SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir

Asia’s most extensive Tulip garden, located in the Indian-administered Kashmir, was reopened to tourists to boost tourism in the region, officials said.

A senior government official welcomed many domestic and foreign tourists who flocked to the spectacular garden overlooking the Kashmir region’s iconic Dal Lake.

The Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden was first opened in 2008 by Ghulam Nabi Azad, the then-chief minister of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state, to attract more tourists during the 30-day flowering season.

Due to the pandemic last year, the garden remained closed for visitors and incurred huge losses. This year, however, authorities have made it mandatory for visitors to wear face masks when entering the garden, as well as follow COVID-19 operating procedures.

Anadolu Agency, while visiting the garden on the first day, found many visitors without face masks.

Shayak Hussain, a Floriculture Department officer, told Anadolu Agency that they had asked every visitor to wear face masks, and if any visitors remove them after entering the garden, “we request them to wear it again.”

The garden, formerly known as Siraj Bagh, is spread out over 30 hectares of land in the foothills of the snow-clad Zabarwan Range in the capital Srinagar.

The garden’s in-charge, Inam Rehman Sofi, told Anadolu Agency that this year the Floriculture Department had planted nearly 15 lakh (1.5 million) tulip bulbs of around 62 varieties.

“The garden has so far achieved a bloom of about 25%, and in the coming few days, the garden will be in full bloom,” the official said.

“You can see on the first day of its reopening, there is a huge rush of visitors. It will be a good season for tourism, hopefully,” he said in an optimistic tone.

Meanwhile, the administration announced that a new project is being undertaken in the backside to beautify the garden further.

“There will be a cherry tree and other attractive trees and flowers in the backside of the garden that will be an added attraction,” said the official.

Visitors happy

Kamla Kumari, a visitor from the Indian state of West Bengal, told Anadolu Agency that the garden’s beauty is breathtaking. She said she has never seen a place more beautiful than Kashmir.

“It is truly a paradise. What I can say here is that the air and surroundings are absolutely breathtaking… amazing view,” she said.

On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted pictures of the garden and urged people to visit it.

“Whenever you get the opportunity, do visit Jammu and Kashmir and witness the scenic Tulip festival. In addition to the tulips, you will experience the warm hospitality of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he had said on his Twitter handle.

Unhappy gardeners

Taking care of the garden is a daunting job for about 140 gardeners, half of whom are part-time employees, who are paid “peanuts” for their relentless work.

“We still get less than 120$ a month, even though many of us have been working here for over 15 years,” Javaid Ahmad, one of the gardeners, told Anadolu Agency.

“This is around the clock job, and the garden’s bloom will remain for almost a month… then we have to start working on it again,” Ahmad said.

The tulip flowers survive only for 3-4 weeks, and then in June, the gardeners clean the field by taking out all the buds manually and storing them. Then again, in November, the tulip buds are planted again along with the new ones.

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