I remember walking into the gate of the Kokernag Botanical Garden in Kashmir and being astounded at the beauty that lay before me.
It was autumn, and the leaves were a multi-hued bouquet of red, gold and green. Wooded glens, lawns and streams created a tranquil and dream-like mood.
A gurgling spring ran over the pebbles beside a paved promenade. Ornamental lamps stood guard providing the perfect foil to a green Japanese bridge that spanned the stream a few meters ahead. It was a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a Monet painting.
The kids splashed about in the stream and played on the swings and slides in a tiny playground at the centre of the park while I took in the view and took some snapshots. The sweet fragrance of pine filled my nostrils as I collected pine cones fallen beneath the huge conifers.
The gardens were almost empty. Either there were very few people interested in visiting, or it was not on the usual tourist itinerary. I found the lack of crowds a blessing because we could sit around on the lawns undisturbed and take in the sun.
Kokernag is a sub-district town in Breng Valley (The Golden Crown of Kashmir), a distance of about 22 km from Anantnag. A picnicker’s paradise, the botanical garden was developed in the shadow of a thickly wooded hill, at the base of which springs gush out.
The spring divides into channels that resemble the claw-foot of a hen, giving rise to the theory that Koker comes from a Kashmiri word for chicken and nag from the Sanskrit word for springs or serpent.
The garden is developed entirely around these springs, which are thought to have magical, healing powers. Ain-e-Akbari, the detailed gazetteer of Akbar’s empire, also recorded the curative and digestive properties of Kokernag spring water.
Unlike the Mughal gardens built by the kings of old, the Kokernag Botanical Gardens were developed by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism department and are home to over one lakh (100,000) species of flora including trees, roses, shrubs and bushes.
To have created a garden that rivals the beauty of even the Mughal gardens is no mean feat and J&K Tourism must be commended for that.
Although the best time to visit the Botanical Garden is from March to October, we went in early November and were treated to a glorious display of colour, with the Chinar trees a bright shade of red.
We spent a blissful few hours at ‘The Pleasure Garden’ (I could see why it was called that), and I remember wishing I had known that we could’ve booked a stay at the little cottages in the heart of the garden, right under the shade of Chinar trees. Unfortunately, we hadn’t planned for that.
We also missed out on a visit to the trout farm at the end of the garden, but you don’t have to. The Kokernag Botanical Gardens left me stunned with their beauty. Be sure to put this little piece of Paradise on your itinerary if you visit Kashmir.
If you’ve visited Kokernag Botanical Gardens, do let me know how you liked it in the comments below.