Verinag


Reaching-Ladakh Verinag

Islamabad, the second town in Kashmir,stands a few miles higher up the Jhelum from Bijbehara, just where the river narrows. It is the starting-point for the Verinag-Jummu route. At the foot of the hill, overlooking the town, there are numerous springs, and consequently remains of Mughal gardens. But only some Kashmiri pavilions, and the stone tanks which swarm with sacred carp are left.

The direct road from Islamabad to Verinag Bagh, Nur-Jahan's favourite Kashmir garden, runs for nineteen miles across the rivers and the rice-fields and a very bad road it is. For the traffic of the country goes down the new Jhelum valley road by Baramulla and Domel, up over the Murree hill, and out to join the railway at Rawal Pindi. Now, if a river washes away a bridge or two between Islamabad and Verinag, no one hurries to replace it and the old road is left to the pilgrims from the plains or to stray travellers, such as the little company who gathered in the gardens at the northern foot of the Banihal Pass to spend, after the old fashion, the last hot weeks of June by the ice-cold holy spring.

Camped under the chenars of the ruined garden, where the pine forest runs down a steep limestone spur to the tank in which the spring rises, it is easy to understand the romantic charm of Verinag (the secret spring, the supposed source of the Jhelum, " the snake recoiled," as the literal translation runs) and the spell which held Jahangir and Nur-Mahal in their palace by the bright blue-green pool, where the largest of the sacred carp bore the Queen's inscriptions on gold rings placed through their gills. On the cold mountain pass above, Jahangir died ; leaving a last request that he might be brought back and buried by the spring. But as we have seen, his wishes were set aside; the courtiers no doubt were frightened by the approach of winter, and the danger of the passes being closed ; and the Court continued their journey south- wards, carrying the dead Emperor down to Lahore.

The octagonal tank built round the spring is designed to form the centre of the palace buildings. No omrah's house at Delhi was complete without its fountain court, and the same idea is carried out on the grandest scale for the Emperor's palace at Verinag. Round the reservoir there are twenty-four arched recesses still roofed over, some containing small stairways 'which led to the rooms above; and the few carved stones of the cornice that are left show how fine the building must have been. The current rushes out through the large arched crypt on the north side, flowing under the chief fagade of the house. The stream, flashing through the gloom, lights up the dark arches with a flickering green magic like a mermaid's cave, beyond which lies the serene upper world of the sunlit watercourt.

The palace is built on a succession of small arches extending across the width of the first terrace.Only the lower story is left, the rest of the building having been destroyed by a fire a few years ago. A road and an ugly rubble wall shut out the terrace and turfed wooden bridges across the canals, and spoil the whole effect, which must have been most impressive when the palace walls formed the southern garden boundary, backed by the dark pines on the cliff behind the spring. The main canal is about twelve feet wide, and is crossed by a second watercourse running immediately under the building. The garden has been a large one, although it is somewhat difficult to make out the whole plan. At present the first terrace is alone enclosed, but a broken water-chute leads to a lower level, and a big hummum with stone-edged platforms and other buildings can be traced on the east side.