The mighty Mughal emperors laid out a series of exquisite gardens on the foothills of the Zabarvan Hills overlooking the Dal Lake. These include Cheshma Shahi, Nishat and Shalimar.
Other interesting sites include the Botanical Garden below Cheshma Shahi and Pari Mahal, an ancient Mughal observatory above it. Harwan is a garden on the banks of a reservoir fed by the Dagwan stream flowing through the Dachigam National Park.
A short walk up the hills from the Harwan gardens and reservoir leads to the ancient monuments where the Kushan emperor Kanishka held the Fourth Great Buddhist Council in the first century CE.
Schematic reconstruction of the apsidal stupa at Harwan
I am not an expert on Buddhism but I read somewhere that the Fourth Great Buddhist Council had great significance as it marked the advent of Mahayana Buddhism which is one of the two main branches of Buddhism, the other being Hinayana/Theravada Buddhism.
Mahayana or "Greater Vehicle" emerged as a more inclusive stream of Buddhism accessible to people from all walks of life – not just monks and ascetics as was the case with Hinayana or "Lesser Vehicle" which focused primarily on meditation and a monastic life. Mahayana is the primary form of Buddhism in North Asia and the Far East, including China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia.
The vast commentary known as the Mahāvibhāṣā (“Great Exegesis”) is generally attributed to the council held in Kashmir.
One summer day as I was standing amongst the ruins of the Great Hall of the Council, I heard a long drawn out Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…
For the briefest of moments I imagined I was back in Ladakh with long-forgotten Buddhist chants ringing out as clear as crystal in my mind. Startled, I looked up and saw that the sound was being generated by the wing beats of a large dragonfly hovering above my head.
Indeed the setting has the wondrous stillness I have experienced at other Buddhist sites especially the Alchi Monastery in Ladakh. One has to marvel at the perfection of the spot chosen by the Kushan emperor. I would recommend experiencing in person the unparalleled vista of the Dal unfolding against the backdrop of the Zabarvan cliffs. No panoramic photographs can do it justice.
P.S My kids think this hill above the stupa should be called Elephant Hill.
I think it has something to do with watching the 'Ice Age' trilogy back to back!
Nice to see them use their imagination, though.