#KashmirDiaries: Srinagar in a day

When you drive down from the airport into Srinagar, one of the first things that strikes you is the army presence. After all, the state is regularly in the news for skirmishes between the army and militants. Kashmiris are quick to assure you “yeh yahaan nahin hota” (this doesn’t happen here). Indeed, skirmishes are often closer to the border or in areas that don’t get much {or any} tourist inflows.

Mughal garden Shalimar Bagh Sringar in a day

The main pavilion at Shalimar Bagh

Then you notice the houses and how they are constructed. Almost all the buildings have gently sloping roofs, and a lot of them – even the big houses – have tin roofs. Most houses are built on a base of stones, with liberal use of wood and tin – to better insulate them during Kashmir’s cold winters.

As you wind down into the city, you realize that Srinagar, for all its perceived charm and romance, is a city like any other. Congested markets, narrow roads, and crazy traffic lie beyond the picture postcard Dal Lake.

Srinagar: Garden City

Sringar in a day Nishat bagh bonsai tree

It’s common to see these beautifully formed trees in all the gardens in Kashmir

But Srinagar is also the city of gardens. Built by the Mughals, the design of these gardens can be traced back to medieval Islamic gardens, which placed great emphasis on water and shade. Unlike English gardens, which were primarily designed for walking, Islamic gardens were created for rest and contemplation. They usually feature beautiful pavilions where one can sit and contemplate the mysteries of life.

“Julie Scott Meisami describes the medieval Islamic garden as “walled off and protected from the outside world; within, its design was rigidly formal, and its inner space was filled with those elements that man finds most pleasing in nature. Its essential features included running water (perhaps the most important element) and a pool to reflect the beauties of sky and garden; trees of various sorts, some to provide shade merely, and others to produce fruits; flowers, colorful and sweet-smelling; grass, usually growing wild under the trees; birds to fill the garden with song; the whole is cooled by a pleasant breeze. The garden might include a raised hillock at the center, reminiscent of the mountain at the center of the universe in cosmological descriptions, and often surmounted by a pavilion or palace.” – via wikipedia

Srinagar in a day: Start with the Mughal gardens

Arches in gardens Mughal architecture in Kashmir

The view through the arches: Shalimar Bagh

We started our tour of the Mughal gardens with Shalimar Bagh, which was built by Jahangir in 1619 for his wife Nur Jahan. Originally spread over an area of 31 acres, the garden has three terraces with a water channel running down the middle, dotted with fountains and chinar-lined walking paths. The Diwan-e-Khas (the Hall of Private Audience) has pride of place in the center of the second terrace. Looking out through the arched pavilions, one can only imagine how beautiful it must have been in its heyday. The other highlight of the garden is the chini khanas, or arched niches, behind the waterfalls. These used to be lit at night with oil lamps, but are now lined with flower pots.

infinity pool water bodies in Mughal gardens

Nishat Bagh, Srinagar

Our next stop was Nishat Bagh. Set against the backdrop of the Zabarwan Mountains, the garden commands beautiful views of the Dal Lake. If you walk the length of the garden and climb all the 12 terraces,  the view down through the garden and to the Dal is stunningly beautiful – it almost has the effect of an infinity pool, doesn’t it? We sat there for a while and just soaked in the beauty.

And then we were off to Chashmeshahi, which was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 as a gift for his elder son Prince Dara Shikoh. It’s the smallest of the gardens in Srinagar. The main attraction is the spring, which has fresh, sweet drinking water that is believed to have medicinal properties. The garden has three terraces – the one right at the top has a Kashmiri hut from where the spring originates. It then flows down into the second terrace, which has a water pool and a large fountain, and from there down to the third terrace, which is a square five-fountain pool. I thought it was the most overrated garden – mainly due to the insane crowds. The origin of the spring was the most un-hygenic space imaginable. People were actually standing at the mouth of the water to get their photograph clicked!

Parimahal, palace of fairies, srinagar

Parimahal, Srinagar

After that disappointment, we went on to Pari Mahal (Fairy Palace) – a beautiful drive along a narrow, winding, tree lined road – where Dara Shikoh reportedly learnt astrology. I found it to be the most enchanting of the gardens. The commanding views of Srinagar and the beautiful ruins of the palace make it the perfect place to just sit and read. Pari Mahal is also different from the other three gardens in that there are no water bodies or fountains, which perhaps explains why it was the quietest and most peaceful of the three Mughal gardens!

