Asia’s largest tulip garden blooms in Kashmir

May 23rd, 2008 - 6:34 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Sarwar Kashani
The cold winter has given way to a balmy spring and India’s often troubled Kashmir Valley is awash with colour - nowhere more than its latest attraction, Asia’s largest tulip garden on the banks of the Dal Lake in the state’s summer capital Srinagar. With the hills in the backdrop, the sun breaking through the clouds dotting the deep blue skies and the sheer expanse of colour, the 30-acre Indira Gandhi Tulip Garden named after the late prime minister is the stuff of poetry.

As the raindrops shimmer in the glinting sun and tourists walk through the riot of colour in what is one of India’s most picturesque states, militant violence and tensions recede into the horizon.

After all this is the state of which Mughal emperor Jehangir is famously known to have said: “If there is paradise on earth; it is here, it is here, it is here.” The origins of the couplet are hazy, but Kashmir’s allure is not.

In another part of the country, April may be the cruellest month. Not in the Kashmir Valley where April showers have washed away the winter blues, welcoming thousands of visitors.

India’s ruling Congress president Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the garden March 29 named after her mother-in-law and former prime minister, the late Indira Gandhi.

“The beautifully groomed, colourful flowers are a sight for sore eyes. We love it here,” said Syed Imran Geelani.

Modelled after Holland’s Keukenhof, the world’s largest tulip garden, the one in Kashmir lags not too far behind.

Around 1.2 million tulips of various shades are blooming in the garden, earlier known as Sirajbagh, on the foot of the Zabarwan hills.

The garden has as many as 60 varieties of tulips imported from Holland. Consultants were also called in from Holland to lay the flowerbeds and design the garden.

The garden laid in terraces, said an official of the state gardens and parks department, will have a stream running in the middle.

The brainchild of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the garden has been planned not just to add to the allure of the state. It makes perfect money sense too.

The government hopes that the state can earn a share in the $11 billion international floriculture trade and also add jobs.

Authorities say the steps are afoot to grow around five million more tulips next year, and give a fillip to the economy of a state that has been grappling with incessant secessionist violence.

The government has plans to present Kashmir as a hub of floriculture industry in India. “Kashmir has vast potential in the floriculture industry. It is strong enough to boost the state’s economy considerably,” said Fida Iqbal, an official in the flower culture department.

He added that the valley had the climatic conditions necessary for it to get a foothold in the global floricultural market. Besides tulips, the valley could cultivate a wider variety of liliums, roses, lupins, hawthorns, wild crocuses, primulas and vincas.

“We could beat Holland not only in recreational flower gardens but also in exporting tulips and other cut flowers to all the neighbouring countries.”

The one hitch, he said, was the absence of a proper marketing strategy.

“We have to build cold storages and proper cargo handling facilities like some key Indian airports have,” Iqbal said.

Till then, Kashmir opens its arms for tourists from all over the country and the world. And, of course, to India’s thriving film industry.

When the tulips are blooming, the filmmakers can’t be too far behind, bringing with them not just commerce but also free publicity on the silver screen.

“Two prominent filmmakers from Mumbai have already enquired about a possible shoot in the garden,” said Floriculture Director G.Q. Naqash.

In the years gone past, the Kashmir Valley was the backdrop to many a song and film.

The tulips hold out hope that those days are back again. Paradise regained, not lost.

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