Visit to the valley is not complete, without a visit to the oldest shrine of Srinagar. The Shankaracharya temple is believed to be the prayer place for the Panadavas of Mahabharata during their 12 years exile! Unfortunately, no photography is allowed at the top because of security reasons. The hill is full of vegetation and forest, you will not be able to take any pictures of the shrine. In the 80's and 90's there have been terrorist attacks to this very old Holy Shrine, which was prevented by Indian security forces. There after all kinds of electronic equipments, cameras, videos, are not allowed to take to the top. The security forces will frisk you just before the climbing steps starts, there are about 240 stones steps.
The Shankaracharya Temple , also known as the Jyesteshwara temple or Pas-Pahar, is an ancient temple located on Gopadari Hill in the south-east of Srinagar, India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is considered to be the oldest shrine in the Kashmir valley.
The Shankara temple was originally built by King Sandhiman of the Gonanda dynasty of Kashmir, who reigned in Kashmir from 2629 to 2564 BC. It was repaired by King Gopaditya (426 – 365 BC) and donated two villages, the present Gupkar and Buchhwara (Bhaksira Vatika) for the maintenance of the temple; and by King Lalitaditya (697–734). The original Shiva Lingam in the temple, along with over 300 precious idols of Gods and Goddesses therein and other structures and residential quarters around the temple, were destroyed by Sultan Sikandar (the iconoclast), who ruled Kashmir between 1389 and 1413 A.D. Its roof was also repaired by Zain-ul-Abidin after an earthquake; later, its dome was repaired by Sheikh Ghulam Mohiuddin, a Sikh Governor (1841–1846). The Islamic preacher Shah Hamadan on arriving in Kashmir named the Valley Baghe-i-Sulaiman and this region Takhte-i-Sulaiman.
Furthermore, it is regarded as being sacred by Buddhists, who call the mandir "Pas-Pahar.This temple stands on a solid rock and consists of an octagonal basement of 13 layers. Each of the four sides has two projections which terminate in pediment and agable, the latter intersecting the main roof half way up its slope. The body of the temple is surrounded by a terrace enclosed by a stone wall or parapet, 3.5 feet high. This in following the outline of the basement, preserves its octagonal shape. The stairs leading to the sanctum santorum number 36, first flight of 18 steps followed by 12 steps and again followed by six steps on either side of the landing terminating the second flight. This total of 36 steps is also in accordance with Hindu tradition, 36 denoting as many elements of which cosmos is made, viz. Shiva Tattva to the Prithvi Tattva. The interior is a chamber, circular in plan, with a basin containing a lingam. The whole of the building is of stone, which is laid throughout in horizontal courses.
The temple has 84 recesses on its exterior and is surrounded by a parapet well enabling devotees to have the Parikrama of the temple safely. The fencing walls of the steps have some inscriptions on them. Inside the temple, there is a Persian inscription that dates back to period of Shahjahan. The main shrine is in the shape of a circular chamber and provides a breathtaking view of the valley. After numerous repairs, the ceiling of the main chamber appears to be modern in its approach. The main shrine has a circular cell from where if you look down you can see the magnificent view of the beautiful Srinagar valley.
It is said that there were steps of sculptured stones from Jhelum river, leading to the top of the hill. With these stones, it is said, that Pathar Masjid was built by queen of Jahangir, Noor Jahan. The Shankaraacharya temple can be see from afar at night when it is illuminated by searchlights installed by ex-Maharaja of Mysore.( Some information were taken from Wikipedia)
We had the great opportunity to view The Mighty Greater Himalaya from the aircraft, when it was hovering over Srinagar for more than 45 minutes for landing as the visibility was poor. The required visibility for landing 2300 meters, which was only about 2100 mts, so we enjoyed the great view of Kashmir valley as well as The Greater Himalayas. Why I am putting this here? There is no official flight in India to take you to the Himalayas like in Kathmandu , when they take you to the mighty Everest to see. I took the every opportunity to take the pictures of the greater Himalayan Range including the Highest Indian Peak K 2. Though, the flight did not take us to near the range but it was enough to satisfy our eyes, mind and to take pictures. The Pilot kept on announcing every now and then the names of the known and unknown peaks. There was so much shout inside the aircraft as people were very much excited to see the range, sometimes he was hardly audible!
When we were heading to our houseboat at Srinagar by car, we passed by a huge local bazaar in the middle of town and our guide told us it is the biggest in town with lots of local people visiting. Unfortunately we did not manage to visit due to time constraint.
Also, Srinagar is famous for its morning floating market at the Dal Lake (similar to the floating market at Bangkok, Thailand). My wife and I were supposed to visit the floating market, but I was down with gastric flu and had to miss it so no information and photographs. Anyway, if you want to visit the floating market, be prepared to wake up very early to take the Shikara (traditional boat) and it will get very cold if you are visiting during winter time.
One experience thats definately not something to miss is a ride along the backwaters of the Dal lake on a shikara...
The bushes, trees and the narrow lanes thru them are quite delightful and relaxing.
