The celebrated Mughal gardens of Kashmir owe their grandeur primarily to Emperor Jahangir who had an undaunted love for Kashmir, and his son Shah Jahan. Jahangir was responsible for the careful selection of the site and maneuvering it to suit the requirements of the traditional paradise gardens. Although the Mughals never deviated drastically from the original form or concept of the gardens, their biggest challenge in Kashmir was to exploit the chosen site and the abundance of water resource to its maximum potential. The sites selected were invariably at the foot of a mountain, wherever there was a source of water either in the form of streams or springs. This feature eventually resulted in terraced garden layouts. Undaunted by the challenges offered by mountainous terrain, the Mughal engineering skills and aesthetics helped in exploiting the dominating natural landscape and the available water resources to their maximum potential and achieved an unparalleled height of perfection.

‘…Typically, in the pleasure gardens of Kashmir, the garden site is at the lower elevation of a hill, between the hill and the lake. It is not accidental that this particular location is the perfect place from which spectacular views of the regional space of the valley are revealed: to one side the mountain at the back, on the other, the lake view. Towards the lake, the visual link between garden and valley is marked by the flow of water in that direction and the progression of terraces downwards with the grand chinars on either side. These direct the eye away from the details of the garden to the extended lake panorama and hills beyond. The garden celebrates the beauty of the valley. It transcends its visible physical limits, and the internal space engages dramatically with the larger setting….’ (Shaheer, n.d.)

Almost all popular Mughal gardens in Kashmir except Verinag follow a similar pattern with a central water channel sourced at natural springs. This channel which formed the central visual axis of the garden was further enhanced by avenues of poplars or chinar trees. There are one or more baradaris or pavilions with a central open space ‘dalan’ placed over these water channels. These water channels cascade down from one terrace to another in the form of chadars or falls, where they fill in the larger water tanks, hauz, squarish in form and having an array of fountains. Finally, the water from the central channel joins a water body, either a flowing stream nearby, as in case of Achabal, or a lake, as in case of Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh.

Nishat Bagh

Laid out in the 17th C. (1634 AD) by Mirza Abul Hasan, the Nishat Bagh is amongst the most prominent gardens that the Mughals developed in the erstwhile Hindustan. The bagh or garden is located directly along the eastern bank of the Dal Lake on the foot of Zabarwan mountain range. The garden stretches out over a rectangular area of approximately 116.70 acres, and measures about 556.50 x 350.00 m, which equals 6 quarters (3 x 2) of the traditional chahar bagh concept.

Nishat Bagh’s exceptional quality lies therefore in its setting, the complex terraced layout, the play of water cascades, the views it offers, and its ecology. Length-wise, the garden consists of twelve terraces, supposedly symbolizing the twelve signs of the zodiac. The width of the garden consists of seven linear sections, which make up three main sections; a central wing with the main water features and two lower laying side wings. The terraces in the garden rise not only from the Dal Lake up the mountain side, along the length of the garden, but also along its width from the side wings to the central channel axis. The sophisticated geometrical manner by which the chahar bagh concept and terraces have been adapted to the contours of the mountainside contribute towards making Nishat Bagh one of the finest representations of traditional chahar bagh garden layouts spread across the Islamic world.

Of key significance is the location of the garden along the bank of Dal Lake, with the lowest terrace directly connecting to the lake and with key historic views from the terraces and pavilions to the lake. The Oont Kadal, a historic bridge located in the lake, forms an integral part of the composition, as key views from the garden align with it and continue across it to the Hari Parbat Fort, which rises above Srinagar across the lake. The views towards the vast Dal Lake from each of its ascending terraces are wide and uninterrupted, presenting the full expanse of the wide Dal Lake and its western shores. The historic approach to Nishat Bagh, coming from Dal Lake and passing under the Oont Kadal on a boat, similarly offers remarkable views and reveals the full scope of the rising terraces and the wider historic agricultural landscape and mountain backdrop.

The central axis with the water features contains the main ornamental water features and pavilions. The side wings and terraces were predominantly terraced orchard plantations with irrigation channels, terraced walks and shading avenues. The uppermost terrace was the zenana or the private section of the garden. Nishat Bagh was a more private garden than its near neighbour, the Shalimar Bagh, which was also used for holding Royal Durbars. It therefore did not require having as many associated buildings as Shalimar Bagh. Yet the magnificence of the garden is so powerful that it often enjoys more praises than the Shalimar Bagh. Key historic architectural structures include the water channel, the water cascades and pools, the fountains, the terrace walls, the boundary walls, stone abutments at the bank of the lake, pavilions, and the watch towers (burjis) at the corners of the zenana reaining wall.

