Many a visitor is charmed by the classical Kashmiri tradition of laying out an architectural masterpiece around a river channel or a natural water body.
I call architecture frozen music, said German creative genius Johann Wolfgang Goethe. As I stood at the newly-constructed Pahalgam Club in Pahalgam, Kashmir, I knew what Goethe meant. And I wondered what symphony should be played there.Perhaps a symphony of santoors, the classical Kashmiri music instrument. The sparkling notes of the santoor would complement such splendid architecture in this gorgeous valley of pines and cedars. The sun was setting over the mountains of the Aru valley, contiguous to Pahalgam. The roar of the gushing Lidder river, which skirts Pahalgam Club, reached my ears. I knew why I could hear the play of divine music as I stood within the club premises. It is because Pahalgam Club has revived the old, glorious tradition of water architecture in Kashmir. The grey-green torrents of the Lidder, breaking in curling waves against the boulders, flank the rear of Pahalgam Club.And through a concrete channel in the club runs a stream of the Lidder, calm and gentle. The clear water channel is separated upstream to flow through this magnificent complex.In its majestic new avatar, Pahalgam Club has a brick-red façade with sloping green roofs, stately woodwork and lavish decor. It has been built by the J&K Tourism Department, and boasts of a convention centre, auditorium, spa, swimming pool and luxury suites.The architect had to work around regulatory restrictions of low building height and create a structure that would complement the beauty of this valley of tall pines.But creativity works around constraints and triumphs over them. The revival of Kashmir’s classical tradition of water architecture is the most striking feature of Pahalgam Club.I can see visitors to the club charmed by the expansive complex. Most of them may not be aware that the club follows the classical Kashmiri tradition of laying out an architectural masterpiece around a river channel or a natural water body.This terraced layout is intrinsic to the illustrious heritage of Kashmir. At places, where the water flows over the terraces, it is called the ‘chadar (sheet)’ layout.For the average Kashmiri tourist, the most familiar examples of water architecture are the terraced Mughal gardens — Shalimar and Nishat. Another captivating example of water architecture in Kashmir is Verinag in Anantnag district. ‘Nag’ stands for spring in Kashmiri.The Verinag spring is the major source of water for the Jhelum river. The Jhelum flows through south Kashmir, and onwards through Srinagar.Emperor Jahangir built the octagonal tank of sculptured stones around the clear blue spring of Verinag, enclosed by a Mughal arcade with 24 arched recesses. The water of the spring collects between the octagonal stone basin.In 1913, Constance Mary Villiers Stuart wrote the book ‘Gardens of the Great Mughals’. She was the wife of a British soldier stationed in India. Her pioneering book launched the historical study of the Mughal Gardens.This is what Villiers wrote of Verinag. “For those who feel the charm of solitude in a beautiful setting, Verinag Bagh is still an enchanting place to pass the early summer days.”She records in her book: From the curiously vivid green depths of the tank an emerald flash lights up a polished black marble slab let into the walls, revealing Jahangir’s inscription: “The King raised this building to the skies: the angel Gabriel suggested its date 1609.”There is another engraved tablet within the octagonal arcade. It says in Persian: “God be praised! What a canal and what a waterfall! Constructed by Haider, by order of Shah Jahan, the Paramount Lord of his Age, this canal is a type of the canal in the Paradise, this waterfall is the glory of Kashmir.” The grandeur of Kashmir’s water architecture has caused royal heartburn too. The heartburn centred around Nishat Bagh, which means ‘the garden of bliss’.Built near the bank of the Dal Lake with the Zabarwan mountains as its backdrop, Nishat Bagh commands a magnificent view of the lake. It was designed and built in 1633 by Asif Khan, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s prime minister and father-in-law.Legend has it that when Shah Jahan visited Nishat Bagh, he was enchanted by its architecture and beauty. He desired the possession of these pleasure grounds. But Asif Khan, equally enchanted by his property, did not give it to the Emperor. Enraged by this, Shah Jahan cut off the water supply to the garden, leaving Nishat Bagh dry, and Asif Khan desolate. But a few weeks later, following the order of the Emperor, water supply to the garden was restored.The Shalimar Garden, Chashm-e-Shahi (royal spring) and Pari Mahal (palace of the fairies) are other delightful celebrations of water architecture in Kashmir.The Shalimar Garden was developed by Emperor Jahangir for his beloved wife Noor Jahan in 1619. His son Shah Jahan built the Chashm-e-Shahi, the terraced garden at the foothills of Zabarwan mountains, around 1632.Pari Mahal is the creation of Dara Shikoh, Emperor Shah Jahan’s eldest son. In the Kashmiri folklore, Pari Mahal is a place steeped in magical stories. These gardens and the Pari Mahal are among the favourite tourist haunts in Kashmir. Pari Mahal does not have any water channels now, since the spring that fed water to it has gone dry.I am happy to see that Kashmir has not forgotten its precious bond with water architecture. In their own small ways, Kashmiris are celebrating this unique architectural heritage of the region.About 20 km short of Pahalgam, a doctor couple have constructed their farmhouse on the banks of the Lidder river. A stream of the same river, separated upstream, runs through their dining room, through a narrow concrete channel. The doctor takes visitors to his farmhouse to the dining room with great pride. The room has a wide table with a glass top. The legs of the table straddle the concrete channel below.The Lidder stream runs through the concrete channel below the table, gushing and roaring. All visitors are amazed by this awe-inspiring, delightful feature of the farmhouse.But then, Kashmir has always been awe-inspiring and delightful.