Whats more, the Dal lake is supposed to be `a Wi-Fi enabled lake' now, the first one in the world it seems... and you can browse the net and go about your business, if you want to stay in touch with the world you`ve left behind...
The costs are negotiable- depending on how far and how long you travel... approximately a couple of hundred rupees or less
At the time when India-Pak relations are at their frozen best, a cricket series between the two nations is often a good way to break new ground.
Last winter, the governments announced the resumption of cricketing links between the two countries and India was about the tour Pakistan on its first tour across the border in many years.
We were shooting a feature on the cricketing developments and filing the report from the border in the Himalayas, in the Uri region. A region which is often one to bear the brunt of border skirmishes in not so peaceful times...
There was a cricket match organised and we were filming it. One mountain to the north and it was the Pakistan border posts. A pretty awesome experience!
Martyrs Graveyard, the final resting place for many of the victims of violent Kashmir.
A pretty solemn place to visit. Often you`ll see relatives of those that have lost their lives praying, standing quietly by the graves...
Quite a stark reminder of the bloodshed thats been caused from the Kashmir issue over the years
So many stay at houseboats, take a shikara and visit a couple of Mughal gardens but many, esp. domestic tourists, don't care to see the old "authentic" interior city. Lal chowk is not it; even that is commercial. ''It'' is the like the neighborhood around Jami Masjid. It is devoid of the tourist mobs and street vendors. Just shops for everyday life and locals going about their life.
Go on a Sunday if you prefer the most quite streets because all shops and activities are off that day, but not much locals then either.
Definitely don't miss the gorgeous pagoda styled Jami Masjid. Its cool interiors with enormous wooden pillars, beams and ceiling will leave you agape. It was damaged by fire several times but always restored.
About 70km away from Srinagar is the garden of Ver Nag which come on your way to Daksum (more on that in another tip).
Getting to Ver Nag takes you off the main road and that is the best part. You get to see the small roads and high vantage points that you would have missed otherwise. According to our befuddled driver he only drives foreign tourists up here because they prefer empty places, more isolated the better for them?! =P He also added that because of them the roads have actually improved over the last 3 years (see photo)!
You also come across many tiny packs of kids, 7 to 14 years old, scrambling desperately to sell fresh wild apricots (zardaalu). I challenge anyone not to buy a pack just after seeing their eager faces, leave aside if you even like wild apricots or not. Plus they sell it for like Rs10 for a 1kg which is a crazy steal. The next time I go, whenever, I will definitely not forget to get a big bag of cookies or something to pass out to the kids; they might find it a bit more useful than money.
The highlight of this garden is its cyan-turquoise spring. For reasons I am not aware of the icy waters of the spring appear in that shade. The Hindu name of this place is because there are Shiv statues around this pool.
Daksum is definitely one the most gorgeous less known spots of Kashmir. So much so, there are no hotels or inns to stay, just share a hut with local shepherds. You hardly see any tourists here, if any then they just keep moving forward to Sanasar Point (I think that was the name). That is actually a good thing because it keeps Daksum pristine. You can tell when you are almost there because it seems even the sky is welcoming you (see photo). It is covered by mountains of tall pines, a rushing brook, and some grazing cow, sheep, goat or horse that dot the rolling hills. Your mind drifts away.
We stopped at the Gir Saraj trek point. No real trek that I could locate but it was nonetheless absolutely beautiful.
[The nearest hotel to stay is at Kokernag. You definitely need to hire a car to get here, which Hotel Humzaa does pretty well in price and service.]
Kokernag Botanical Garden
Closest to Daksum and my favorite of the three. The garden is the highlight of the village which is rapidly developing into a tourist spot. As of 2011 your best bet to spend the night there is also inside the govt. botanical garden's hotel. It is quite bare bones and there is pretty much no electricity at night so pack a candle. However, you get to see stars! I don't remember the last time I saw that many stars... okay I do now, but it still perhaps is enough a reason to spend the night. Then you have another goody of seeing dawn in a beautiful park with a stream passing through it -- all to yourself.
Another a-ha! moment of my entire trip in Kashmir was the sight of the rice fields near Kokernag. Something so perfect about it. And that is when you realize just where you are (see photo).
Another Mughal garden but since it is so far from Srinagar (around 45km) you find only locals and kids from school trips. It is terrific how kids from a young age are raised to appreciate nature in this region.
The town is named for its (not very impressive) temple. Nothing else here. You can easily skip this one.
30 km from Srinagar is the remains of the Avantiswami temple (similar to Martand near Jammu Tawi). It was a Hindu temple built in 880 A.D. which now sits next to a mosque :)
Though it was only my 4th day in Kashmir I began to admire and appreciate the traditions of the Kashmiri Muslims; their respect towards women and subtlety of everyday life. So, though I am very used to it by now, seeing the erotic Hindu reliefs in the temple came as bit of a shock to me. It just felt wrong. So it was a nice way for me to further realize the foresight (so to say) of Islamic culture, where using human or animal form in any of the arts is prohibited. That's why traditional Islamic embroidery, architecture, sculptures do not have people or animals, which pushed them to excel in fantastic paisley and geometric designs.