Mughals patronised the chinar tree in Kashmir and spread it in every nook and cranny. Hundreds of trees were planted in the famous Mughal gardens, along the well-known roads and in the premises of grand mosques and shrines. When Akbar took over the reins of Kashmir in 1586, he ordered the planting of 750 chinar saplings on the shores of Dal Lake near Hazratbal. Naseem Bagh (garden of cool breeze) came up, and still exists with hundreds of colossal trees. It now houses a part of Kashmir University campus.
The emperor was so concerned about the garden flourishing with chinars that he ordered the saplings be watered with milk. Poet of the east, Allama lqbal, travelled to Kashmir and wrote some of his best couplets under the shade of Naseem Bagh chinars. During emperor Aurangzeb’s reign, a blaze engulfed the Grand Mosque of Srinagar and razed it to cinders. Aurangzeb wrote to his governor on the tragedy and inquired about the fate of chinar trees grown in the lawns of the mosque. On knowing that the chinars were safe, he remarked, “The mosque can be rebuilt in a year or two, but it would have taken a long time to beautify it with chinars.”
The patronage of chinar trees continued during the Dogra rule (1886- 1947). The kings planted hundreds of them in Srinagar and the countryside. All structures reminiscent of Dogra rule palaces, gardens, colleges and hospitals are surrounded by chinar trees. Today, you can see the best pruned variety in the lawns of InterContinental, The Grand Palace, a heritage hotel that’s keeping the Dogra legacy alive.
The past is rooted to the tree, the trunk of an ageing chinar hollows out and legend goes that ghosts find shelter in them. Often mortals too have sought refuge as is borne out by Akbarnama and Tuzk-e-Jahangiri. When Akbar travelled to Kashmir, he was caught up in sudden rain, He, along with his 34 guards, took shelter in the large, hollow trunk of a chinar. Jahangir and his seven courtiers on horseback entered another chinar trunk to avoid thunder showers.