The spring of Achabal is perhaps the largest in Kashmir. Its old name was Akshvala, but it doesn’t seem to have been much known in medieval times. Abul Fazal speaks in Ain-e-Akbari as “a foundation which shoots up to the height of a cubit and is scarcely equalled for its coldness, limpidity, and refreshing qualities. The sick that drink of it and persevere in a course of its water recover their health.”
Bernier, who visited it in 1665 AD, speaks of its beauties in the following glowing terms: ‘Returning from Send-Bray, I turned a little from the high road for the sake of visiting Achiavel, a country house formerly of the kings of Kachemire and now of the Great Mogul. What principally constitutes the beauty of this place is a fountain whose water disperses itself into a hundred canals around the house, which is by no means unseemly and throughout the gardens. The spring gushes out of the earth with violence, as if it issued from the bottom of some well, and the water is so abundant that it ought rather be called a river than a fountain. It is excellent water and is as cold as ice. The garden is very attractive, laid out in regular walks, and full of fruit trees: apple, pear, plum, apricot, and cherry; jets-d’eau in various forms and fish ponds are in great number, and there is a lofty cascade which in its fall takes the form and colour of a large sheet, thirty or forty paces in length, producing the finest effect imaginable, especially at night when innumerable lamps are fixed in parts of the wall adapted for that purpose, are lighted under this sheet of water.”
This description, but for the run-down aspect of the tanks and water courses, and the comparative absence of nocturnal illuminations, might very well apply to the Achabal Garden of today. The cart-road and the Dak Bungalow have encroached upon its lowest terrace, though the original water course is still intact, and the foundations of its row of foundations are still invisible in the water. A quaint doorway built in the time of the Late Maharaja Ranbir Singh gives admittance to the second terrace of the garden. Most of the barahdari and pavilions belong to the repairs executed in the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. Only the ruins of the pavilion over the fountain itself, standing solitary yet strong in defiance of the rushing water and the destructive vegetation, belong to Mughal times. This garden doesn’t possess any sloping cascades. All the falls are vertical.
To the west of the garden are, or rather were, The Royal Quarters, the present building being modern and contemporaneous with the pavilions. The hamam of Jahangir, however, is in excellent preservation. The objects especially noteworthy here are a piece of a timber conduit lying in the compound and said to belong to Mughal times, and the system of earthen pipes which conveyed water to royal bathrooms from the subterranean channel in the uppermost terrace of the garden.
Achabal is an ideal place for laying out a garden. ‘Nowhere else have I seen such possibilities for a combined appeal of a stately stone-bordered pleasance between ordered avenues of full-grown trees, and a natural rock and woodland upper garden with haunting far-reaching views, where the white wild roses foam over the firs and the boulders rivalling the sheet of water Bernier Praised.’
The writer is a Class 9th student of Sabir Abdullah Public High School Wanihama, Anantnag