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Heritage and history sparkle at Kashmir golf course

india Updated: Jun 05, 2007 18:51 IST
F Ahmed
F Ahmed
IANS
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A small groove of cork trees inside the 18-hole Royal Springs Golf Course is among the vestiges of the autocratic Dogra rule. These trees are now part of the state's rich heritage.

The last Dogra maharaja, Hari Singh, had imported these cork trees from Europe to be grown here on a commercial scale, as cork was in great demand in the bottling industry at the beginning of the 20th century.

Before the maharaja's dream of growing cork on a commercial scale could be realised in Kashmir, his rule was abruptly ended by tribal invasion from Waziristan (Pakistan) in October 1947.

The maharaja ran away with his entourage and royal treasures to winter capital Jammu. But before his exit, he signed the instrument of accession making Jammu and Kashmir a state in the Indian union.

This golf course laid in Srinagar in the 1990s has some other exotic trees that must have miraculously escaped the feller's axe. A recent survey has rated this golf course as the most beautiful in India.

The history of the area where the golf course is laid doesn't end with that of either the Dogra maharajas or the subsequent political rulers in Kashmir.

Overlooking the golf course is the Pari Mahal (Fairy's Palace), which was built by the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, the son of emperor Shah Jahan.

"The Mughals, whose reign began in Kashmir during the days of Akbar the Great, laid the famous gardens of Nishat, Cheshma Shahi and Shalimar on the same land feature on which this golf course lies today," said Naeem Akhter, the state tourism secretary.

"But they did not make any palaces or permanent stations for themselves in this part of the valley. In fact, they built waterways through which they would boat ride into these gardens and live in royal tents, which were part of the royal caravans.

"According to a local belief, Dara Shikoh's mistake of trying to build a permanent structure like the Pari Mahal in this part of the Valley heralded the end of the Mughal rule in Kashmir.

"It is said the patron saint of Kashmir, Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali, also called Nund Rishi, had told his disciples who accompanied him during his travels across the valley to turn back once he saw the magnificence of this area from a distance. The Sufi saint told his disciples never to try and make a dwelling on this side of the land since it was a piece of heaven that had descended on earth.

"Anybody trying to make a dwelling here would be deprived of his place in the heaven after death for he would have exhausted his privilege of living in God's Paradise after having lived in this part of the Valley."

Maharaja Hari Singh constructed the new palace in this area and shifted from the Shergarhi Palace, situated on the banks of the river Jhelum in the heart of the city.

Interestingly, Hari Singh was the last Dogra maharaja of Kashmir and today his palace building houses the Valley's only five star hotel.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad lives at the extreme top end of the golf course where the guesthouse of a local bank was converted into his makeshift residence in 2005.

Motorised carts, imported turf, automatic lighting systems, a modern lounge, an overflowing bar are just some other facilities this golf course boasts of.

"It is a great attraction for the golfers whether they are foreigners or locals. Anybody who played the game here once has always left with a wish to return. This includes some of the professionals and corporate honchos who have moved in the top circuit of the game," Akhter said.

Ironically, the man who chose to make this golf course, former chief minister and National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah, attracted everybody's ire during his regime when the course was laid.

A keen golfer himself, Abdullah decided to fell the city forest, which grew on this piece of land to make way for the sprawling greens of the golf course. Fortunately, the groove of cork trees and some other rare heritage trees still grow inside the golf course.