Srinagar may not be one of the world’s safest places, but it’s home to some of the world’s most beautiful destinations that make it all so worth the trip there. If you’re a nature lover, you’ll be enchanted by the Mughal gardens at any season you are there. In summer, the gardens burst into a myriad of colours – green, yellow and red; and in winter, snow forms a white blanket over the trees and leaves. Of course, it’s impossible to forget to take a shikara, or live in a houseboat when you’re at the Dal Lake.
Srinagar is also home to key religious sites such as the Hindu Shankaracharya Temple on top of the Shankaracharya Hill. Security is very tight there and no photos are allowed. Up to a certain point, you’ve got to disembark from the vehicle you’re in and climb up the hill on foot. The short 10 minute hike may leave the less fit (like yours truly) panting a little, but it’s more than worth it. Check out the Hazratbal Mosque when you’re there to learn more about the ways of worship in Srinagar.
Last but not least, head on to Gulmarg for a day trip especially in the winter season, and you’re find it blanketed in pure white snow. One does not usually associate India with snow-covered cottages, but you’ll be able to find a European white Christmas there.
If you’re pressed for time, these sights can be covered in a speedy two full days, though I suggest giving yourself three days to get the best of what Srinagar has to offer. I’ll be coming up with a post on a suggested 3 day itinerary, watch this space!
Here I present to you, the top 8 places to visit in Srinagar Kashmir.
Parks and Gardens
1. Nishat Bagh
The Nishat Bagh is the second largest Mughal Garden in Kashmir, according to Wiki. Like the Shalimar Bagh, it sits on the bank of the Dal Lake. ‘Nishat Bagh’ is Hindustani, which means “Garden of Joy,” “Garden of Gladness” and “Garden of Delight.”
I personally found the Nishat Bagh to be much more beautiful than the Shalimar Bagh. Perhaps maybe because I was pretty much alone at the Nishat Bagh, and the solitary feel made me think that I was a Mughal princess overlooking the sprawling gardens of beauty. The fountains had stop running, and the ground was covered with patches of snow and brown leaves. It was just nice just bask in the cool air and admire the backdrop of Kashmiri mountains. It’s the sort of place for lovers to cuddle up with and for retirees to hold hands and take a stroll.
Shalimar Bagh was built by Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan, in 1619, according to Wiki. The Bagh is considered the high point of Mughal horticulture and is located on the right bank of the Dal Lake.
I was at the Shalimar Bagh in early January, and it had snowed a little some days before. But that afternoon, sunlight streamed through the hibernating trees, and there were children playing catching and boys and girls sitting on trees, in the largest Mughal Garden in the Kashmir Valley.
The Bagh, just like other gardens listed in this page, is easily accessed by auto rickshaw. The rickshaw wallas have a packaged deal, and you can get a full day ride for less than RS1,000/ USD16.
Unlike the two Baghs, the Chashma Shahi, was built by Ali Mardan, a governor during the days of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1632, according to Wiki. The garden is located in the Zabarwan Range, near Rajbhawan (the Governor‘s house) overlooking Dal Lake.
It had snowed heavily the night before my arrival, and when I entered the garden the fountains were covered with snow, and so were the park benches. Coming from the hot, bustling city of Singapore, it felt very awe-inspiring to be able to capture a photo of a park bench against the backdrop of the Kashmir Mountains.
I found this garden very well maintained. Bushes were neatly trimmed into oval shapes while reeds lined up orderly by the banks of a large pond. It was very cold and i noticed that the pond had somewhat freezed up a little. Although it doesn’t have much history as compared to the other gardens, it’s a nice place to check out the native blooms of Kashmir .
Compared to the Botanical Gardens in Singapore, I must say that the Botanical Gardens in Srinagar are worlds apart. The stark contrast is of course, the weather.
5. Dal Lake
The Dal Lake, also known as “Srinagar’s Jewel”, has a shore line of 15.5km. It’s integral to Kashmir’s tourism because of the scenic views that can be admired from the Mughal Gardens that line it’s shore, such as the Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh which were built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir.
Since then, many a tourist have taken the shikaras, which bring you around the lake to see the numerous activities on-going on the river. You can stay in the houseboats during the summer for a taste of life on the lake.
What’s key to know is that the lake is not just known for tourism, but fishing and water plant harvesting. Take the shikara along the Dal Lake in summer, and you can find fruit vines across the lake bursting into colour.
The Shankaracharya Temple, located on top of the hill is dedicated to Lord Shiva according to Wiki.T The temple sits on a height of 1,000 feet (300 m) above the plains. The hill is also referred to asTakht i Suleiman (Throne of Solomon) and the temple also called “Throne of Solomon.” It is believed that king Solomon came to worship on the hill which makes the place sacred from ancient times.
The Shankaracharya Hill is probably the most highly guarded attraction in Srinagar. Phones and cameras are not allowed on your way up, and even girls (like yours truly) gets a pat down before heading up. The autorickshaw I was on could not head up to the peak, so I had to descend and hike up for 10 minutes.
The view from the top is great and you get a bird’s-eye view of Srinagar from the top. If the cold’s not too daunting, take off your shoes and step into the warm temple. There might be a queue to enter though, as there’s only room for three.
According to Wiki, the Hazratbal Shrine which contains a relic, the Moi-e-Muqqadas, believed by many Muslims of Kashmir to be a hair of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The name of the shrine comes from the Arabic word Hazrat, meaning holy or majestic, and the Kashmiri word bal,meaning hair. The shrine is considered to be Kashmir‘s holiest Muslim shrine.
I was there during the prayer hours, and it was like walking into a different world. The worshippers were very devout, praying and touching reverently the gate of the shrine. It’s a very different experience from the Jama Masjid I had visited in Delhi. Bring a scarf to cover your head if you’re a woman and remember to wear long sleeves and pants.
Day trip – or if you’re a ski fan, take a week to spend time here
Gulmarg (translation: “Meadow of Flowers”) is a town, a hill station and a popular skiing destination in Baramula district in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, according to Wiki. The town is within the Himalayas and is within miles of the Line of Control between India and Pakistan.
Ski-lovers would love Gulmarg because of the long ski slopes and the best affordable rates. The experience is once in a lifetime. Snow covered Western looking houses and cars, and everything just felt so magical. Make sure you take the cable car when you’re there, it’s a charming ride up the mountains. And you get to see parts of Pakistan controlled Kashmir if you take the ride up all the way to the peak.
Watch this space for a more on Destination Gulmarg and more.