Once upon a time, the garden was an address for peak summer bathing, swimming and prayers. Now, Sher Bagh is a place for a brief halt for patients visiting the women’s hospital, reports Aasiya Nazir
Once the town’s coolest place for prayers, fresh air, and rest, Anantnag’s Sher Bagh is a sort of ruin now. Its glory is lost, and so is its quality of water and the freshwater fish ponds that would help kids pick up swimming and understand the aquatic life.
It is a historic garden. Residents attribute it to the Mughal era insisting that the pleasure-seeking occupiers laid most of the gardens in Kashmir including the south. However, history lacks a clear idea to vindicate the claim.
“Till 1951, the discharge from the Andar Nag spring had created a marsh on the spot,” M Salim Baig, the INTACH convenor in Jammu and Kashmir said. “One day when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah visited the town, the residents talked about the marsh and he suggested it be converted into the garden for the locality and since then it is named Sher Bagh.”
Baigh said he has checked with the historians and they have revealed that the residents went to neighbouring Mattan wherefrom they got fish and were introduced to the newly refurbished garden. Andar Bagh has a spring called Nagbal and the discharge made a small waterfall. Given the fact that there are a few references to the garden prior to 1947, there is a possibility that there might have been some kind of garden which was in duse and mismanaged and resulted in a marsh. “Mughals avoided laying gardens in the towns. All the Mughal gardens are far away from the population. They avoided laying a major garden in Srinagar.”
The neighbouring Rani Bagh, part of which houses an educational institution, is attributed to the Dogra period.
Sher Bagh is located on the foot of a hill that is home to a Sulphur spring, the Andar Nag. In fact, the discharge from this spring lands in Sher Bagh and moves through the neighbouring localities and eventually gets into the Jhelum. The water channel, however, is in ruins as the discharge has gone down.
Even though the water discharge has gone down, fish are hardly seen in the ponds, the garden still holds its majestic looks. It has enormous Chinars and during summers it is lush green.
What makes the Andar Nag and Sher Bagh premises interesting is that it has the stakeholding of all the faiths. The Nag premises have a temple and a Gurudwara. The Sher Bagh has an open mosque, where, till recently prayers were offered five times a day. It is an impressive platform that has a freshwater pond and various water channels surrounding it. The main pond has been a public swimming pool for generations. However, it was never called a mosque and was always referred to as Nimazgah.
“We used to swim in smaller channels and once we would get trained, we will finally swim in the main pond,” Abdul Rashid, a resident, now a doctor said. Originating from the sulphur spring, the water would normally be cold in spring and slightly warmer in winter. “It was a place for recreation and picking the real-life skill, the swimming and in between, there would be prayers.”
= Now, the garden is the casualty of the times. Officially it is managed by the fisheries department but there is no any fish in the ponds and the channels. The space that would be crowded by the residents during afternoons till late in the evening is now the resting place for the attendants of women admitted to the Maternity and Child Care Hospital.
The park space has been relocated. Realigned, it is craving for upkeep and proper maintenance.
Residents allege that the park has received little to no attention in the last many years. They claimed that visitors have ceased to get in. The fish have disappeared. They attribute it to the pollution over the hill.
“When I was a kid the number of fishes in the ponds was such that the surface was never visible,” resident, Mohammad Yousuf, said. “The water was so clean that we used to drink it. Now the water is polluted.”
Even though it lost its beauty, the garden retains its utility. Located near one of the busiest markets in the town, people still get in, take a rest and leave.
Society has equally contributed to the unmaking of this space. Though enough and adequate parking space is available near Rani Park, most of the people park their vehicles outside Sher Bagh, polluting its atmosphere. The parking at the main gate of the Bagh is impacting business and sometimes hinders the emergency cases in the hospital in their movement.
Another telling mess of the park is that the people who have lunch in the park, throw away a lot of waste. The park managers have failed to offer any kind of system that will enable the space to stay clean. Dustbins are there but nobody uses them.
Those visiting the park have their own issues. Zaina Begum is a frequent visitor. “The single biggest issue that the people face is the closure of the washrooms,” Begum said. “The public toilets were so dirty that they were locked, once and for all.”
Residents said the park is facing a crisis because there is multiple stakeholdings. While the property belongs to the Waqf Board, fish are supposed to be the Fisheries Department’s responsibility and the park is to be maintained by the Floriculture department. Residents said it would be ideal if the Bagh is given to a private party that will maintain it and manage it at a cost. “There is no harm in people paying some coins for spending a few hours in the park,” one resident suggested.