other accessories attract a large number of visitors. 

Craft apart, what’s a visit to a region without getting to savour local cuisine? The tulip fest takes care of that with authentic flavours offered at a number of spots. Chosen dishes from the ‘wazwan’, including widely-relished mutton fare such as ‘gushtaba’ — meatballs in yogurt, ‘rogan josh’, ‘tabak maaz’ etc as well as some typical vegetarian dishes like ‘haak’ (spinach), ‘nadroo’ (lotus-roots), ‘rajma’ and rice among other delicacies can be savoured.

A cup of ‘kehva’ (Kashmiri green tea flavoured with almonds and cardamom), brewed to perfection in the ‘samovar’ remains a welcome beverage anytime. If you want to visit restaurants and dig deeper into Kashmiri cuisine, Mughal Darbar, Anarkali and Adoos are popular eateries here. When in Srinagar, it’s recommended to try a fantastic variety of Kashmiri breads rarely visible outside the state like ‘baqerkhani’, a sort of puff pastry and ‘tsot’ and ‘tsochvuru’ that are buns topped with poppy/sesame seeds.

You can’t go to Srinagar and not stay in a houseboat on the Dal Lake. The stationary floats are a legacy of the British who weren’t allowed to buy property here. They have fanciful names  like Anarkali, Hollywood Dreams and are dressed in traditional aesthetics. The owners reside on board and take care of all needs of visitors — right from arranging shikara rides to cooking dishes of their choice. Srinagar is a place that’s needs to be experienced at least once in your lifetime. The company of tulips makes it doubly special.

Travel tips

* The Tulip festival will be held next month from April 5-15.
* Entry ticket to the garden costs Rs 50.
* Air: Daily flights from Delhi. Srinagar airport is 14 km from city. Coaches are available between airport and the city. A taxi ride costs about Rs 250. 
* Train: Nearest railway station is
Jammu (305 km) 
* Road: NH-1A connecting Srinagar-Jammu via Jawahar tunnel is an all-weather road. Taxis take around 8 hours to cover the distance.

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