Ghulam Rasool, the lead gardener at Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden—Asia’s biggest—in Srinagar, has two years to retire. But that doesn’t bother him. What does worry him is what would happen to the garden when he’s not around. He quickly dispels his own apprehensions.
“These are just my fears,” he told THE WEEK. “The staff here will continue to put up a spectacular show every year, and better. But I will miss being around.”
The garden dominates Rasool’s thoughts at work and at home. “At home, I spend hours thinking what I have to do the next day. At night I keep thinking about the garden and the flowers.”
Once he was awake till 3 am making plans about the garden. “Then I fell asleep and woke up when the Moazin gave a call for fajr namaz (first prayer of the day).”
He said he joined the floriculture department in 1984 as a daily wager. “I have worked in many gardens in Kashmir but the tulip garden has had a captivating effect on me,” he says.
When people appreciate the beauty of the garden, it’s enough to get them going next year.
“Appreciation by visitors is our reward and we tell ourselves that next year we will make it look even better,” Rasool says.
When former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad ordered the preparation of the garden in 2006, the floriculture department assembled a seasoned team of gardeners and floriculture experts. Rasool was part of the team and later went on to lead a dedicated bunch of gardeners equally zealous about their work as he is.
There were apprehensions whether what Azad wanted could actually materialise. But a year later, when the garden was thrown open to public, it had exceeded the expectations of the officials involved in the project. “Azad sahab was thrilled,” said an official. “This garden is his brainchild. Last time he came here and took a tour of the garden and left very content.”
The tulip festival begins late in March and goes on for over a month. “If the weather is not too hot, the tulips last longer,” he said. “The real work begins after that which nobody witnesses.” Once the season ends, planning for the next year begins.
First, the bulbs are removed for reuse. Less than 50 per cent are reused after harvesting. Rest are imported. “We have to ensure that all the bulbs are removed. If a tulip pops up from a bed that doesn’t match with the rest, that would make it appear odd,” Rasool says. “Great planning goes into designing different sections of the garden to accentuate its beauty.
“Designing different sections takes a lot of effort,” says Rasool. “Each section is meticulously designed and selected for different varieties of tulips like strong gold, margaritas, candela, kung fu, early harvest, ile de france, etc. We also have hyacinths, daffodils and ranunculus.”
Apart from the variety of tulips, what fascinates Rasool the most is the tulip tree. “For me, this is one of the main highlights of the garden,” he says. “This tree comes to full bloom with tulips in March and presents a unique look.”
Rasool said that they have locally developed a technique with the help of experts to clone the tree.
“We identify a certain part of a branch of the tree and wrap a metal wire tightly around it then cover it with a small bag full of soil,” he said. “After some time the roots sprout from the area covered with the wire. That portion is planted and taken care of and after some time, a new tree begins to grow.”
The 30 hectare garden, located on the banks of the Dal lake, is on the foothills of Zabarwan. Because of the slopes, the garden has many terraces much like the famed Nishat garden that overlooks the Dal.
“This year we expect 1.25 million tulips and we hope the tourists come to see this beautiful spectacle, and also the locals,” Rasool says. “If the tourists don’t come it would sadden us to no end.”
A senior official of the floriculture department said the tulip garden in Kashmir is the first major landscaping project taken by the state after the royal Mughal indulgence.
“Kashmir is known for its beauty, not for tulips, so this is nothing short of an invention that attracts tourists,” he said. “The tulip garden has advanced the tourist season in Kashmir by a month and increased the revenue by Rs 1,500 crore at the best of times.”
As the officer was speaking to THE WEEK, Rasool continued to guide his men and pace the garden passing instructions to his team.