Legend has it that tulip was first brought to northwest Europe by Oghier Ghislain de Busbecq, Ambassador from Ferdinand I to Suleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire in 1554. This was derived from poetries in Persian literature too laborious to repeat here.
Another account is that of Lopo Vaz de Sampayo, governor of the Portuguese colonies in India. It was said that when he returned to Portugal in disgrace, Sampayo supposedly took tulip bulbs with him from Ceylon, then a part of ancient India. This account is now hotly disputed because tulips, unlike tea, cannot be grown in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka and the island itself is far from the route Sampayo's ships should have taken.
Even if the stories are true, none of this explains how tulips ended up in the Netherlands. Accordingly to my sources (2 little birds I sent across), it was the work of an Indian Kashmirian girl called SriVina nicknamed Sylvia who is reputed not only for her craft but also her beauty and cleverness.
Sylvia knew that if she could bring these flowers to the attention of the rich and famous, they would become an instant hit and their fame would spread far and wide. That would mean immense wealth for her family as the mountain behind her home were overgrown with at least 1.2m tulips, 60 varieties in all.
So Sylvia carefully harvested the best of her crops, sorted them in the dozens and cleverly wrapped them in papyrus and Egyptian preservatives.
She then distributed them to all her gypsy friends (you can see Rosanna and Walter in the picture together with Mercedes and Sans) who brought with them these preserved beauties to places as far away as Italy, New Zealand, Australia and even Singapore.
In particular, Sylvia's own family who eventually joined the Dutch to set up the East India Company in the Netherlands made tulips an instant hit with foreign dignitries like Ferdinand I when he saw a single stalk of tulip being worn on Sylvia's silky hair.
Thanks to Sylvia, tulips became such a hit that the purchase price for a single tulip-bulb of the Viceroy variety (see left pic) included “two loads of wheat and four of rye, four fat oxen, eight pigs, a dozen sheep, two oxheads of wine, four tons of butter, a thousand pounds of cheese, a bed, some clothing and a silver beaker.” Such a high price, estimated at approximately 2,500 guilders, for a single tulip was not unusual. During the height of the Dutch ‘tulip mania’ in the seventeenth century, a Semper Augustus, considered to be even more precious than the Viceroy tulip, could bring in close to 6,000 guilders. In fact, tulip prices and the practice of tulip speculation became so excessive and frenzied that in 1637 the States of Holland passed a statute curbing such extremes.
And that is how lale became the national flower of the Netherlands, the largest producer of tulips in the world. Ironically, after centuries have passed, Sylvia's garden at Kashmir had to now import the very same tulips from Holland so that in Spring every year, Kashmir celebrates the Tulip Festival with a million vibrantly coloured tulips in what many consider, the best Tulip Garden in the world.
The Maharajah will like to express his heartfelt gratitude to Sylvia for the magnificent flowers (and the postcard). The gorgeous tulips will hopefully grace the palace garden unless the harem concubines steal them first either to beautify their own rooms or to sell them to the evil Maharajah for an indecent profit.