The oldest Chinar found in the Valley is thought to have been planted in the year 1374.
Srinagar: Chinar, the majestic tree which is synonymous with Kashmir and can be found throughout the landscape of the scenic Valley, including its hillsides and cities, is being vandalised in the name of infrastructure development.
In the recent decades, several hundred Chinar trees have been felled to make the way for road widening and other infrastructure projects, causing concern among environmentalists. Also worried are people in the tourism trade as Chinar has boasted the attraction of millions of tourists in the past. Conservationists say that Kashmir, at an average, loses over 700 Chinar trees every year, hence, the “Magic of Kashmir” is facing challenge for its survival. “It is indeed shocking to see fully grown magnificent trees being axed in the name of unimaginative and haphazard development,” said author and former civil servant Khalid Bashir Ahmed.
Chinar (“what fire is this?” in Persian), which is also known as “Boone” to locals, was introduced to Kashmir from Persia well before by the time the Mughals annexed it in 1586. The oldest Chinar found in the Valley is thought to have been planted in the year 1374. Monarchs like the Mughals, Pathans and Dogra Maharajas treated the Chinar as an integral part of Kashmiri’s soul and existence and in 1969 the felling and lopping of the heritage tree was banned through a law called “The Jammu and Kashmir Reservation of Specified Trees Act (1969)”. But the law is being increasingly violated by the official agencies and in rare cases by people as well.
“It takes a century for a Chinar sapling to grow into a glorious ornamental tree and here they fell these in scores without remorse or accountability,” says Ahmed, adding, “Also, if you happen to walk by the Cricket Stadium at Sonawar (Srinagar) you would notice that over half a dozen huge Chinars have dried up due to the negligence, or should I say, culpability of the government that allowed the place to be used as a parking slot, grievously damaging the splendid Chinar grove. One cannot watch a tree like the Chinar which is synonymous with Kashmir, go extinct. Under the State Law which identifies it as darkat-ishahi (royal tree), it is a protected tree and the law needs to be stringently enforced”.
A Chinar (Plantanus orientalis) grows under temperate climatic conditions and has been found growing under sub-tropical areas as well but with limited growth. “People have been planting it in open lands and road avenues for hundreds of years as we see huge trunked Chinars well spread in length and breadth of the Valley as well as Banihal, Rajouri, Poonch, Baderwah and Kishtwar area of Jammu division, said Ghulam Sarwar Naqash, former Director of Department of Floriculture, Kashmir (DoFK).
He added, “As per the definitions any object living or non-living which reaches the age of 100 years is classified as heritage. Same is true for the plants and in case of Kashmir it is Chinar. But unfortunately, many Chinar trees were chopped down during last couple of decades”.