Gained a snapshot of Srinagar before and after a trekking trip to the Inner Himalayas of Kashmir. We visited the Nigeen and Dal Lake, Mughal gardens and shopping for Kashmiri souvenirs. Here’s my thoughts on our swift 36 hours in the city!
One must travel, to learn..
The name Srinagar derives from a Sankrit words – Sri meaning Goddess of Wealth and Nagar meaning city. It is commonly known as the ‘City of Wealth’.
Kashmir Valley has been through many religious changes in its time from Hinduism to Buddhism to Islam in 1339 with a string of different monarchs including the Mughal Empire. The rule of the Sikhs was established until the British Raj came to India and Srinagar was considered a princely state in the British India. This changed in 1947 when Pakistani tribes invaded, the Maharaja signed an accession and India sent troops in to prevent them entering Srinagar. In a nutshell, this has remained the case for the last 70 years.
The question I have been asked about my trip to Kashmir is, did I feel safe? The simple answer is “yes I did feel safe”. The military presence is clear so you would need to expect this but is it threatening to tourists? No it isn’t!
Kashmir is around 97% Muslim which was evident as the call to prayer bellowed out of speakers around the city. Living in the UAE, I am used to this but they are the certainly longest ones I have ever heard.
Houseboat on Nigeen Lake
If you get chance, stay on a houseboat in Srinagar, I highly recommend it for a real Kashmiri experience. We stayed on Nigeen Lake, the second biggest after Dal Lake. Such a peaceful place to stay away from the hustle and bustle of the city with a backdrop of Pir Panjal mountain range. The Shankaracharya Temple or Takhate-Suleiman (Throne of Solomon) which dates back to 200BC can be seen on the top of the Shankaracharya Hill on the Zabarwan mountain.
The houseboats are deceivingly huge. Ours was called ‘The Martins’ had 3 big bedrooms with en-suite, a large dining area and lounging area, they are made from wood with ornate designs. The boat has been in the family for 5 generations and looking at the Guest Book, some of the England cricket team stayed on there with their wives back in 1980 after a tournament. The houseboats are moored on the freshwater lakes which, unfortunately, are a vivid green colour due to pollution, the cute and colourful Shikaras (boats) will ferry you to the nearest Ghat (jetty). You can take a more leisurely ride around the lake in the shikiras, we just didn’t have time.
Shalimar Bagh Gardens
This stunning Mughal garden is the largest within Srinagar and can be found on the North-Eastern bank of the Dal Lake. Mughal Emperor Jahangir built this in 1619 for his wife Nur Jahan, and blessed the gardens with the name meaning ‘abode to love’ in Sanskrit.
Amongst the 12.4 hectares, there are three terraces of beautifully kept gardens with lined with Chinar trees, some are 400 years old. There is Mughal-inspired architecture on the two higher levels and a canal of water down the middle of the whole garden fed by the surrounding mountain ranges and containing 410 fountains where children and tourists play. This costs 200 Rupees to enter!
Nishat Bagh Gardens
Known as ‘Garden of Bliss’, Nishat Bagh is the second largest Mughal gardens in Srinagar with a backdrop of the Zabarwan Mountains on the Eastern side of Dal Lake. Asaf Khan, the brother of Nur Jahan, designed the gardens in 1633 AD. The terraces with steep steps, twelve gardens representing different zodiac signs and a channel of water down the centre.
You will find photographers wanting to dress you up in traditional dress in both gardens for some rupees to pass their palm. You may get the locals wanting to take a selfie, looks like we had the novelty factor in the end! Seems to be a standard 200 Rupees to enter here too!
The ‘Angels Abode’ is a 17th Century gardens located at the top of the Zabarwan mountains on the South-East side of Dal Lake. The Pari Mahal was built in 1650 AD on a site of a Buddhist Monastery by Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan. With a Mughal garden design it has seven terraces and the top was used by the Prince to teach astrology.
I’m afraid to say we rushed round this one, not by choice but we can to see the sunset over Lake Dal and the city of Srinagar and time was running out to achieve our goal. Who doesn’t love a sunset, this one didn’t disappoint! Entrance fee costs 200 Rupees and ensure you bring ID as there are police checks on the way up.
Polo View Market
You could fill your boots with Kashmiri souvenirs down Polo View Road. It has everything you need from the famous Kashmiri shawls, wooden jewellery boxes, walnut carved products. Papier-mâché is big here as it was a handicraft brought by Muslims in the 15th Century. The products ranging from pen pots, vases, bowls, boxes and wall plates with delicate painted and decorated. My mum has a lovely set of Christmas decorations coming her way (Mum, hope you don’t read this before 25th December). Don’t forget to haggle, the starting price is never the finishing price!
Little bit of ‘Heeven’
After 5 days camping and trekking in the Tosa Meadows and the Greater Lakes, we needed some home comforts. The Heritage by Heevan Hotel was heaven on earth, we tried to keep our muddy boots from the sparkly floors on arrival. Seriously though, the beds were super comfortable and I was loving the slippers and soft bathrobe. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff! The garden out the front of this cute building was restful, just one street away from the main road made a huge difference, no honking of horns within earshot!
The J&K Tourism (Jammu & Kashmir Tourism) has so many exciting activities in the region if you are looking for more inspiration of what to do. Everything from golf, trekking, skiing, rafting, bird watching… this list goes on! Our chosen activity was a trekking expedition in the Tosa Meadows and the Greater Lakes, an awesome experience not to be missed!
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