a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

Growing vegetables in Heaven

Srinagar 4Kashmir 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.Kashmir13We 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.

Floating gardens on Dal Lake, 1881, from the splendid site http://www.searchkashmir.org

Floating gardens on Dal Lake, 1881, image from the splendid site http://www.searchkashmir.org

One of the floating plots today.

One of the floating plots today.

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.

Kashmir 2 1 Kashmir 2 2

Kashmir14Srinagar 3 Kashmir11

By 6.30am the sales for the day are complete and the little boats slip away.

Kashmir 2 3The 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.

Kashmir 2 4
Kashmir 2 6

16 comments on “Growing vegetables in Heaven

  1. Angelica Gray
    May 10, 2013

    Thank you for taking the time to post your interesting pieces. They are a recent discovery and I am enjoying them very much.

  2. Catherine Stewart
    May 11, 2013

    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?

    • landscapelover
      May 11, 2013

      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.

  3. The Galloping Gardener
    May 11, 2013

    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.

  4. Of Gardens
    May 11, 2013

    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.

  5. College Gardener
    May 11, 2013

    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.

  6. Donna@Gardens Eye View
    May 13, 2013

    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…

  7. diversifolius
    May 14, 2013

    Quite amazing! Another proof of human inventiveness.Thanks for your interesting ‘stories’ from India.

  8. landscapelover
    May 14, 2013

    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.

  9. kumail ahmed
    May 18, 2013

    sadly, these floating gardens are now becoming the reason for shrinking of the Dal lake…

    • landscapelover
      May 20, 2013

      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?

  10. kumail ahmed
    May 21, 2013

    don’t you know that people legally own parts of Dal lake waters just like we own land ?

  11. 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!

  12. Jolanda Gerbecks
    March 13, 2014

    Reblogged this on Puur Plantaardig and commented:
    Genoten van mijn tijd daar in 1996!!

  13. Jessica Matthews
    April 9, 2014

    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.

  14. Pingback: Floating Gardens – Iranian movie filmed in India | Rehmat's World

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This entry was posted on May 10, 2013 by in Gardens, India and tagged , , , , .

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