Nishat Bagh, considered to be second only to the royal Shalimar Gardens in size and significance, is found on the eastern side of the Dal Lake in the vicinity of Srinagar within the Vale of Kashmir.
Nishat Bagh ("Garden of Joy," "Garden of Gladness," "Garden of Delight,") is reputed to be the work of Nur Jahan's elder brother, Asaf Khan. Although it was not commissioned by a Mughal emperor, and therefore not a royal garden, its beauty received wide attention, including from the emperor himself.
There is a story highlighting the garden's magnificence: when
Shah Jahan visited the Nishat Bagh in 1633, he was much taken by its splendor. He told Asaf Khan how much he admired the garden on three subsequent occasions, expecting to be offered the Nishat Bagh as a gift. He was disappointed; Asaf Khan remained silent. In his displeasure, Shah Jahan ordered the water supply to Nishat (which was supplied by the same source as the royal Shalimar Bagh), cut off. The garden remained dry and desolate until one of Asaf Khan's servants disobeyed the imperial orders and restored the water supply. The imperial court, and the servant himself, were left in surprise when Shah Jahan received this news positively, going so far as to express his admiration for the servant's act of devoted service and then granting Asaf Khan the official right to draw water from the garden's source.
Nishat Bagh is an adaptation of the traditional Persian chahar bagh (four gardens). The chahar bagh takes its inspiration from the Quranic description of heaven as having four rivers, of wine, honey, milk, and water. The traditional chahar bagh is uniformly shaped, with a water source in its center and four (chahar) radiating streams which divide the garden (bagh) into four sections.
Similar to other gardens in the Dal Lake region, Nishat Bagh is not located on flat ground. The typical chahar bagh design had to be altered to fit the site's topography, as the source of water shifted from the traditional center of the square garden to the highest point of the garden. In this manner, one axial stream is emphasized and the other streams were minimized or even removed from the design. The garden is rectangular in shape, 544 meters long by 329 meters wide, and is oriented east-west; its eastern side is higher in elevation, and its western side touches the edge of Dal Lake.
As Nishat Bagh was not an imperial garden, its design was less hierarachical than royal Mughal gardens. It is divided into only two sections, the public pleasure garden and the private zenana (harem, or women's) garden. When the garden was created, the zenana garden was used by the women of Asaf Khan's household.
Within the two sections, the garden has twelve terraces, each related to a zodiac sign. The terraces begin from the public street level, which connects the garden's water stream to Dal Lake, and the twelfth terrace is located in the zenana garden. However, the early continuity of the first terrace was disturbed when the first terrace was later turned into a road.
A central water stream, nearly 4 meters wide and 20 centimeters deep, flows down from the top of the garden through a channel decorated with fountains and occasionally divided into fountain pools. Chadars, stone ramps engraved with wave patterns to render the flowing water more beautiful, transfer water between the various terraces. In several places, stone benches cross the axial water stream near a chadar, and serve as seating platforms for the visitor's enjoyment. The garden was originally planted with cypress and fruit trees.
The Nishat Bagh is best approached by water taxi from Dal Lake. On the first terrace (street level), the visitor finds a pool collecting water from a water chute that emerges from the garden's enclosure wall. Entering through the wooden gates to the second terrace, one finds a pool with five fountains that receives water from the third terrace and delivers it to the first terrace pool. The water chute on the third terrace is on top of a wall projection with five arched wall niches on its front side and one arched niche on either side.
A two-storey wooden baradari (pavilion) was originally located atop this projection, but was later removed to improve the view. Moving up to the third terrace via one of the two side staircases, the visitor would find a square pool (formerly located under the removed baradari) containing five fountains.
Progressing further east (upwards) along the axial water channel, one sees two small chadars between the two staircases (each with four treads) leading to the fourth terrace. The fourth terrace contains two levels: the first holds the water channel, and the second contains a small square pool with one fountain. A small chadar connects the water channel to the pool. A larger chadar, flanked by a staircase with seven treads, leads up to the fifth terrace. Right above the large chadar, a stone bench/viewing platform straddles the water channel. The fifth terrace begins with a square pool containing five fountains.
Similar to the fourth terrace, the sixth terrace also has two levels; however, its fountain pool has five fountains, compared to one on the fourth level.
Like the fifth terrace, the seventh terrace also begins with a pool of five fountains and ends with a small chadar that rises to the eighth terrace. At the beginning of the eighth terrace, one sees only the axial water channel; at the end of the eighth terrace, one sees the chadar rising to the next level, capped by an octagonal bench.
A set of two staircases takes the viewer to the ninth terrace.
The ninth terrace begins with the axial water channel, which leads to a large pool decorated with nine fountains. A large chadar, capped by a large octagonal bench, delivers water into this fountain pool from the tenth level. From the ninth terrace, the visitor can access the tenth terrace via stairs on side of the retaining wall. The tenth terrace contains no pools, but rather only the axial water channel decorated with fountains. An engraved chadar rises up to the eleventh terrace, where the viewer is greeted with a pool containing twenty-five fountains, fed by the chadar leading to the twelfth terrace.
On the eleventh level, one faces the retaining wall of the twelfth terrace, a 5.5-meter-high wall with blind arches. The wall marks the beginning of the private zenana garden on the twelfth level, which is accessed through a staircase in one of the arches. The zenana level is densely planted, containing a two-story baradari. Two small octagonal towers flank the retaining wall of the zenana terrace, looking down onto the eleventh level.
It is noteworthy that the Nishat Bagh has historically received attention from several provincial governors. At the time of the Maharaja Ranbir Singhji (1830-1885), the Nishat Bagh was restored, and the baradari on the third terrace removed. Today, Nishat Bagh is a public park.