Pari Mahal...as the name suggests, is truly the abode of fairies. A drive on the winding road to the hill top where it is located at the outskirts of Srinagar overlooking the Dal is mystical. The climate cools instantly and our eyes feast on the green curtains of trees and shrubs. Perched atop the hill is the Mahal gardens that were established 400 years ago by Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Emperor Jehangir who was murdered later by the notorious power crazy Aurangazeb. The Mahal is said to be the remains of a Buddhist Monastery plundered by the Mughals. The upper most terrace still holds two jails, in addition to a lovely garden. What makes this spot a huge hit are the unparalleled, spectacular views of the Dal and Srinagar city that one can see from this protected monument.
|Pigeon holes of Pari Mahal|
|Elaborate arches in one of the terraces|
A note of melancholy strikes us looking at the terraced structure, the ghosts of Dara who was beheaded by his own brother, the Buddhist monks who perished with the onslaught of Mughals and the eerie chillness of the air. The pigeon holes of stone, numerous channels of water for the fountains in each terrace, earthen pipes that carry water and tanks built by Mughals in every terrace tell us of the passion of Dara for the gardens and his last few moments as his own brother Aurangazeb beheaded him at this very spot. It is said these gardens were used as an observatory for studying astrology and astronomy during Mughal period.
As we reach the foot hills, a spectacular terraced garden comes into view. This is the Chashm-e-Shahi garden.This garden has a spring that emerges from an aqueduct and flows down through terraced garden. Another remarkable architectural marvel that is small, yet picturesque. Flowers grace the manicured lawns and again conifers tower over us. It is said the water from the spring is holy for the Kashmiri Pandits, who worship it.
|Water flowing through aqueduct, Chashmeshahi|
The next stop is at Shalimar gardens. What is a trip to Kashmir without a trip to the famed Mughal gardens? Huge chinar (maple) trees line up the garden, some few centuries old. The chinar is treated a sacred tree in Kashmir. Even roads dare not touch the trees, they go slithering around the chinars standing proud in the middle of the road.These chinars were brought to Kashmir by Persians and stand a silent testimony to the rich cultural roots. No Mughal garden in Kashmir is complete without chinars. Called 'booni', the chinar is sacred to the Kashmiris. The Royal Shalimar Bagh built by Emperor Jehangir for his beautiful wife Nur Jahan boasts of numerous chinars, aspen trees, array of fountains, bouquet of flowers and the central Diwan-I-Khas.
|Children at Shalimar Bagh|
|The famed chinar and its unique leaves|
|Crystal clear water and chinar leaves floating by|
One is reminded of a bygone era watching the brass fountains, the perfectly manicured lawns, geometrically patterned tanks and chinar leaves floating by the water. As we sit lazing by the fountains admiring the flower beds and canopy of trees, flashy colors catch our attention. There are hawkers who rent out Kashmiri costumes with jewelry for photo shoots or just for the fun of it. Though I would look like an over-sized clown in a fancy dress competition, desire got the better of common sense and I gleefully donned the costume. See the result for yourselves-
|Don't panic ;)|
A drive along the shores of Dal with the setting sun painting its waters myriad hues of yellow and gold is a sight one might never forget. A few view points along the ghats of Dal and a peaceful visit to Hazratbal Shrine, basking in the early evening orange glory makes one wish Kashmir could remain in peace. The military uniforms and guns peering at us in every alley and street makes tourists jumpy, yet feel secure. The people of the valley might have grown used to staring at these guns every living second.
|Basking in the evening light by Dal|
The next day we were moving to Gulmarg. The reality loomed so close and with a contented sigh I closed my eyes the moment my head hit the pillows. Little did I know of the nasty tourism 'rules' of Gulmarg, its ponywallahs and sledgewallahs!
To be continued...