garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
Kashmir is a beautiful state of fertile valleys, rivers and lakes surrounded by mountains so steep, high and snow-capped that it looks as if a child has drawn them. So often has it been called Heaven on Earth that this is now almost an official title. Sadly, its disputed borders (involving India, Pakistan and China) have meant that travellers visit at their own risk.We were there last weekend, and came quickly to accept how fitting is that Heaven on Earth title. I will write soon on the magical seventeenth century Mughal gardens cut into the hillsides of the Kashmir Valley, and currently undergoing major restoration.
The main line of work in Kashmir is agriculture, and we saw a fascinating example of this, in the floating vegetable gardens and sunrise markets centred on Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. Vegetables have been produced on islands in the lake since at least the time of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Many of the vegetable plots are located on artificial islands, their soil supported on reed rafts and enriched by composted pond weed. Vegetables including radishes, carrots, onions, cauliflowers and turnips, plus brightly coloured flowers, are all cultivated on these floating plots; during the rains, the small-scale farmers turn to melons, peas and squash for their ability to clamber up supports and away from the risk of rot in the wet soil.
Every morning at sunrise the farmers gather on the lake in their narrow boats (known as shikaras) and sell the produce they have harvested. When we were there, there was something of a glut of kohlrabi, but it was still magical to see the boats gliding quietly through the water, the brightly coloured vegetables and flowers laid out for purchase.
By 6.30am the sales for the day are complete and the little boats slip away.
The work is no doubt hard – and are there are increasing worries about the impact on the lake of encroachment and soil run-off from the many vegetable plots. Yet at sunrise among the shikara-wallahs and the local farmers it was difficult not to feel we were indeed experiencing Heaven on Earth.
Thank you for taking the time to post your interesting pieces. They are a recent discovery and I am enjoying them very much.
Such ingenuity when flat, arable land is scarce. Were you able to see what depth of accumulated soil they are planting into on these islands?
Catherine, I think the great advantage of the floating gardens for these small-scale farmers is that they can cheaply create their own plots, rather than buy or rent expensive land around the lake shore.
It’s hard to know how deep the soil is – in that photo, it looks to be at least 18 inches (45cm) above the surface of the water; and then presumably a little more below the water line, but to be honest it was difficult to tell what was ‘real’ island and what was man-made.
Wonderful to see your photographs and be reminded that Kashmir remains so beautiful. I lived there for many years in the 1980s and loved it. Time to return I think.
Your post today taught me about a type of garden I didn’t know existed …the floating vegetable garden. How interesting. How did they come to exist, I wonder? I especially liked your photo of the woman dressed in the purple sari in her canoe. Such an evocative photo of India – the saturated hues of saris against the monocolor greens of the fertile states or the browns of the dry states.
Thank you for the lovely post, and for the great link! Also, “something of a glut of kohlrabi” made me giggle. I desperately want to visit Kashmir; hopefully things will remain calm and I will get around to it soon.
I have never seen such beauty especially the first and last pictures…it really is heaven and how amazing the way they grow veggies and flowers…
Quite amazing! Another proof of human inventiveness.Thanks for your interesting ‘stories’ from India.
Thanks for the further responses. Of course not all of Kashmir is as breathtakingly beautiful as these early morning views on the lake, but it remains a magical part of India.
sadly, these floating gardens are now becoming the reason for shrinking of the Dal lake…
Thanks for the comment. I have read in several places about the negative impact of these gardens, and understand the risks from run-off adding nutrients to the water and encouraging algae. But I can’t really grasp how they are the reason for the lake ‘shrinking ‘ – is it simply a question of displacement or is there some more subtle impact I have not understood?
don’t you know that people legally own parts of Dal lake waters just like we own land ?
Despite the possible negative effects of density in the lake and the political conflicts in the area, from your images, Dal lake, in Kashmir, is Heaven on Earth. Beautiful!
Reblogged this on Puur Plantaardig and commented:
Genoten van mijn tijd daar in 1996!!
Kashmir looks amazing and the gardens and produce look so lush and delicious. The images you captured definitely make it look like Heaven on earth. It just goes to show how resourceful people are that live of the land. The agricultural practices are very sophisticated and reminiscent of Vietnamese rice farming which uses natural bodies of water to irrigate gardens.
Pingback: Floating Gardens – Iranian movie filmed in India | Rehmat's World