Cheerful blossoms and a fruit paradise Kashmir

Kashmir conveys unmistakable signs of a layered existence one needs to embark upon a lifetime’s journey to explore. Know more about the region through the book, Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit, written by Irfan Nabi and Nilosree Biswas

The mention of Kashmir immediately brings to mind its quintessential elements. The breathtaking locales, glorious historical monuments known for their intricate architecture, the magical play of light and shadow, the legendary Pashmina shawls, the Kashmiri carpets-each piece a sheer work of art, beautiful handicrafts that are a part of the Kashmiri society and legacy, memorable shikara rides in Dal lake, beautiful people and their warm homes and not to forget, the innumerable scenes from Bollywood movies and songs that have been shot here.

But these are aspects of Kashmir that we already know about. Through the book, Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit, let’s take a look at certain lesser explored facets of the ethereal beauty of this culturally diverse land. It’s time to sense, feel and absorb the flavour, textures and smells of the Valley. Some excerpts.

“It was not mere love of beauty and colour that impels them, but a spirit of thanksgiving that the winter with its miseries of cold and dreary monotony of white snow has passed, and that earth has come to life again with all her bright flowers and promise of kindly fruits.”

-Walter Lawrence, Settlement Commissioner of Kashmir (between 1889–1894)

Spring is heaven in Kashmir and noticing the first blossom of spring after the departure of Kashmir Valley’s bitter winter is sacrosanct for the Kashmiris. Such is the impact of the new almond blossoms over the hearts of people in the Kashmir Valley, that they cheer up and rejoice with new vigour at the happy sight. It is time for rejuvenation and life appears in new colours with a variety of blossoms flowering in every corner. As bright sunshine bathes the region after a harsh winter, blue skies and cheerful weather approach and new blooms like almonds, apples, peaches, pears, cherries and the bright yellow mustard flowers paint a riot of colours on nature’s canvas, lending the air freshness and a sweet fragrance – signalling the arrival of spring.

Spring is heaven in Kashmir and noticing the first blossom of spring after the departure of Kashmir Valley’s bitter winter is sacrosanct for the Kashmiris. Such is the impact of the new almond blossoms over the hearts of people in the Kashmir Valley, that they cheer up and rejoice with new vigour at the happy sight. It is time for rejuvenation and life appears in new colours with a variety of blossoms flowering in every corner. As bright sunshine bathes the region after a harsh winter, blue skies and cheerful weather approach and new blooms like almonds, apples, peaches, pears, cherries and the bright yellow mustard flowers paint a riot of colours on nature’s canvas, lending the air freshness and a sweet fragrance – signalling the arrival of spring.

ALMOND

Almond, along with mustard is one of the most important cash crops of the Valley. There’s a history to almond blossoms in the Kashmir Valley that is still fondly remembered by the locals. The new almond blossoms are a visual treat and legend goes, that Emperor Akbar desired to experience the spectacle of blossoming almonds. However, when he was scheduled to arrive in the Valley it was rightly perceived that the trees would not be in bloom. The locals came up with an idea. In a particular almond garden the trees were covered with snow at the root for a long time, thus disallowing the branches to blossom at normal springtime. When the emperor was about to reach Kashmir the snow was removed and in no time the trees blossomed!

The largest concentration of almond trees in Srinagar is in the garden of Badamvaer or Bagh-e-Wariskhan (Almond orchard) located at the foot of the Hari Parbat Fort in Srinagar. Badamvaer in the Kashmiri language means ‘the garden of almond blossoms’. Afghan rulers perhaps laid out the almond gardens around the hill as the gardens today continue to be known as Waris Khan’s garden or Badamwari. The Badamwari Festival celebrated here dates back to the Afghan period. The festival attracted an overwhelming number of people in spring. The atmosphere almost turned picnic-like with people carrying nuun chai (the region’s special salt tea), roasted nuts and other such tidbits like home-made bread to munch on while lazying under the almond trees in full bloom. Folk singer groups, spread all over the huge garden, would entertain the people. The legacy continued till the late seventies. At present, the occasion is linked to the arrival of thousands of tourists as Kashmir lets open its heart to the world after a grey winter.

APPLE

Kashmir is referred to as the fruit bowl of India and the districts of Baramulla, Anantnag (Pahalgam), Srinagar and Pulwama have over 85 per cent of the total fruit orchards in the State. The soil, climate and environment of the Valley is highly favourable for temperate fruit-bearing trees like pear, peach, apricot, grape, wild plum and the apple.

