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Kashmir valley’s healing gardens are in bloom

Hundreds throng to view the valley’s colourful spring, which brings mental relief to the gloom of lockdowns and winter

Hundreds of people are flocking to Kashmir’s blooming almond alcoves and tulip gardens, described by some local mental health professionals as “therapeutic for the scarred psyche”. The valley has been under prolonged spells of lockdown over the past 19 months.

Feroz Jan, a resident of Gojwara, enjoyed the colours of the lush almond bloom at Srinagar’s Badam Vaer, a popular almond alcove, along with his two children, like many other families camping for afternoon tea inside the garden. “I lost my father to COVID-19 last year. It was a tragic year even before Kashmir became tense for many months at a stretch. This is my first outing since August 5, 2019 (when the Centre ended J&K’s special status). I wanted my kids to experience something soothing and nice,” Mr. Jan, a government employee, said.

The caretakers at Badam Vaer said that people have been thronging the garden for almond bloom this time, much earlier than its official opening on Saturday.

To celebrate the peaking of the fabled Kashmir spring, which sees a riot of colours in the valley’s gardens and highlands with apricot and almond trees flowering, Director of Tourism G.N. Itoo said a cultural show was planned on Saturday.

Much needed respite

Dr. Arshad Hussain, a psychiatrist at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, said such outings and soothing experiences were much needed.

“Poor light all through the winter months does impact the human mind and result in mood disorders. The poor brightness of [winter] daylight and its grey shades do induce depression and laziness. It’s the spring season and the colours that breaks this grey spell for the human mind here,” Dr. Hussain said.

A study titled ‘Mental health in Kashmir: Conflict to COVID-19’, carried out by psychiatrists Sheikh Shoib and S.M. Yasir Arafat, points to how these two aspects supplemented each other “to increase the psychological problems” in Kashmir.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added an additional burden on the mental health system of Kashmir. The change in the status of J&K had resulted in frequent curfews and lockdown, which added further trauma to Kashmir…Preventive measures like social distancing can lead to increased loneliness, particularly for the elderly population, which can precipitate mental health issues,” the study warned.

According to the study, 45% of Kashmir’s adult population (or about 1.8 million people) is suffering from some form of mental distress.

“There is a high prevalence of depression (41%), anxiety (26%), post-traumatic stress disorder (19%), and 47% had experienced some sort of trauma. A retrospective study on suicide recorded an increase of more than 250% in the number of suicide attempts between 1994 and 2012,” the authors observed.

Therapeutic experience

Dr. Hussian said family outings to watch spring blossoms was likely to provide “a temporary therapeutic period”.

“The bright colours in the alcoves and gardens of the valley impact the minds of people and motivate them for pleasure activities, even romance. This sudden bright light infuses hormonal and behavioural changes. Spring in Kashmir has always motivated people to start afresh,” Dr. Hussain added.

For now, Badam Vaer, which has been a favourite haunt for locals since March 1958, during Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad’s rule, is attracting families and couples.

Later this month, officials said they would be organising a tulip festival at Srinagar’s Tulip Garden.

“The upcoming festival to celebrate the blooming of tulips will be a blend of various activities. The festival should present a unique opportunity to display the diverse culture and cuisine of J&K,” officials said.

Popular local artists, and from Bollywood, including leading music maestros, are expected to perform at the festival, they added.

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