Shalimar Bagh

Early origins of the Shalimar Bagh garden and cultural landscape go as far back as the 6th C. As it is believed that at Shalimar a villa was built by Pravarassena II in the late 6th Century, when the garden was a sacred site. The small village at the site retained the name Shalimar, while the villa and garden vanished. In the 16th C. An early Muslim King, Zain-ul-Abidin, is said to have created the canal and a bund (embankment) to Shalimar. The Farah Bakhsh, the ‘Joy-Imparting’ garden or lower garden of Shalimar Bagh was created by Emperor Jahangir around 1620. The construction was overseen by Prince Khurram, the later Shah Jahan. Like the Nishat Bagh, this garden was also developed along the lines of traditional chahar bagh concept. After his accession to the throne Shah Jahan added the Fayz Bakhsh, the ‘Bounty-Bestowing’ garden or the zenana to the earlier Farah Bakhsh at Shalimar Bagh. The work was carried out around 1630 by Zafar Khan, the Mughal governor of Kashmir and included the building of the black marble pavilion in the zenana.

The present size of the garden measures approximately 594 x 250 m and represent five main terraces that make up two and a half chahar baghs. The whole of the royal garden was divided into two major parts as per the requirement of the royalty. The lower portion, comprising the first three terraces was the Diwan-i-Aam where the emperor used to hold public audience. The upper two terraces were exclusively for the Emperor and his courtiers and hence rightly called the Diwan-i-Khas. These two parts were screened by means of a thick masonry wall having two similar gateways at each side of the water channel. This area was also called the zenana and, as the name suggests, was a private zone for the Empress and her ladies.

Shalimar Bagh is more ostentatious in architectural quality when compared with its other parallels in Kashmir. Almost all the terrace edges at the Shalimar Bagh have something interesting to offer in the form of pavilions, pools, or water cascades. The whole texture of the garden, in fact, is a result of the relationship of the garden’s built and landscaped environment. The scale and decorations of the buildings, however, seem to have been intentionally underplayed by the Mughals to avoid offering competition with the overarching natural beauty that surrounds the garden. The two most important structures within the Shalimar Bagh are the Pink Pavilion, in the Diwan-i-Aam zone of the garden, and the Black Pavilion, located in the Diwan-i-Khas. Considering that there was not much building activity by the Mughals in Kashmir, compared to the rest of India, these structures offer a rare opportunity to witness Mughal architecture in this region. The Pink Pavilion is located over the water channel of the second terrace. It is a rectangular open pavilion constructed in traditional badshahi bricks. The significant architectural details of the Pavilion comprise the papier mache ceilings, the carved columns, brackets and railings made of stone.

The Black Pavilion (also an open Pavilion), rectangular in plan, is located on the fourth terrace in the zenana. Constructed principally in brick masonry, the walls of the Pavilion have stone facing, with recessed niches and naqashi (paintings) on walls. Outstanding workmanship is displayed in the carvings of the stone columns and brackets around the Pavilion. The name, Black Pavilion, is related to the stone used for the walls and columns, which appears very black when polished.

The enclosed garden has six watch towers; at each of its four corners and also in the middle. Despite the fact that the original Mughal planting scheme has worn-out over the years, the garden is lush with, flowers, well-mowed turf and some fruit trees. The outstanding quality of Shalimar Bagh lies in the synthesis of its landscape and architectural features. The wider setting of the rural agricultural landscape, the rice fields and hamlets, the historic canal that links the garden to Dal Lake, and the mountain backdrop, all contribute to the significance of Shalimar Bagh.

Apart from this, while most other significant Mughal Gardens of India are commonly an associated feature of a mausoleum or a monument, the Shalimar Bagh should be valued for the fact that it is amongst the very few surviving authentic Mughal gardens that were developed for pleasure, enjoyment and also for holding Court. The Shalimar Bagh therefore is testimony to the lavish Mughal lifestyle which made the Court escape, every summer, from the scorching heat of the Indian plains, and travel hundreds of miles to find respite in the greens of the garden.

Achabal Bagh

The royal garden of Achabal is located near Anantnag predates the arrival of the Mughals in Kashmir. It was renowned even during the time of the Sultans of Kashmir in the 15th C. when an orchard garden existed at the site. The ancient Hindu text of Nilmat Purana mentions the existence of a spring by the name of Achapal Nag at the site. The present garden was laid by Empress Nur Jahan in 1620 and was named after her as Begumabad. The garden was also known as Sahebabad during the Mughal period, in memory of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

The spring at the Achabal Bagh was popular at one time for its curative values and the amount of water it supplied. The Achabal Bagh, with its abundant Chinar trees and roaring water channels, is yet another embodiment of the Mughal landscape genius demonstrated in Kashmir.

The garden is trapezoidal in shape with an area of around 9.7 acres and follows the traditional char bagh concept. It is developed on the base of a forested mountain, locally known as Acchabal Thung. The pre-existing garden was greatly enhanced and rearranged by Empress Noor Jehan and consisted of four gently ascending terrace levels, based on the theme of the chahar bagh. The central feature of the garden is the spring, whose water is collected in a canal (nahr), branch canals (jadwal, juyee) with platforms (nashiman) and pavilions (baradari) built over the water channel. The spring which is presently protected under a modern shelter feeds the entire garden for its irrigation as well as aesthetic needs. It combines the appeal of a stately stone bordered pleasance lying in between ordered avenues of full grown trees with the natural rock and woodland background. A hammam was constructed within the garden by Jehanra Begum, the eldest daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th C. The remains of an earlier baradari or pavilion can still be seen on the site of the spring.

