With 20 lakh tulips of 46 varieties in its lap, Asia's largest tulip garden overlooking the world famous Dal Lake in Srinagar was on Saturday thrown open to visitors, marking the beginning of new tourism season in the valley.
The mega 15-day tulip festival, part of 'Bahaar-e-Kashmir' (spring in Kashmir) event, kick-started with the opening of the tulip garden as authorities focus on revival of tourism which was badly affected last year due to the unrest triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July.
Formerly known as Siraj Bagh, the Indira Gandhi Memorial tulip garden was opened in 2008 by the then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
The idea of the garden spread over 30 hectares in the foothills of snow-clad Zabarwan range was conceived to advance the tourism season in the valley by two months.
Nearly 1.75 lakh tourists visited the garden last year, generating a revenue of Rs 58 lakh.
"The tulip garden was thrown open for public today despite rains. With pleasant weather prevailing in the valley coupled with tulip festival, we are expecting the number of visitors to the garden to cross three-lakh mark this time," said a Tourism department official.
He said majority of the bulbs in the garden had bloomed due to favourable weather conditions presenting a mesmerising look to the visitors.
The average life span of the tulip flower is three to four weeks but heavy rains or too much of heat can destroy them.
The official said the tulip festival is part of 'Bahaar-e-Kashmir' event to showcase the garden to the outside world to attract more visitors.
"The festival will witness decorated food and handcraft stalls, kiosks to showcase the rich craft and cuisine of the valley with traditional ethnic touch.
"On the sidelines of this mega tulip festival, one 'Aalmi Mushaira' will be organised in which world famous poets will participate and enthrall the audience with their latest poems in Urdu which will be first-of-its-kind in the Valley," he said.
The tourism sector in the valley incurred loss of thousands of crores last year due to the unrest triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant along with two of his associates in an encounter with security forces in Kokernag area of Anantnag district.
The unrest which continued for months together claimed 85 lives and left thousands injured in street protests, bringing normal life to a standstill.
Photographs: Umar Ganie