(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 68, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)
Going Beyond Tulips
The setting up of the now world famous Tulip garden has achieved much more than it was intended to achieve. It was proposed to be a new attraction for tourists visiting Kashmir. It has become an important stop on the itinerary of any tourist visiting Kashmir during the short life span (about a month) of these flowers. In fact, the Tulip garden itself has helped in the early start of the tourist season. Apart from tourists, the garden has drawn the attention of the local population in a significant way. In fact, the Tulips have made locals also flower conscious. No doubt the valley itself is a big garden. We have all varieties of flowers growing naturally all over the place yet being there all the time, we hardly notice these! Tulips made us notice the flowers. This feeling needs to be cashed now. Tulip garden is a means and not an end in itself.
Generally, in the past Kashmiris welcomed spring with the Almond blossoms in Badamwari. However, now spring is also associated with the Tulips.
The most dramatic sight of Washington which I witnessed during my visit to USA in 1998 was the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It is a very important annual event which takes place in March-April. The Festival has an interesting history. In 1912, an incredible gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees was bestowed on Washington, DC by Tokyo, Japan. Rooted strongly and surviving outside elements, the trees have withstood the test of time and are a treat for everyone, especially the Japanese who come in large numbers to see it. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is preparing for an unprecedented and once-in-a-lifetime celebration, the centenary event! The epic 5-week spectacular, from March 20 – April 27, 2012, will unify and electrify the city, Washington, DC and the region will be abuzz with excitement. At that time I wished we too had an event like that! As already mentioned our Badamwari Festival centred on the Almond Blossoms has been a good local event. However, the blossoming of the Tulips has created an event similar to Washington Cherry Blossom Festival. We could also obtain few thousand Japanese ornamental cherry trees and create a similar festival in some other spot! It would be another attraction for tourists especially the Japanese who think they alone have cherry blossoms!
It is good to have prestigious gardens like the Tulip Garden, Badamwari and historical Mughal Gardens but there is also need to rejuvenate and revitalise dozens of parks all over the city and other parts of the valley. Though a number of parks have been set up in many places for the benefit of the local population, yet quite a few of these are defunct and have become garbage dumps. The main reason is the lack of man power. The Floriculture department has been handed over the maintenance of all parks of various departments like the Hospitality and Protocol and others.
According to norms fixed by Government of India, their staff for the gardens should be more than 6,000 but they do not even have 2,000 people. They have an army of daily-wagers some even 18 years on casual basis. Recently they had gone on strike for regularisation and the whole department had come to a standstill. Higher authorities need to pay attention to this aspect and not only concentrate on Tulip or Mughal Gardens.
Apart from being a tourist attraction, the flowers have a tremendous commercial potential. Kashmir has the capacity to become one of the largest flower growing hubs in the region especially the cut flower variety like tulips, gladiolas, carnations, lilies, and so on. The cut flower project had been in the pipeline for a pretty long time. Reportedly it has taken off during last couple of years. There are reported to be over 1,000 private growers registered with the department. Some young entrepreneurs like one Zakir of Shangus are exporting over couple of hundred thousand bulbs to Delhi and other places. Some others have grown even Tulips under controlled conditions. Department is supposed to have set up walk in cold stores and is currently preparing refrigerated vans for the transportation of cut flowers. A flower mandi is also expected to be made operational soon. The private registered growers get assistance from the centre but there is need for the state to also step in if commercial floriculture is to be made attractive to local youth. Once these ventures take off, they would be making sufficient profit on their own. From the marketing side also the state needs to encourage big houses exporting flowers to foreign countries especially Middle East to step in to pick up products from Kashmir in a big way. In fact, one of the tasks of the prematurely shut down Srinagar-Dubai flight was to carry flowers, agriculture products, and trout from Kashmir to the Gulf region.
Restarting of that flight may provide a big outlet for these Kashmiri products. When Kashmir needs a person like Badshah, it gives birth to a Jehangir! Let us hope our new Jehangir’s go beyond ornamental flowers. Now that the Tulips are in fashion, it would be a real boon if the concerned think and go beyond the Tulips!