Srinagar Revives Spring Tradition After 27 Yrs

27 March 2008

Srinagar: Badam Wa'er, a symbol of Kashmiri culture and civilization, a principal springtime leisure spot at the foot of the Kohi Maran hillock in the Srinagar city, was reopened for the public after a long gap of 27 years on Nauroz. The re-creation of the Badam Wa'er (almond alcove) revived pleasant memories of people, especially of the older generation, who knew the place as an explicit statement about the end of a long, harsh and suffocating winter in Kashmir. For centuries, the almond blossoms here had been the focal point of recreation for the local people. The garden, dotted with almond trees in full bloom, witnessed an excited rush of the public, with the almond bloom vying with rosy complexions for admiration. A large number of children frolicked in the vast landscaped environs of the relocated garden that has replaced the main venue of yore. Thirty years ago, badamwari was spread over 1000 kanals of land, stretching up to Hawal, but greed and avarice has shrunk it to a mere 280 kanals. What then used to be the main portion of the garden is now the Tibetan Colony, and residential colonies have come up in other parts. The Jammu and Kashmir Bank has taken up various projects to promote Kashmiri culture, and it took over the Bagh-e-Waris Khan to lay out the new badamwari. The bank had taken over 280 kanals of Bagh-e-Waris Khan, and planted almond trees to restore its old glory. The garden will be dedicated to the public on Wednesday. Bank says that the revival of the badamwari was a part of it's efforts to promote Kashmiri culture. According to a bank official, the JK bank had originally intended to set up a public recreation park in Bagh-e-Waris Khan, but soon after taking over as chairman, Haseeb Drabu decided to convert it into an almond garden. The laying of the garden has cost an estimated Rs 2 crore so far. The bank is contemplating to regulate entry to the park by issuing tickets. In the olden days, a visit to Badam Wa'er was the only major recreation available to the city dwellers after the snows had melted and temperature warmed up in the Valley. The tradition passed on to the succeeding generations. In the 70s and the 80s, Srinagar residents used to head to Badam Wae'r on Sundays and Fridays to spend relaxing hours in sylvan surroundings. A several-weeks-long fair would be held in the grounds in spring when almond blossoms would be in full bloom. People flocked to the garden in droves with samovars of nun chai or, Kashmiri tea, laying out spread-sheets to loaf and simply soak in the natural splendour. Jugglers, magicians, and gamesters would add amusement to the crowds, while singing troupes entertained the holiday-makers with folk-songs. A delicacy particularly to be enjoyed was water chestnuts sold by hawkers in wicker baskets. The fair also provided a livelihood to numerous snacks makers who made traditional Kashmiri snacks and eatables for the visitors to eat and take home. But time and shortsighted approach of the rulers took its toll, and the garden suffered neglect and dilapidation. Badam Wa'er was transformed into a residential colony. Badam Wa'er festival started fading out of the people's memory, the JK Bank decided to revive its glory and restore to the people their rich cultural heritage. Now the Jammu and Kashmir Bank has presented the badamwari in a new shape, with a formalized layout, arched gates and paved walkways. The J&K Bank was assigned the task to recreate the magnificence of the Badam Wa'er. The Bank, under its heritage preservation initiative, restored the old Bagh-i-Waris Khan and re-established the lost aura of the Badam Wa'er. The restoration work was taken up in December 2006 and completed in a record time of 15 months. The garden is spread over an area of 300 kanals. Elements of traditional Kashmiri landscaping and architecture have been retained with the facade of the garden replicating the historical gate, Kathi Darwaza, of the Naagar Nagar wall raised by Mughal ruler, Akbar, around the hillock including the Badam Wa'er. Seven flower enclosures have been developed in the garden to let the Badam Wa'er bloom throughout the year. As an added attraction, 1 km long joggers' track has also been built on the peripheries of the garden. The internal pathways, criss-crossing the Badam Wa'er, are, in aggregate, more than 2 kms long. An open air amphitheater with a seating capacity of 2000 and a 30 feet tall almond shaped sculpted fountain are other two unique features of the garden.