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Floored by floral beauty

Tulips of every kind, colour and size abound in Keukenhof in Holland. As far as the eye can see, there are f<134><134><134><134>lowers: a riot of pink, purple, white, orange, red, yellow and miles of green grass

Flower fanatics had a field day, making copious notes

photo: ap

TAKE YOUR PICK Endless patches of flower fields make Keukenhof breathtakingly beautiful photo: ap

Ask anybody who has visited Keukenhof what it is like, and you're likely to be greeted with a string of superlatives — "you must see it... it is breathtakingly beautiful"; "oh, my! The tulips"; "it's a carpet of flowers all the way". Obviously, we wanted to see what it was that got the otherwise inured-to-natural-beauty Dutchmen so excited. So one fine Friday late April (when the tulips are supposedly at their best), naively anticipating a sunny Saturday, we booked ourselves on a coach trip with another family from India, who, God bless them, promised to bring along idlis. But what a fine day it turned out to be — gloomy, cold and windy... "We'll still get to eat idlis," consoled my daughter, and believe me, that did cheer us up a good bit. So we set off dreaming of an idli-mosaranna picnic.

The coach trip from Amsterdam was enlivened by our guide, who filled us in with info on Keukenhof (coach trips cost between 30 and 40 euros, including gate fee, and are a convenient way to get there).

Originally the kitchen garden of the Countess of Holland, the present 32-hectare garden was the brainchild of the Mayor of Lisse (a small town south of Amsterdam), who laid it in 1949 and, along with 10 leading bulb growers, planned an open-air flower exhibition. It was an instant hit.

"Over 900,000 visitors flock to see the beautiful flowers every year between March and May when the gardens are open," announced the guide dramatically (of course, never having visited the Kumbh mela, or your average temple in a fair-sized Indian town, the poor dear thought 10,000-odd visitors a day is wow). "Soon you will see flower fields to your left, with daffodils and hyacinths; the tulips haven't all blossomed yet, as the winter has been very long and cold," she apologised. That was a major letdown, since we were hoping to see the alfresco sets where Sada and Vikram danced for Anniyan. Still the daffodils didn't disappoint... small wonder, Wordsworth was so inspired.

We arrived at the famous gardens by a sneak route to avoid traffic jams (as our guide proudly told us). Entering the gates — we were, well, awestruck; and that's putting it mildly. "I thought she said it was a kitchen garden," asked my surprised daughter. Really, fancy calling it that — `Keukenhof' (the direct translation means kitchen garden) certainly deserves a more glamorous name. As far as the eye could see, there were flowers — a riot of pink, purple, white, orange, red, yellow and miles of green grass that complimented the vivid colours. And the heady smell! The hyacinths were so fragrant that everybody was busy inhaling lungful of scented air next to the white, pink and purple patches. This was probably one of the few places where one doesn't go by the guidebook — who cared where the maze or the big fountain was?

Pottering around, sniffing flowers, gazing at the trees cloaked with spring blossoms — flowers reflected on the little streams, the play of dark and light colours — we made our way slowly to the windmill that overlooks the flower fields. From the windmill's observation deck, you could see large patches of swaying, bright yellow daffodils, broken by ribbons of dazzling orange red tulips, and strips of photogenic pink and purple hyacinths. Had the sun been out, we might've explored the fields on foot but given the lousy weather and growling tummies, we were more interested, at that point, in the contents of the knapsacks and hurried off to don our nosebags.

Post-lunch, fingers numb, nose frozen, we decided to run for cover into one of the numerous pavilions that dot the garden. Luckily, the one close by was the William Alexander Pavilion, which evidently has the best indoor display of tulips (and other unpronounceable flowers). And when I say tulips, I mean tulips of every kind, colour and size — and I confess, I was moved to tears. The flowers were so beautiful, the colours so brilliant — light purple flowers with dark purple stamens, pearly white blossoms brushed with bright pink streaks, wine red, baby pink, blackish purple tulips, flaming orange flowers dabbled with pastel peach — oh my, oh my, the variety was simply mind-boggling! And all I could do was go click, click and click, though, for once, I wanted neither my family nor myself in the frame.

Flower fanatics had a field day, looking up the new varieties introduced every year, making copious notes and shooting a gazillion pictures. And this was just one of the many pavilions! There was one dedicated to orchids, another to flower arrangements and many more. And if you had several hours at your disposal, lots of energy and enthusiasm, you could just drift from flowerbed to pavilion, marvelling the stunning spectacle.

Our time, sadly, was by then running out, and we dutifully trooped to the meeting point where our guide shepherded us to the bus that took us back to earth, or rather Amsterdam. For Keukenhof did feel like heaven.


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