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Spring glory: Revisiting the almond blossom parks of Kashmir

Like so many things, these beautiful gathering spots also fell prey to violence. Now, they are blossoming anew.

more lifestyle Updated: Nov 05, 2017 09:23 IST
Ashutosh Sapru
Ashutosh Sapru
Hindustan Times
Kashmir,Almonds,Almond Parks
Families are picnicking at Badam Wari again, and youngsters are taking selfies, at the revived almond blossom park in old Srinagar.(Waseem Andrabi / HT Photo)

The boundless beauty of Kashmir is reflected in its iconic images. If autumn is about blushing chinars and pale poplars, the white and pink almond blossoms typify spring in the Valley.

The almond flower is a delicate, beautiful thing, with its pale-blush petals. When in bloom, the whole tree looks like a prettily-painted umbrella.

Badam or almond trees grow all over the Valley, but the two gardens at Badam Bagh and Badam Wari at Hari Parbat went beyond beauty to become symbols of cultural, social and artistic celebrations.

Today, an army cantonment stands at Badam Bagh and there is no trace of any almond tree. And the orchard at Badam Wari has shrunk, with realtors closing in.

But there was a time when visitors came from far and near to thrill to the beauty of the almond blossom. “After the cruel winter, spring bought back cheer and a reason to celebrate. In our childhood a proper spring festival used to be organised in Badam Wari,” said Shiekh Abdul Rashid, a 70-year-old school teacher based in Srinagar.

The traditional arched gates and chabutaras of Badam Wari were rebuilt in 2008, as part of the restoration effort. (Waseem Andrabi / HT Photo)

Come spring and Badam Wari became the go-to place for all. Folk singers would perform, people carrying tea in traditional samovars and goodies in willow baskets would converge at the almond orchards.

Adding to the festivities was a halwai in the garden serving scrumptious nader monja (lotus stem fritters) and luchi (deep-fried flatbread). It became a picnic spot for families and schoolchildren.

A water colour titled ‘Kashmiri’s enjoying almond blossoms at Badam Wari’ painted by eminent artist Dina Nath Wali in 1952 depicts families dressed in the traditional feran, enjoying the day out.

From 1953 to 1963, when Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad headed the state government, musical programmes were regular weekend fare here. Masood Hussain, 63, a Kashmiri artist, recalls how he used to enjoy going to Badam Wari with his parents in the early 1960s to enjoy the Kashmiri wazwan (Kashmiri food) and be with friends.

After the cruel Kashmir winter, the almond blossom signals the return of hope and the arrival of Spring. (Waseem Andrabi / HT Photo)

But like so many things, the Badam Wari festival fell prey to the years of violence. The area around the orchard was encroached upon, the chabutaras and resting places turned into ruins and the orchard became a caricature of its past glory.

In 2008, an effort to revive what was left of Kashmir’s rich heritage was made in a public-private partnership with the J&K Bank. The area was given a formalised layout with hundreds of trees adorning the paved walkways, the arched gates and chabutaras were rebuilt in accordance with old Kashmiri architectural styles.

Wanda tchali, sheen gali, beyi yi bahar, wrote the Kashmiri poet Mehjoor, meaning — winter will end, the snow will melt and again spring will come. (Waseem Andrabi / HT Photo)

The place has since become a destination for lovers and groups of youngsters. “I went with my friends and clicked selfies; it’s fun,” says Hameem Mushtaq, a Class 10 student

One can only hope that these efforts will result in Badam Wari returning to its original glory. Wanda tchali, sheen gali, beyi yi bahar, wrote the Kashmiri poet Mehjoor, meaning — winter will end, the snow will melt and again spring will come.

(With inputs from Toufiq Rashid in Srinagar)

First Published: Nov 05, 2017 00:03 IST