Spring in Kashmir is beautiful beyond words. It enthrals the visitors and locals alike and heralds the end of the harsh bitter winter. For many decades, the appearance of the almond blossoms in Badamwari meant that the spring was finally there in Kashmir and the sighting was celebrated with much joy. Delicately beautiful, an almond flower with its pale pink petals, resembles a painted umbrella when fully bloomed and it is symbolically connected with Kashmir’s social celebrations. A fully flowering almond tree is a sight to behold too and the old residents of the Kashmir Valley recollect their prettiness with misty eyes. It is because a blooming almond tree meant the beginning of Navreh in Kashmir and in olden times, the Kashmiri Pandits celebrated it as their New Year festival. Those used to be the days when peace, prosperity, and communal harmony existed in the valley and people irrespective of their religion, visited the garden to enjoy the blooming almond trees on Navreh. The Badamwari in Srinagar was the local hotspot for the almond blossom viewing and sadly, just like peace in Kashmir, the garden also got destroyed completely.
What does the revival of Badamwari mean to the locals?
Thankfully, J&K Bank took the initiative to revive Badamwari and the restored popular garden was re-opened for the public in 2008. The revival sent waves of happiness and hope among the Kashmiris, especially those who have seen the Valley change from heaven to controversy in front of their eyes. A friend’s grandfather, told me, that he attended the inauguration of the Badamwari just to see if there was any hope of the good old days to come back. Sitting in the sun in his warm feran ( local Kashmiri dress) and kangri tucked in, his old cataract-clouded eyes became wet and his voice wavered as he recollected the time when visitors came from afar to enjoy the beauty of Kashmiri spring at Badamwari. Almond blossoms used to create a canopy of light pink and the garden used to have a festive look. “A proper spring festival used to be held at Badamwari during our childhood days”, he reminisced and “it used to be the ‘go-to’ place for all.”
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The forgotten joy of nader-monja, kahwa, and luchi at Badamwari
Entire families of Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir celebrating Navreh used to gather at Badamwari after visiting the Hari Parbhat shrine to seek goddess Sharika’s blessings and people carried delicious wazwan (traditional Kashmiri food) in their picnic hampers. Folk singers wandered about singing songs of spring to people who gathered under the blooming almond trees to enjoy the end of winter. Hot kahwa (Kashmiri tea) gurgled from traditional samovars and opened willow baskets emanated aroma of nader-monja (lotus stem fritters)and luchi (deep-fried flatbread). Located in the foothills of the Koh-e-Maran, this iconic old garden has hosted spring festivities throughout centuries and strangely there is no official record of its benefactor. Nobody knows as to who ordered this lovely almond alcove to be laid out, and some historians believe that it existed even before the rule of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin in the 14th century.
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A mega cultural bonanza that used to be the Badamwari festival
Though its history remains obscure, the older generation of Kashmiris finds it impossible to forget the Badamwari festival in spring. A beautiful forgotten event of the ‘good old days’, the appearance of almond blossoms at Badamwari was inextricably linked with the happiness of the people of Srinagar, especially those living in the Shehr-e-Khas area. Since Srinagar during those days had only one picnic spot, every year the spring festival used to be held at Badamwari. The festival used to be a mega cultural event in which many renowned singers performed for the public and Badamwari’s gorgeous venue added to the charm of the celebrations.
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The painting like prettiness of Badamwari in spring
I saw some vintage watercolour paintings of Badamwari festival and they seemed like romantic Persian prints to me. The delicate pink beauty of the flowering almond trees looked fairytale pretty and the festive Kashmiri families picnicking underneath them, had an ethereal quality. It was hard to believe that such tranquil prettiness existed in the turbulence ridden Kashmir valley and Badamwari in the paintings lured me to visit this iconic garden. Luckily, I was there in spring, when most of the flowering trees in Kashmir were in full bloom and I could see the pink canopy of almond even before reaching there. Badamwari, despite being in full bloom had a handful of visitors and the looming Hari Parbat shimmered in the heat of the midday sun. Snow covered peaks circled in the distance and I walked under the shade of pink almond flowers in silent solitude. Well maintained beds of irises, daisies, and pansies threw in some additional vibrant colours and quince bloomed in deep reddish pink.
Badamwari is just not a garden, it is a witness to the winds of change in Kashmir
The green willows created lacework of shadows on the lush green grass and Badamwari drew solitude lovers in small groups. A few sat alone under the trees, while some walked around in twos, and I spotted a young couple with children seated under the trees on a picnic carpet. They had their samovar steaming next to them, and wazwan spread out in a multitude of serving trays as their small children kicked ball nearby. The image of the small family gathered under the blooming almond trees at Badamwari made my heart unreasonably happy that day and suddenly, my friend’s grandfather’s emotion-charged statement rang through my mind.
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A garden of sweetest memories, emotions, and almond flowers
I had indeed visited Badamwari in India, after getting drawn by the watercolours depicting its erstwhile glory and the picnicking family re-created the magic that I had gone seeking. It dawned on me that, while once a blooming Badamwari meant the advent of spring, in recent years, the restored garden symbolized a bleak ray of hope to the bruised psyche of the local people. It is better to be late than never, and maybe one day the blooming almond trees of Badamwari will again ring with greetings of Navreh Mubarak and spring festivities, just like the ‘good old days of peace and harmony’.
Badamwari Travel Facts
The Badamwari in spring is one of the prettiest places in Srinagar. The address of the garden is Botaraj Colony, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, and the timings are from 06:00 AM – 5:00 PM. This garden has existed since the 14th century and a well dedicated to the Afghan ruler Warris Shah is inside the garden. This is one of Srinagar’s hidden gems. Parking facility is available at the entrance and cameras are allowed inside.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE