This was, by far, the highlight of my trip. The whole day trip including lunch was arranged by our hotel. The shikara picked us up from our house boat in the morning with a tour guide and 2 attendants. These guys all sat in the back of the boat which is separated by a partition. The front of the boat seats 3 comfortably, 4 with a little leg shuffling, We made a few stops at first to buy some food they needed to cook for us. We stopped at a butcher to buy some mutton (i believe..), a baker to buy some hard rolls, and a floting grocer to buy what we needed for the munchies.. (chips, cookies, water, gum, tissues, juice) and we brought beer with us (from the hotel), The tour around the open lake was pretty, but the really interesting part was going around the backwaters, through the ancient houses built out of the water.. and seeing how people live here. We stopped at one womans house who makes honey in several flavours, including marijuana and opium.. tasty. The meal they somehow managed to cook for us on this little boat was surprisingly outstanding. A very simple meat curry with bread.. we literally licked our plates. With all the beer going to the bathroom was quite interesting... the boys simply peed off the edge of the boat, while they had to make a special stop for me at an uninhabited house boat where I was very kindly welcomed to use the facilities. All in all a beautiful day.
The Jama Masjid is situated at Nowhatta, in the heart of the old city of Srinagar. It is the biggest mosque in Srinagar at which thousands of Muslims congregate for the Friday prayers. The mosque is built around a courtyard and is supported by 370 wooden pillars.
There are many shops and old bazaars surrounding the mosque. Originally built by Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD, and enlarged by his son, Zain-ul- Abidin, it is a typical example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Destroyed thrice by fire and rebuilt each time, the mosque, as it now stands, was repaired during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh.
More photographs of Jama Masjid are at the travelogue section of this VT page.
This was the first mosque built in Srinagar, and is constructed entirely by wood joinery. Its very ornate with wood carvings and papier mache intricately covering the interior and exterior. Worth a look. Women should bring a shawl to cover your hair if you wish to go inside, and dress conservatively, no shorts, no tank tops.
I went to 3 of these: Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh and Chashmashai. They're pretty but not great. The structures at the gardens are interesting, but the lanscaping is a bit sparse.. and they are bit repetitive. Nishat Bagh has a great view of a fragment of a bridge remaining in the Daal Lake.
There are two lakes in Srinagar, namely Dal Lake and Nagin Lake which are connected to each other (the water in these lakes are from the surrounding Himalayan Mountains). The Dal Lake is perhaps one of the most famous lakes in India, with its calm waters, traditional houseboats, people moving around in traditional boats against the beakdrop of beautiful mountains. I would say that Dal Lake and Nagin Lake seems to resemble Venice surrounded by the Himalayan Mountains!
The lakes are very calm and the water is very clean, in fact you can see quite deep into the water. There are lots of freshwater plants underneath the water as well as small fishes. During winter, the water in the lakes may freeze but this has happened only a few times in the last fifty years or so.
The biggest problem facing the lakes are they are slowly decreasing in size due to less water from the Himalayan Mountains and problems with the drainage system. Hope that these lakes can be saved because they are indeed very beautiful.
More photographs of the lake are at the travelogue section of this VT page.
The Mughal Kings of India were so amazed by the beauty of Srinagar that they built the famous Mughal Gardens during their reign of India many years ago. Most of the materials for the gardens were brought from far away such as Delhi and southern India.
There are several Mughal Gardens at Srinagar and I managed to visit the Mughal Garden Nishat Bagh. Below is a summary of the various Mughal Gardens:
Nishat Bagh: Situated on the banks of the Dal Lake, with the Zabarwan Mountains as its backdrop, this 'garden of bliss' commands a magnificent view of the lake and the snow capped Pir Panjal mountain range which stands far away to the west of the valley. Nishat was designed in 1633 AD by Asaf Khan, brother of Nur Jehan.
Shalimar Bagh: Built by Emperor Jehangir for his wife Nur Jehan, Shalimar Bagh is a beautiful garden with sweeping vistas over gardens and lakes, and shallow terraces. The garden is 539m by 182m and has four terraces, rising one above the other. A canal lined with polished stones and supplied with water from Harwan runs through the middle of the garden. The fourth terrace, by far the best, was once reserved for royal ladies.
Chashma Shahi: At Chashmashai, is a tastefully laid garden in terraces, which commands a magnificent view of the Dal Lake below and surrounding mountain ranges. The cool water of the spring is highly refreshing and digestive. The original garden was laid out by Shah Jehan in 1632 AD. TRC Srinagar free of cost to visit the permits can be had from the infromation Counter Chashma Shahi Garden. Permits can be had from the infromation counter.
Pari Mahal: Once the royal observatory, Pari Mahal has a charmingly laid out garden and is a five-minute drive from Cheshmashahi. A Buddhist monastery at one time, it was converted into a school of astrology by Dara Shikoh, Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan's eldest son. Situated on the spur of a mountain overlooking the Dal, the ancient monument, with a well-laid spacious garden in front, is connected to Cheshmashahi by road. It is illuminated at night.
Although Srinagar is the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and there are good attractions in the city and surrounding areas, there are some very beautiful attractions further beyond in the Himalayan Mountains and Afarwat Mountains. The main attractions are:
- Gulmarg ("The Meadow of Flowers"): Very beautiful mountainous region west of Srinagar with snow activities (e.g. skiing) during winter and hiking during summer. More tips and photos are at my VT Gulmarg page.
- Pahargam: "The Valley of Shepherds" (with hills, valleys, rivers etc)
- Sonamarg: "The Meadow of Gold" (with Himalayan Mountains, valleys, rivers etc)
- Ladakh: This is a vast and remote area within the Himalayan Mountains many kilometres east of Srinagar. The landscape consists of barren snow mountains dotted with villages and farmland of Tibetan people. The biggest town in Ladakh is Leh.
- Zanskar: This is one of the most remote region in the world occupied by the traditional Zanskar people.
Note that Somamarg, Ladakh and Zanskar have very old and harsh winters, and these places can only be visited during the summer months when the weather is warmer and the mountain passes are free of snow.
Hazratbal Mosque is located in a village of the same name on the banks of the Dal Lake. It is made of white marble and on a calm day, you can see its reflection in the waters of the lake.
Hazratbal's special significance is derived from the fact that it houses a hair of the Prophet Muhammad. This is displayed to the public on religious occasions, usually accompanied by fairs.
Hazratbal is the only domed mosque in Srinagar; the other mosques have pagoda like roofs. The mosque complex is situated on the Western shore of the Dal Lake opposite Mughal Gardens Nishat Bagh and commands a grand view of the lake and the mountains.
The Mughal emperor's fort crowns the top of Hari Parbat Hill, which is a landmark which rises above the city of Srinagar. The fort was later developed in 18th century by an Afghan governor, Ata Mohammad Khan. The hill is considered sacred to the Hindus due to the presence of temple of Sharika, which is believed to be a form of goddess Durga or Shakti. The wall around the hill was built by Akbar in 1592-98 AD. The hill is surrounded by almond orchards, which make a lovely sight during April when the trees blossom, heralding the advent of spring in Kashmir. On the southern side of the Hari Parbat Hill is the historic shrine of Makhdoom Sahib, which is visited by people of all faiths.
Other than the previous tips and this tip, there are other historical attractions at Srinagar and surrounding areas which you might want to visit when you are there (if you have a few days to spare). They are as follows:
- Shankaracharya Temple
- Khanqah of Shah Hamadan
- Chhatti Padshahi Gurudwara
- Kheer Bhawani
Srinagar is a city located in the Kashmir valley at an altitude of about 1730 m above sea level. The population of the city is about 1 million people, consisting mostly Muslims. In fact the state of Jammu and Kashmir (the northern most state of India) is the only state in India where the predominant population are Muslims. Srinagar is the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, while the city of Jammu to the south is the winter capital of this state.
The most famous natural landmarks of Srinagar are the tranquil Dal Lake and Nagin Lake, with the numerous traditional house boats on the lakes. Other that these, Srinagar is surrounded by mountains to the east, and there are many beautiful architecture which I will share with you in the next few tips.
The main problem with Srinagar (and the rest of Kashmir) is the strong presence of the Indian army because of the border disputes with neigbouring Pakistan. Security can be a problem and it is best to check on the situation before going to Srinagar and the rest of Kashmir. For those of you who make it, the rewards are worth it (such as very beautiful landscapes, culture, people etc).
I am putting this tip in Things to Do , not in Shopping Tip as this forms an important part of Kashmir's economy. The economy of Kashmir, is many times better than other Indian states due to it's agricultural products. Apart from Apples , it also grows one of the finest varieties of Saffron, which also most expensive herb/ spice in the world. It brings in lot of money as return from domestic consumption and exports as well. Visit to a Saffron field will allow you to know about the economic condition of the people and also learn how it is grown and processed. It is grown in almost every house hold in Pampore area, who so ever has little land as it brings lot of money from the products.
Kashmir has the proud privilege of being saffron blessed places. Pampore, near Srinagar, is the place in the world besides Spain and iran where saffron is grown.
The crocus sativus plant, which blooms in a month of october in the year, has six golden stamens and crimson. It is the crimson stamen which when collected and dried that forms saffron and is referred to as the most expensive spice in the world. When buying loose saffron, sampling one strand is enough, for the flavour and fragrance of saffron are unmistakable.
Kashmir saffron ("Kashmiri Kesar") is considered the best in the world for its distinctive long silky threads with a dark red color, its pleasant aroma and its powerful coloring and flavoring capabilities.No other subistence or spices can take place of saffron's flavour or aroma in this world.
Kashmir is very famous for it's willow wood. This is soft but very strong used to make Cricket bats. Cricket is very popular in India and in the Sub Continent. In India cricket bat industry is an unorganised industry with thousands of people involved. This industry is more organised in Jallandhar in Punjab than Kashmir. They remain mostly raw material supplier to the rest of the country. But the industry is very much present in Kashmir, with artisans making beautiful cricket bats for the players, but mostly inexpensive bat.
It will be worth, if you manage time to visit them and buy one for your children. They are cheap, very good quality, hand made and it will help those poor artisans to run their family.
We visited one manufacturing shop on our way back to Srinagar at Pulwama and bought a few cricket bats. Bringing them by air may be little problem but not a security hazard. You will be allowed to bring it back.
It was our misfortune that we visited Kashmir during full winter in the last week of November. The apple season ended in Mid October. What we could see is only a few apples left in the trees of the orchards and packed in the box. It may be they are not grown in the field e visited near Srinagar or the produces that are shown were kept in a cold storage. However, it was great to be in an apple orchard. Almost 80% apple supplied in India, Bangladesh, Nepal are produced in Kashmir. The balance is from Himachal Pradesh and imported from various countries like Australia, New Zealand, USA. The majority of Kashmir income is dependent on apple produce and the price they get in return from Indian markets. Apple remains the major contributor in Kashmir economy.
There are many varieties are grown in Kashmir, but the most popular and expensive is Kashmir Golden apple, which sells about @Rs.90/- or US$1.7 per KG. We had the chance to have it in Pahalgam. The mass produced and the most common variety is shown below in the picture they are cheap and available at about Rs.20/- or US$ 0.45 Per KG.
During the cruise along the Dal Lake, you will pass by the Kabutar Khana (summer palace of Maharani). During summer, the water of this area is surrounded by many beautiful floating lotus plants and flowers. However, only the stems and roots underneath the water remains during winter.
Here are more photographs of my visit to Gulmarg during the winter of year 2007-2008. Gulmarg is an alpine town in the Afarwat Mountain region about 2 hours drive west of Srinagar, and it is famous for its winter sports (and hiking during the summer). In fact, Gulmarg is also very close to the border with Pakistan (and Islamabad is only a few hours drive away). More tips and photos of Gulmarg are at my VT Gulmarg page.