Paying our respects at Hazratbal

Srinagar in a day Hazratbal shrine mosque Dal Lake

Commanding view of the Hazratbal from the Dal Lake

From the relative peace and greenery of the gardens, we went into the heart of the old city. Through crowded, narrow lanes lined with hawkers selling dates, fruits and chickens, to shops selling plastic, woven baskets and copper, until we reached the white expanse of the Hazratbal. The name of the shrine stems from the Urdu word Hazrat (“respected”) and the Kashmiri word bal (“place”). It’s Kashmir’s holiest shrine, and home to the Moi-e-Muqqadas, believed by many Muslims to be a hair of the Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, women aren’t allowed into the main area of the shrine that houses the relic, but it is worth a visit regardless to take in the serene atmosphere and the beautiful architecture. Note: women are required to have their head covered beyond a certain point. If you aren’t carrying a scarf, one will be provided to you free of charge.

Hazratbal main gate pigeons

The main gate of the Hazratbal

That just about covers the major highlights of the city. And yes, Srinagar can most certainly be done in a day, with some time left over for shopping if you still have the energy! I did all my shopping in  about two hours at the Polo View market. You could also take a walk around Lal Chowk, but it was really congested and very hot, so we opted to give it a miss. But do have the cold coffee at Diplaz – it’s ultra refreshing and will give you a fresh lease of life! The owner is happy to customize it for you. He made mine nice and strong with no sugar (only half a scoop of ice cream) – and it was mind-blowingly good – I went back for seconds!


More in this series: The journey begins | Romancing the Dal  | Srinagar in a day | Pahalgam: Of fairy tale gardens and the majestic Lidder | Nara Nag: Where nature and history meet | Doodhpathri: Where the river turns into milk | Sonamarg: Heartbreak and healing


 

Posted in Kashmir, Travel.

32 Comments

  1. Jini I was so delighted to read this post and tick all the points of attraction you’ve listed.I’d been to Srinagar about 4 years back. Your post does full justice to this beautiful place. I want to visit once during the tulip season, that would be something!

  2. Exquisite! The pictures are so magical, Jini, especially the Hazratbal over the Dal Lake picture. I couldn;t take my eyes off it. Thanks so much for sharing the pictures and your experience. It would be easy for me to plan for a Sri Nagar visit. 🙂
    Something’s Cooking</a

    • Thank you Shalini! The Hazratbal is beautiful – I took so many photos of it from the Shikara! I do hope you can plan a Srinagar visit soon, and that things settle down there soonest!

  3. Absolutely delightful post, took me back to Kashmir but when there was peace and no militants guarding it 24/7!
    I would love to go again. Hopefully when all gets normal!

    • Seeing the army stationed across Kashmir is a bit unnerving. But we did enjoy our trip. And I’m so thankful we managed to visit before the unrest broke out again.

  4. The stories are fascinating and the pictures are beautiful. When there are no skirmishes (that scares me off), I would love to visit. I am a gardener and I love to see a garden style that is not common here in the United States.

    • Mughal gardens are beautiful, and very different from the ones in the US. I’m sure you’ll love them. But yes, only once the skirmishes end. We were lucky to have visited just a few weeks before they broke out!

    • Oh, lucky you! You would have seen it in all the seasons and all the glorious colors! I would love to go back for flowering and fall season.

  5. Wow!! You picked up really good places to visit. The Mughal Garden and the Hazratbal. I had visited kashmir for my honeymoon thanks for bringing back my memories ☺️

  6. I find one thing missing here – the visit to the bakeries and the carpet weavers . I am sure you would have done that too. I will stop visiting your blog now as my guilty increases of not releasing my blogpost on Kashmir after those 3 that i had released

    • Yes, I did do that, but those were combined with different day trips 😉 Write your next Kashmir post soon Anindya! 🙂

  7. The stories behing the Bagh was also funny and interesting. Liked Nishat garden..could just lie down on the lush green grass and relax. One guy came there and clicked some pics of old movies for us to it was funny but memorable now

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