Eight kilometres from Srinagar city, situated along the western banks of Dal Lake, is Naseem Bagh, the oldest Mughal garden constructed by Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1586. Later in 1635, Emperor Shah Jahan ordered the plantation of twelve thousand chinar trees to the garden. The Chinar trees were laid out in ‘Char Chinar’ pattern, four chinars in four corners of a rectangular piece of land, so that a person in centre would be under shade at all hours of the day. It is said that the saplings were fed milk and honey. A canal from Zukrah canal (canal now non-existent, near Batpora) was dug and brought in to water velvety green grass. This Mughal garden was named Nasim Bagh or the Garden of Breeze, for the gentle breeze that blew through it.
Persian monograph for the garden read:
Dar jahan chu ba hukm-i-Shah-i-Jahan,
Dauhae tazah az na’im amad,
Kard gulgasht-i-an chu Shah-i-Jahan
Bulbul az shakha gul kalim amad;
Guft tarikha dauhae shahi
Az bihishte Adan Nasim amad
When in this land by order of Shah Jahan
A fresh garden came into existence out of magnificence.
When Shah Jahan roamed therein
Bulbul spoke from a blossomed branch
Said the date of the royal garden.
Naseem Bagh in the present times houses 700+ Chinars. Chinar, which, in local vernacular is known as Booeni has boasted the attraction of millions of tourists in Kashmir. It has become our identity and our cultural heritage. The significance and importance attached to Chinars by Mughal Emperors can be gauged from a letter written by Aurangzeb to his governor in Kashmir, expressing sorrow and regret at the devastating fire incident which engulfed the Jamia Masjid at Nowhatta Srinagar. In the letter he made an enquiry about the fate of Chinar trees growing in the park of the mosque. On receiving the reply that the Chinar trees in the park were not affected by fire – he heaved a sigh of relief, thanked God and remarked that the mosque could be re-built within a year or two but it would take a long time to adorn the park of mosque with lovely shade of Chinars.
However, down the line in 21st century we, instead of maintaining and preserving our Chinars are feeding it garbage and decorating it with roads and buildings in Naseem Bagh. Resolved to be developed as a heritage park by KU in 2010 1, it, on the contrary has been savagely vandalized and its virgin beauty tarnished with concrete monsters on the pretext of developmental needs which have ruined its beauty. First it was Distance Education department then the guest house was constructed and the deathless process has continued ever since with washrooms, canteens and parking lot the recent additions in the concrete family of Naseem Bagh. The natural space is shrinking swiftly and soon there will be no Bagh left.
Description of Naseem Bagh on official website of SMC reads “This is the oldest Mughal garden and has camping facilities in the enchanting lawns of the Gardens. Visitors can spent their holidays here under the nature’s gifts and in seclusion, away from the day to day stress and strains. It is most sought tourist spot and the garden provides a marvellous panoramic view of the Dal Lake.” It cannot be denied that this definition doesn’t fit the present reality of the garden which was once a favourite spot of camping for the Britishers.
Naseem Bagh is dying a slow death due to ill planning and haphazard constructions. The concrete monsters have taken the sheen off this place. If this situation goes unabated it won’t be long before Naseem Bagh remains just a memory. The need of the hour is to immediately put an end to the constructions in the heritage site and take necessary steps to salvage its glory and preserve its beauty. We aren’t against development but the same has to be sensible and judicious. Concretisation of Naseem Bagh is actually a step towards destruction and retrogression and not development.
In his maiden meeting as Tourism Minister Tassaduq Mufti maintained that research, surveys and environmental impact assessments are to be incorporated as regular features in tourism policy to raise modern infrastructure coincident with the historical legacies and natural endowments of the state. I hope that he comes true on his words and saves the Naseem Bagh from the disaster that it’s enduring.
I appeal to the Tourism Minister in the hope that he takes some positive steps to safeguard the heritage site. I am hopeful that you will publish it soon.
(The writer is a 4th year law student at Kashmir University and can be reached at: [email protected])