Chashma Shahi is one of the gardens constructed by the Mughal court in the valley around Srinagar in Kashmir, a favorite summer retreat for the Mughal emperors. It is situated on the southeast side of Bod Dal (Dal Lake), just north of the Pari Mahal, a garden palace, and to the south of the Nishat Bagh, another garden. It is named after a spring that rises from a hill into which the garden is built. The Mughal governor Ali Mardan Khan oversaw the garden's construction under the patronage of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1632-1633/1042 AH. It is said that this date is derived from a verse found on the site: "Guftamash bahr-i chashma tarikhe/ Guft bar go kausar-i shahi," which translates to, "I inquired of him regarding the date of the spring/ He replied: Say 'Kausar-i Shahi'." The term "Kausar-i Shahi" is synonymous with Chashma-i Shahi. Calculating this term in the 'abjad' system yields the hijra year 1042.
The garden currently occupies a rectangular area measuring approximately 70.83 x 122.81 m. While numerous sources say that the site has been enlarged since its inception, no specific information is available. It is divided into three terraces of varying heights aligned on an axis running northwest to southeast. Its northwestern end marks the garden's lowest point and serves as the main entrance while its southeastern end marks its highest point of elevation and the source of the garden's water, which flows down the length of the garden through an axial water channel, from the spring source under a pavilion on the third (highest) terrace to a five-fountain-pool on the first (lowest) terrace.
The design of the garden, similar to other Kashmiri gardens, is a version of a traditional Persian garden that has been modified to fit the steep site. Because of the site's topography and the limited options for flowing water (its water could only run in one direction, from top to bottom), the double symmetry of the Persian garden was reduced to a central water axis. Instead of a flat ground plane, the garden is composed of terraced planes.
Approaching the site from street level, the visitor is received by a flight of stairs leading to the first (lowest) terrace. At the top of the stairs, an arched gate controls the access to the garden. Passing through the gate, one emerges onto the first terrace. The centerpiece of this level is a large rectangular pool with five fountains that forms the end of the garden's axial water feature. It is fed with a channel that runs down the center of the first terrace via a steep chadar (water ramp) emerging from a large platform at the southern end of the terrace that juts out from the second (middle) terrace. This platform would have once formed the base of a baradari (pavilion), which no longer remains.
Two flights of stairs frame the platform's base and take the visitor from the first to the second terrace. Here, the water channel runs through the center of the terrace through another rectangular pool with one fountain. At the north end of the second terrace, a smaller chadar framed by two sets of steps brings the visitor to the third and highest terrace.
The third terrace is the smallest and is dominated by a large, two-story baradari (pavilion) with a large open porch on its northern (front) end supported by two wooden columns. The spring providing water for the garden's channels emerges from under this porch. Behind the pavilion, mountains covered with greenery rise to form a verdant backdrop for the garden's uppermost level.
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