The mountain (Acchabal Thung) looms impressively over the garden and creates a splendid background for it. The Achabal Bagh is remote and is still largely unaffected by urban development or civil infringement and therefore there are good opportunities for defining buffer areas around it for its long-term protection and sustenance. The Achabal Bagh may seem similar to other Mughal Gardens of Kashmir in terms of layout but it is strikingly distinctive in its visual quality and experience. The scale of the garden is also modest when compared with its other parallels in Kashmir, yet it is unique for its remote location and natural setting. Furthermore, the garden continues to rely on its original source of water supply which for some other Mughal Gardens of Kashmir and elsewhere has either eroded or disappeared over the course of time. The garden was developed around a natural spring that existed in the area by the name of Achapal Nag, explaining where the name of the garden originated from.

Chashma Shahi

The garden was developed on the orders of Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 by Ali Mardan Khan around an abundant spring emerging from the slopes of the Zabarwan Mountains. The waters of the spring are renowned for their cool and rejuvenating qualities.

Oriented on the north-south axis, the garden is arranged on three ascending terraces. The total area within the rectangular garden perimeter is approximately 1.73 acres with a width of 70.83 m and length of 122.81 m, approximately. The spring is sheltered under a pavilion which is of a later Kashmiri period. The water from the spring, located at the uppermost edge of the garden, is led through narrow water channels that drop sharply in the form of cascades to successive lower terrace levels. The defining feature of this garden is its very high terraces and strong Mughal character of its gateway, cascades and retaining walls.

Chashma Shahi continues to retain the natural spring around which it was built and is unique for its high terraces, and distant, yet outstanding, views of the Dal Lake from its terraces. The garden is known to be at its best during late afternoons and evenings. This garden stands out from the rest of the gardens for its narrow rills and singular fountains within its pools – adopting the typology of early Mughal gardens of India.

Pari Mahal

Pari Mahal is also located west of the city centre of Srinagar, near Chasma Shahi, on the slopes of the Zebanwan mountains. Prince Dara Shukoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, built the gardens around 1650. It was built at the site of the ruins of a Buddhist Monastery and as a residential School of Sufiism at the instance of his revered spiritual tutor Mullah Shah Badakhshi. It is believed that Pari Mahal was constructed for astronomical observations and teachings or astrological calculations under the Mughals. Dara Shukoh named it after his wife Nadira Begum, supposed to be known as Pari Begum, the daughter of Prince Parviz, a son of Jahangir.

Pari Mahal has a domed ceiling with gardens laid out on six terraces around. Arched retaining walls support the terraces, which vary in width. The garden is 122 m by 62.5 m at its widest. The terraces can be accessed via sets of steps on their corners. A pavilion or baradari can be found on the fourth terrace and another one connects the fifth and sixth terrace. The garden is entered from the fourth terrace where there are a series of entrance buildings, which are believed to have contained a hamman.

The gardens are said to have been watered by a nearby spring. There are water tanks on the terraces, but unlike most Mughal Gardens in Kashmir, the garden contains no water channels and cascades (chadars) that feed the water tanks. Instead water is supplied through a system of underground pipes.

Verinag

Verinag is an octagonal pavilion-garden, built around a spring which is the acknowledged source of Jehlum River5 and also its principal feeder. The garden was constructed by Mirza Haider, an able engineer of the Mughal Court at the behest of Emperor Jahangir. A Persian quatrain indicates the date of construction of the garden as 1619-20. The garden was enlarged further between 1626 and 1627, during Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign and was renamed Shahabad.

The spring is enclosed within a perfectly geometric octagonal arcade with a fairly wide stone walkway that surrounds the spring. In plan, the garden is a large octagonal tank connected to a very long and straight water channel (12′ wide and 1000′ long) going towards the north that reaches a point where it discharges to feed the Jehlum River. The spring is believed to be at its deepest around 15.24 m and has abundant trout fish, which is claimed to have never been consumed owing to certain religious sentiments. This attitude has helped in maintaining the spring as a rich fish-reserve.

A number of baradaris, royal bathrooms, were also constructed in the garden, which have been lost over time. The garden, as many Kashmiri Mughal gardens, was repaired extensively during Dogra period in 1870s. The outstanding quality of Verinag is the blend of the surrounding landscape with the formal geometry of the garden. The abrupt rise of the densely forested hills creates a distinctive background to the arcaded pavilion around the spring. While the forests are rich in deodars6, the blue-green waters of the spring are replete with fish. The formality created by the octagonal perimeter around the spring and the linear water channel suddenly disappears when the water merges with the natural course of the Jhelum River. Verinag was the personal favourite of Emperor Jahangir and it was his great wish to be buried here.