The International Seminar on ‘Mughal Gardens of Kashmir: Towards the UNESCO World Heritage Nomination’ was held in Srinagar at the University of Kashmir from 14 to 16 May 2011 and was the first international seminar on these famed gardens. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Jammu and Kashmir Chapter (INTACH J&K), in collaboration with the University of Kashmir (Department of History), and the Department of Floriculture, of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, co-organized the seminar.
The proceedings were published in 2013 by Gulshan Books in Srinagar, Kashmir (ISBN: 978-81-83-39-140-5). Koen Aertgeerts, Melissa Hollingsworth and Jan Haenraets participated with INTACH J&K in organising the conference and to prepare the proceedings. Here a few images and text fragments of the book.
During the three day seminar several landscape, architectural and heritage experts participated in the presentations, site visits and workshop sessions with an aim to press for the serial nomination of the historic Mughal gardens of Kashmir to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) prestigious list of World Heritage Sites. The process of preparing the nomination dossier is still ongoing. The entry for the Mughal Gardens in Kashmir as included in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List can be found under the link. The gardens that were included in the Tentative List are Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh, Achabal Bagh, Pari Mahal, Verinag and Chashma Shahi.
In the Preface of the proceedings book, the summary of the objectives of the seminar stated:
“…UNESCO adopted the World Heritage Convention in 1972. The cultural and natural heritage is among the priceless and irreplaceable assets, not only of each nation, but of humanity as a whole. The loss, through deterioration or disappearance, of any of these prized assets constitutes an impoverishment of the heritage of all the peoples of the world. UNESCO World Heritage listing represents an international recognition of the inherent culture and historic values of the listed properties, and brings new interest of cultural tourism. Cultural tourism is one of the major economic drivers of the vastly expanding tourism industry carrying with it substantial economic, social and educative benefits. Since the adoption of the Convention over 900 properties have been added to the World Heritage List, including twenty-eight in India. Amongst those Hampi National Park, Khajuraho, the churches and convents of Goa, the Taj Mahal and Kaziranga. The inclusion of the Mughal gardens of Kashmir on the World Heritage List would be a first property from Kashmir. Earlier this year the Mughal gardens of Kashmir were already included in UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
Since 1947 the Mughal gardens faced a sad depletion of their historical character and it was therefore the aim of the seminar to re-examine the Mughal gardens and their wider landscapes and increase our understanding of their historical evolution and significance. By sharing experiences and expertise the aim was to arrive at recommendations to inform the preparation of the UNESCO World Heritage nomination. In the meantime the outcomes of the conference and workshops assisted with the development of sustainable management visions for the gardens and their rehabilitation.
A serial nomination of the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir to the UNESCO World Heritage List can bring much needed local, national and international attention to the significance and conservation of the gardens, but as important, it can assist with enhancing the image of Kashmir to the wider public and world, and help to rejuvenate Kashmir as an internationally recognized cultural and heritage tourism destination….” (M. Saleem Beg & Jan Haenraets, May 2011)
The outcomes of the seminar have been organised in the Content of the book under the following headings:
- The inaugural session
- An introduction to the key gardens and site visit introductions
- Objectives of the seminar and the historical background of the gardens
- Status of existing conservation and management programmes for the gardens
- International case studies
- Technical workshop sessions
- Final recommendations
The need for enhanced protection and promotion of the heritage in Jammu and Kashmir is not only urgently needed for the historic gardens, but for instance also for much of the historic architecture and archaeology. Similarly the cultural traditions, craftsmanship, and intangible heritage are much at risk in the region.
The listing of Srinagar Heritage Zone, including Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh, in the World Monuments Fund list of 2008 of the 100 Most Endangered Monuments, highlighted the need for action. The devastating floods of 2014 in Srinagar damaged and destroyed again much irreplaceable heritage and historic architecture.
The Srinagar Development Authority is presently revising the Srinagar Master Plan 2000-21 to an updated version for 2015-35. Improved attention for heritage and ecology have to become more prominent in this Plan. A World Heritage listing of the Mughal gardens can hopefully also become a constructive contribution towards the visions of the 2015-35 Plan. Revisiting and retaining the objectives as discussed by experts and the wider community during the seminar ‘Towards the UNESCO World Heritage Nomination’ remains therefore most relevant.