Apples of the region have gained popularity among the people across the globe for its unique yet delicious taste. They have a distinguished colour, shape and quality that makes them unique. Some important varieties of apples grown in the Valley are Ambri, Delicious, American, Maharaji, Piazratbali, Kesari and Royal Misri.

There are a lot of mentions about the Kashmiri apple in History. Famous Chinese pilgrim Huen Tsang, who travelled to Kashmir, has made a mention of the apple along with other fruits of the place. Writers and travellers belonging to various nationalities have complimented the Kashmir apple in their literature.

SAFFRON

After the production of fruits, the cultivation of saffron during the autumn season is the second largest activity in the state. Pampore or Pampur, which is situated at a distance of 15 km from Srinagar, is famous world over for its high grade saffron. Pampore and its neighbouring areas produce an average of 2,128 kilograms of saffron every year.

Saffron is normally sown in August and till September 15. The flowers are plucked in October and November. During harvesting or plucking of flowers, the atmosphere must not be hot. So, this process is completed early in the morning. From sunrise to 10am is perceived the ideal time for saffron flower plucking. After harvesting, the flowers are kept for drying for five days. Then, they are kept in an airy container so that the quality of the produce does not deteriorate. It takes only seven-eight hours to dry the produce. One kilogram saffron consists of around one lakh sixty thousand to one lakh seventy thousand tiny flowers. One can imagine that it is a strenuous and time-consuming job.

While springtime unfurls the several indigenous wild tulip varieties in Kashmir, if you are planning a summer holiday, savour the fragrance of fresh pine cones, acorns and maple leaves in the air. The atmosphere is redolent with the scent of magnolia. Black poppies look striking against the grey stoned walls and tulip fields, that are a riot of colours and are in full bloom at the time.

1) SRINAGAR

Srinagar appears and unfolds differently to each individual as it reveals its many facets slowly. It’s a city with countless shops and an old world charm; some look new and glitzy while many wear the crumbling, worn-out look. The old part of the city has beautiful mosques, shrines, temples and old houses crowding together within a close-knit society. The affluent localities of the city have spaced-out modern houses. Dal Lake, Mughal Gardens, Tulip Garden, Botanical Garden, Badamwari, Shankaracharya Temple, Hari Parbat, Shah-e-Hamadan, Hazratbal Shrine, etc., are some must visit spots.

2)  GULMARG

Literally meaning, ‘Meadow of Flowers’, Gulmarg lies in the Baramulla district and is located 52 km away from Srinagar. The wild tulips that dot the meadows in Gulmarg make it look like a perfect summer resort – especially in spring – but its charm lies in its ever-changing weather with sun and shadow playing hide and seek. Bollywood classics like Bobby and Aap Ki Kasam were shot here. Apharvet hills, one of the longest and highest ski slopes and the world’s second highest cable car route, is located here. Gulmarg has also established itself as a hotspot of winter sports in Asia.

3) DOODHPATRI

Located at a distance of 40 odd km from Srinagar, Doodhpatri got its name due to the white foamy froth-like rapids giving an appearance of ‘flowing milk’ that flow down the mountains and through the meadows. The place has twin meadows – the Parhace Maidan and Doodhpatri. These two bowl-like pastures present the most gorgeous visual, the ground carpeted with a great variety of multi-coloured flowers. Two rivers, Shaliganga and Sokhnag flow on either side of the pastures.

4) YUSMARG

The beauty of Yusmarg has an unreal quality to it. Everything is picture perfect here, even the green is so luxurious that it seems painted. This place is 47 km from Srinagar, in the Budgam district. While driving through the small villages one can see farmers working in their apple orchards. They almost look like characters of an animated movie in their daintiness and fairytale appearance. Yusmarg is perfect for a day’s picnic. Don’t forget to add a trek to the Nilnag lake in your day’s itinerary.

5) PAHALGAM

Pahalgam offers adventure, entertainment and spiritualism, all rolled into one. Perched in the Anantnag district, Pahalgam is 95 km from Srinagar. The place allows one to get up, close to nature and experience its pure beauty. The Lidder river flowing against the backdrop of the imposing Himalayan peaks offers an evoking sight. The beauty of this place has enchanted Bollywood directors who shot movies right from Arzoo (1965) to Betaab and Jab Tak Hain Jaan here. Pahalgam is also a major camping location for devotees of the Amarnath Yatra.

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