By Muzamil Jaleel in Srinagar
In Indian-administered Kashmir, places of recreation are
becoming rare - and they are also becoming dangerous.
Driving towards the series of enchanted Mughal gardens in Srinagar,
along the emerald
Dal lake, can be a refreshing experience.
Nishat Garden - once a tourist attraction
But now debris litters the neatly trimmed landscape.
Last week a landmine blew up the well-chiselled granite parapet of the Nishat Garden. This Mughal-era beauty spot looks eerily deserted.
Just a few days earlier, it was teeming with spring revellers after the state authorities hosted musical programmes inside the garden.
But militants fighting for Kashmir's separation from India have a different agenda.
In the space of 15 days, they exploded three landmines inside this picnic spot in a move to scare away the visitors.
The landmine that exploded near the entrance to Nishat Garden
on Friday evening
blew a huge crater in the well-kept garden.
Police boat patrols have replaced tourist shikaras
The landmines have given security officials a headache as the state
government wants to send the message that all is well in Kashmir.
"In the first explosion
two people were
injured. Although no one was injured [in Friday's explosion, it]
was so huge that it
blew apart stones," a police official said, pointing
towards the broken
pieces of masonry scattered in the distance.
Police have been posted inside the gardens since the festival of
Baisakhi, when the gardens are traditionally used for celebrations.
But their presence seems not to have deterred the militants who managed to sneak inside the Nishat Gardens to lay their mines.
On the nearby Boulevard Road, a cluster of Indian tourists are turned away by police officials standing by coils of barbed wire that fence off the garden.
"No visitor would be allowed in until we fence the whole garden with the barbed wire. We have turned away all visitors from India who didn't know about the blasts,"
a police official said.
Two couples with children in tow return in
disappointment to their parked
from Delhi visiting
Kashmir. We wanted to visit the Nishat Garden but the
police told us that
it's shut after three blasts here,'' said tourist Ramesh
entrance to the Nishat Garden, labourers engaged in
the upkeep of the
garden are agitating over the arrest of their seven
The militants got past the security forces
The police took away the seven men after Friday's blast suspecting the labourers could have known about the landmine.
The police are asking "why we
didn't inform them
about the landmine. We are here to look after the
garden not look for
mines," said Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, chief gardener.
are protesting against
this high-handedness by staying away from work. They
have their men
patrolling the garden throughout the clock and they could
not stop militants
from laying mines. How do they expect us to stop
Years of turmoil
The story of three other Mughal-era gardens - Harwan,
Shalimar and Chesmashahi -
is no different.
The years of turmoil have seen Chesmashahi (the Royal Spring) in the foothills of the Zabarwan mountain range, closed off to civilians.
Shikaras for tourists wait empty
It is now a highly fortified area and the waters of the Royal Spring have been diverted to the nearby colony of residential huts set up by the state government for its bureaucrats.
The fort-like Pari Mahal (the Palace of Fairies) is situated a few hundred metres up on the hillock.
Built by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb's son, Dara Shukoh, as a site for astronomical study, it was a major tourist attraction until guns started booming across Kashmir in 1989.
Now this palace is surrounded by Indian security forces and lies in a dilapidated condition.
The Shalimar Garden overlooking Dal lake was once famous
for its sprawling
flower beds and its fountains' sprinkling water.
the tourist rush
dried up over the years, there is now hardly anybody to
maintain the pristine
beauty of this garden.
And what of Dal Lake itself?
The chain of 1,400 houseboats once
teemed with visitors and 'House Full' signboards.
Now they permanently display 'To
Let' messages as
shikaras roam empty and aimlessly in search of
Violence has even percolated its
serene waters and
the motorboats which once ferried tourists now carry
The renowned Kashmiri artist Masood Hussain has portrayed the tragic story of Dal Lake in a recent series of paintings. Instead of the lotus, he shows a wild growth of irises on the lake, together with a few empty boats. Irises are traditionally grown in graveyards across Kashmir.
"I don't even see that brightness in colours. The greenery too has somehow faded," he said.
Another Kashmiri sculptor has created a relief work showing cacti grown in Kashmir's gardens
- a chilling reminder
of the fate of the valley's lush green glory.