“Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru only drank the pure waters of the Chashme Shahi spring,” my grand-aunt said, handing me an empty bottle. “Don’t forget to bring some back.” Kashmir had been my family’s annual vacation destination for years. Until 1986—the year the riots broke out in Anantnag. “It was the last time we saw my aunt’s home, Dal Lake, and the chinar ke ped,” my mother would lament for years to come.
I was five but I still have a clear memory of my first visit to the Mughal gardens. With a frozen nose, I stood bundled up in front of my uncle on his scooter as he breezed towards Harvan through the frosty lanes of Srinagar’s Wazir Bagh.
Chashme Shahi or the Royal Spring is the smallest of the three Mughal gardens in Kashmir, sitting on an acre of land amidst the Zabarwan Mountains, overlooking Dal Lake. Inspired by Iranian architecture, this terraced garden is surrounded by a freshwater spring. It is believed that Emperor Shah Jahan had it built for Dara Shikoh, his eldest son, who learnt astronomy in the garden of Pari Mahal nearby.
Twenty-eight years later I was back there with my fiancé. I excitedly pulled him by his hand up a flight of stairs that led us to a pool with five fountains. This was the first of the three terraces. It was November, and a golden glow seemed to cloak the plethora of flowers all around us. Right in the centre of the garden is a passage or chadar that carries the spring water from its origin at the highest terrace to the middle level where it transforms into a single fountain and finally flows into the pool at the base where we stood.
After dodging other tourists and a man trying to get us to dress in traditional Kashmiri attire for a photograph, we walked uphill along the fountains and waterfalls. At the highest terrace a pavilion housed the natural spring, which is believed to be fortified with minerals and have healing properties. I cupped my hands, scooped up the cold, gushing water and took a big refreshing gulp.
Walking around further we discovered a flight of steps that led to a garden café, where an old Kashmiri manager welcomed us warmly to the vacant canteen. Sitting in that quiet courtyard, we sipped on fragrant kahwa to a panoramic view of the mountains—the setting sun gradually changing the colour of the Zabarwan range from green to orange. Unexpectedly, we had found a very romantic setting and the memory of that moment is priceless. I had squinted to see the shikaras floating lazily on Dal Lake, lined by iconic chinars. Somewhere in the distance, I knew, there was an old brick house with a sloping roof—a place I once called home (Sat-Thu 9.30 a.m.-7 p.m.; closed Friday; entry ₹10).
Appeared as “Spring Romance” in the December 2014 issue.