|Srinagar is holding one of the world's biggest tulip festivals until April 15./ Photographed by Jeong In-seo|
By Jeong In-seo, New Delhi correspondent, AsiaToday – Srinagar is the largest city in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in northwestern India. It's where Zabarwan Mountains, a sub-mountain range of the Himalayas, and Dal Lake are located.
It was raining in Srinagar when I headed to the city on Tuesday. On the way from the airport to the city, the army and police were in full alert with watchful care. Unlike the anti-India rally last August, people were walking the streets freely and shops were welcoming visitors. The barbed wire that filled the road were much less than before.
|Spring rain drizzled down in Srinagar on April 4./ Photographed by Jeong In-seo|
I decided to stay at the Malabar Hotel in Chinar Garden, which links Dal Lake with the old town. The four-story hotel seemed to have little guests. "The tulip festival is on its fourth day, and it's difficult to find tourists," said hotel manager Shanimal. "But we have more guests than last year. The festival will continue for about ten days, but it seems hard to expect any more guests if it rains like today."
The mega tulip festival in Srinagar welcomes tourists with 1.5 million tulips of 46 varieties spread over 30 hectares.
I took an auto-rickshaw ride to the Tulip Garden, where the festival was taking place. Along the world-famous Dal Lake, the auto-rickshaw went up to the mountain. There wasn't a single car on the way to the festival and I was a little worried for the festival. But my fears were groundless.
|Srinagar police officers are standing guard at the Tulip Garden./ Photographed by Jeong In-seo.|
The parking lot outside the Tulip Garden was full when I arrived. "They heightened security just before the festival due to clash between the police and armed groups. It has been raining for several days, so I thought it would be difficult for tourists to come. But many tourists are coming to the festival," said park manager Saeb Salam. "I hope this tulip festival can revitalize Srinagar's tourism business," he added.
He also told me about the history of Tulip Garden. The garden was originally an apple orchard. It was 1998 when the commercial floriculture activity started in the garden with the support of FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization of United Nations). Various kinds of Tulip, Gladiolii and lilium were introduced for study of their adaptability. In 2006, about 275,000 tulip bulbs imported from the Netherlands were sown in the garden over an area of more than 1 hectare. The garden has been increasing its cultivation area since then.
|The tulip festival welcomed tourists with more than 1.5 million tulips of 46 varieties spread over 30 hectares./ Photographed by Jeong In-seo|
When I entered the garden, colorful tulips were in full bloom along the small valley of the Zabarwan Range. Although it was raining, tourists were making memories by taking pictures without hesitation.
The Shruti family came from Agra, Uttar Pradesh, the city of Taj Mahal. "It was so hot that I was looking for some place for picnic, and I heard that a tulip festival was taking place. So I came to enjoy with my family," said Mrs. Shruti. "I thought it would be difficult to go sightseeing because it was raining. But this place is more attractive than I expected. The combination of mountains and tulips surrounded by fog gives mysterious aura," she said.
Yassin, who visited the festival with his friends, said, "It always rains at tulip festival. Rain is not a big problem for tourism. Too bad that I don't see many foreign tourists, but I'm glad that a lot of tourists from other parts of India have come. I hope more tourists come to see Srinagar a lot."
|Rain didn't stop tourists from coming to enjoy the tulip festival./ Photographed by Jeong In-seo|
I was also able to meet Japanese tourists. "I was nervous to find a lot of police at the airport, but I cannot feel such tension here," said Mizuho. "Now I see why people say this place is a paradise."
The tulip festival will be held until April 15. An official of Kashmir Tourism Agency told a local media, "We will carry out various events during the festival. We have strengthened our guard duty together with the military and the police in order to ensure the safety of tourists. I hope this festival can revive Kashmir's tourism industry."
|A small traditional concert was held at the tulip garden./ Photographed by Jeong In-seo|
Meanwhile, the Indian government promised to boost tourism in the troubled Kashmir. A new 11-kilometer tunnel linking the Jammu state of Kashmir with the eastern parts of India has been opened on Sunday. It took six years to build the tunnel at a cost of Rs 25 billion.
The Indian government said that it will work on the development of tourism infrastructure in Kashmir, and that the opening of the tunnel will greatly shorten the traffic time that had been paralyzed by landslides and more.