Keukenhof to Kashmir: the Tulip tale --By Reetu Asrani

Keukenhof to Kashmir: the Tulip tale --By Reetu Asrani

Film shooting in Tulip Garden - Jammu and KashmirWhether you are watching a Yash Chopra romance, or listening to that all-time classic song, ‘Tiptoe through the tulips with me’, you are sure to be in awe of that magical flower, known as the tulip. Roses are red, violets are blue, but tulips are tulips, in breath-taking hues.


One of the world's most exquisite flowers, elegant, romantic and bright, the tulip is a visual delight. In Persian literature, a tulip is compared to a glass of wine. Tulips got their name from the Turkish word ‘tulbend’ which means, ‘turban’, as tulips resembled the turbans of the Turks. Tulips are also known as gul-e-lala in Urdu, and Kashmiris lovingly call it Gulal.


Originally a wild flower grown in Central Asia, the tulip was first cultivated by the Turks, as early as the 1st century A.D. Their key genetic base is in the Tien-Shan and the Pamir Alai Mountain Ranges, near Islamabad, close to the borders of China and Russia. From here, the tulip spread to other regions in the East, West and North-West. Another genetic base developed in Azerbaijan and Armenia (TransCaucasia). The tulips spread from these regions to the far-flung areas of Europe. In modern times, tulips still grow wild, in different parts of Spain, Portugal, the Balkans, Switzerland, France and Italy. According to an estimate, there are around 150 varieties of tulips, which are naturally native to Europe.

Dutch connection

Tulip is considered as an integral part of Dutch heritage. Hence, it is a common misconception that the flower originated from Holland. The flower was introduced to the Dutch in the 17th century, by Carolus Clusius, a famous biologist from Vienna. From late 1636 to early 1637, there was a complete ‘Tulip mania’ in the Netherlands. Some specimens cost more than an Amsterdam house, at this time. The Dutch have continued their love affair with tulips, which started more than 400 years ago. The tulip has become an eternal symbol for Holland.


Keukenhof is the world’s largest flower garden (32 hectares), and is located between the towns of Hillegom and Lisse, south of Haarlem. The park attracts 8,00,000 people during the open hours, of two months each year, and it is one of the most photographed sights in the world.


Of the three billion tulip bulbs annually produced in Holland, an average of two billion get exported, with one billion remaining in the Netherlands. The United States is the top-most importer of tulip bulbs, followed closely by Japan and Germany. Nearly one billion bulbs go to the USA.

Arrival of spring

The tulips grow well in high-altitude, mountainous regions. They are planted in late autumn, and in winter, the thick layer of snow provides insulation and protection from extreme cold. Tulips blossom early to late spring, depending on the climate in which they are planted. The blossoms of tulips act as messengers of nature, declaring the end of long merciless wintry weather, and announcing the arrival joyful spring.

Dramatic flower

The dazzling colours, brilliant flames, and frilly petals,make it one of the most admired flowers of the world. But it was discovered in the 20th century that these frilly petals and glowing flames, that make the flower look so dramatic, in fact, were the symptoms of an infection caused by the mosaic virus. The healthy flowers were supposed to be solid, smooth and of a single tone.  

Over the years, the tulips of countless variations and colors have evolved due to frequent cross-breeding. A wide range of colours are available, with the exception of true blue. Almost 4,000 horticultural varieties have been developed till date. A tulip is more renowned for its vibrant colours than for its fragrance. However, there are many ‘Double Early’ tulips that have a lovely scent, reminding us of honey.

Some chefs consider the fresh petals of certain varieties of tulips edible, and due to their pleasant aroma, use them in salads and sandwiches.

Tulip festivals

Tulip Festivals are held annually in different parts of the world, in which they are grown. In the month of May, the festivals are organised in Spalding (England) and in North America. The world's largest festival of tulips is, of course, held in Keukenhof, in the Netherlands. Spring arrives in the months of September-October, in southern hemisphere, hence Australia celebrates the Tulip Festival in these months. In India, Tulip Festivals are organised in Srinagar, Kashmir, during March-April.

Symbol of true love

There is a legend about the origin of tulips, and it is part of the immortal lovers’ tale, Shirin-Farhaad. A prince named Farhaad was in love with a maiden named Shirin. When Farhaad learnt that Shirin had died, he was so overcome with grief that he killed himself. It is said that a tulip sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the tulip the meaning ‘true love.’


Different colors of tulips carry their own significance. Red tulips are associated with love, while purple symbolises royalty. The yellow tulips convey cheerful thoughts, and white tulips express forgiveness. Multi-coloured tulips, the most popular varieties due to their striking color patterns, represent beautiful eyes. It is said that the tulip’s velvety black center represents a lover's heart, darkened by the heat of passion.

The Black Tulip

A historical romance by Alexander Dumas (1850) was titled ‘The Black Tulip’ in which the city of Haarlem has a reward for the first grower who can produce a truly black tulip. In those days, botanically, it was an impossible task to grow a black tulip. The novel was set in the period of tulip-mania in the Netherlands. During that time, there was a fascination with growing unusual varieties of tulips. Nowadays, tulips of a shade which look nearly black are grown in many parts of the world.

The tulip garden of Kashmir

Kashmir is the land of charismatic beauty and eternal romance, blessed by nature, with breathtaking scenery and a glorious climate. In spring, nature is in its fairest mood with millions of flowers blooming all over the valley. Every year, blossoms of multi-coloured tulips in the tulip garden of Kashmir, join the celebration of spring and turn the landscape into a symphony of colours.


The tulip garden of Kashmir surpasses the allure of all tulip gardens of the world, due to its picturesque setting. It is most ideally located, in the heart of Srinagar, the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir. The mighty Zabarwan Mountains proudly guard these colourful gems, and grant an impressive background; the shining waters of Dal Lake, in the foreground, bestow it with an ornamental look, while the palace of fairies, Pari Mahal, overlooking the garden, imparts a mystical aura. It is the largest tulip garden in Asia, spread over an area of around 12.5 hectares.


Rows of over 1.2 million tulips, in an amazing assortment of colours, give the impression that countless rainbows have descended on earth. Over a hundred varieties of vibrant tulips mesmerise tourists, with their intricate designs.


The tulips that grow in Kashmir are blessed with brighter hues than the tulips grown in other parts of the world. The long, cool springs, and the rich soil of Kashmir, are most favourable for growing tulips. The bulbs are planted in autumn, in high, elevated areas. Each bulb holds a promise--a promise of a world, alive with colour and good cheer. With the advent of spring, they transform into infant buds, soon blossoming into probably the world’s most beloved flowers.


According to experts, tulips have more than a thousand years of history in Kashmir, where the flower  was cultivated in unique ways. In Srinagar, most houses, in the olden days, used to have thatched roofs, which were  coated with soil. The tulips used to be grown on these roofs, and it was a fascinating sight to see them in bloom during the spring season.


The magnificent tulip garden enhances the magnetism of paradise on earth--Kashmir.

Text: Reetu Asrani  Pics: Owais Rahim Raga
Reetu is a producer-director of  documentaries and the Project Head of  Indian Youth Climate Network, IYCN  (Jammu and Kashmir). A strong  supporter of communal harmony, she  has worked in radio and television, and organised events like Lohri ki Dhoom, Kashmiri Sufiyana Music Concert, -‘Jashn-e-Aman’- and 'Khwaja Ke Darbar Se.' Having lived in Kashmir for many years, she now shuttles between Srinagar and Mumbai.

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