“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery- air, mountains, trees people. I thought, this is what it is to be happy.” Sylvia Plath when wrote this, must be witnessing the grandeur of Kashmir. We wondered what life is really like in this bountiful natural beauty. Turns out, what lay ahead was worth a thousand words.
An ideal trip to Kashmir meant including the stay in an exotic house boat. So excited were we to do that. But unfortunately the trip started at a sour note. Our prebooked Shikara was not all that we had expected. Claustrophobic and unhygienic. We canceled our bookings and became the target of the owner’s hatred (I guess so). We had to pay extra for cancellation as he had prepared our food for the evening. Contrary to our fears, he served us delicious food and we sat there imbibing the serenity and blessing him in return. What came thereafter, made us forget this little glitch altogether.
We kept our baggage at a hotel on Boulevard Road, right across the Dal Lake. No matter how many pictures you might have seen of this exquisite lake, witnessing the grandeur of it live, is unfathomable. The snow capped Himalayan peaks, the lotus fields adding pink hues to the otherwise, dark, burnished rows of house boats, the misty morning and the tangerine evening is no lesser than a dream. The sight of the towering Chinar trees and Poplar trees alongside the lake with the local men and women carrying their businesses on the boats was enthralling. Needless to say, Srinagar is known as the ‘Venice of the East’.
We rented a Shikara and went for a quick tour in the evening. The window shopping had altogether a new meaning. The local inhabitants who live on the Dal Lake, known as Mihrbahris sell artifacts, jewelry, flowers, fruits and vegetables from their boats. They would row near your Shikara and display various goods. This intrigued me for an extravagant shopping, however, the temptation to click pictures of the sunset held back my compulsive shopping streak.
Twilight at Dal Lake, Srinagar
Wooden Houseboats on Dal Lake, Srinagar, placed right next to each other and most of them with a common platform for serving and cleaning.
Experiencing all these different scenarios in one shikara ride
The Floating market in Dal lake
Local women running errands of daily chores.
Mihrbahri Women on Boats in the Floating Market on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Dal Lake, Srinagar
It got more and more beautiful at dusk. We wished the boatride wouldn’t end. But it did. Longing for more, we dragged ourselves back to our hotel as the next day was going to be a long day. After dinner and a good night sleep we were ready for our next day’s excursion.
While passing through the other side of Dal Lake the next morning.
In Srinagar, there is as much hidden as revealed. Exploring the valley in its truest soul was the need of the hour. Our driver, Tahir, an honest, humble and a well-read young man became our tour guide. Covering a few famous tourist spots, he took us to the places unknown, unpolished, that had an authentic charm. If you are an explorer by heart, visiting the non-touristy places would give you a true essence of the place.
He took us to the old, rustic markets on the banks of river Jhelum. The wooden bridge over the river led us to the old city. The decrepit wooden buildings bore the window displays of traditional artifacts and handicrafts. Wandering around, we met many localites who welcomed us with open hearts and pleasant smiles. However, their eyes were drenched in melancholy. The label ‘Land of disputes’ has had an adverse effect on this paradise. The ardent need to prosper and seek opportunities was reflecting clearly in their voices. Although, fewer military attacks and army curfews in the city was a silver lining for the residents.
Stretch of Lily and Lotus Plantations at Nagin Lake. The narrow alleys making way for the boats was a splendid sight.
Architecture – Old- yet so beautiful
Jhelum river flowing in old city, Srinagar, Kashmir.
The old architecture and the wooden bridge on the Jhelum river in Old city, Srinagar was by far the most enchanting experience.
Colony along the banks of river Jhelum
Traditional wool shops of the old City market, on a hot and lazy afternoon
Kashmiri traders of the old city market
The market area bloomed with goods like wool, dried spices, traditional utensils and colorful clothes but what caught my attention were these currency garlands. These specially designed garlands made of currency notes in varied patterns and designs were used as gifts to the bride and groom in weddings. Definitely, another means to flaunt in a big, Indian wedding.
The travel bug landed us at the famous gardens of Srinagar. Flocked with tourists, around the year, we visited a number of them including Pari Mahal, Nishat Bagh, Chashme-Shahi and Shalimar Bagh. The well-maintained gardens are architectural marvels, especially the Nishant Bagh. All the gardens bloomed with exotic variety of flowers, lucky to say, we visited Srinagar in the perfect season.
The next day, our trip took a divine turn. We, along with Tahir, visited ancient shrines and mosques of Srinagar. The architecture of each of these monuments was unique; mostly constructed of wood and brick/stone masonry with multi-levelled sloping roofs and tall spires reminiscent of Hindu and Buddhist religious structures. The most beautiful of all was the Khanquah Shah-e-Hamdan mosque. Although restricted for non-muslims, we were provided a small window through which we could see the interiors. The intricate papier-mache work, coupled with the wooden inlay was mesmerizing. Be it the exterior murals, the prayer room in the backside or the wooden balconies on the sides, everything was a sight for the sore eyes.
Khanqah Shah-e-hamdan mosque, Old city, Srinagar
Intricate Papier–mâché (or paper mache ) and wood inlay work.
Women are not allowed inside the mosque, so they sit outside in the verandah and say their Namaaz
Inside the mosque
Amidst the faded lanes of old buildings and rusty city this enchantingly decorated mosque stood brilliantly.
Hazratbal Shrine in Old City, Srinagar was undergoing restoration work when we visited.
Then there was the Jama Masjid. It had its charm and grandeur and its Islamic architecture. The uniqueness of this mosque was accentuated by the willow wood pillars. The total of 370 pillars in the mosque, each were made of one single piece of willow trunk.
Guard outside the Jama Masjid mosque doing namaaz.
Beautiful view of the HariSingh fort from Jama Masjid.
Willow wood pillars of Jama Masjid, Old City, Srinagar
Quite unexpected was when Tahir invited us over for lunch at his home. We met his lovely family, who welcomed us with open arms. The utensils we saw earlier in the market lay there with an open invitation for us to gorge on the delectable Kashmiri food. The specials of the lunch were Rajma (kidney beans), Kamal Kakadi (lotus stalk) with rice. We were served the Sheer Chai, a salty pink tea with almond morsels and Kashmiri rotis. Unforgettable.
Taahir at his home with his beautiful and warm family
While you are in Srinagar, add these two things in your bucket list. First, try the authentic local cuisine in a joint called ‘Linz’. Second, DO NOT miss the opportunity to have Kehwah, a sweet green tea mixed with saffron, cardamom and almonds. It doesn’t matter how many packets you carry back home, it will never give you the same taste as it does in Kashmir.
The natural spectacle imbibing the historical relevance makes Kashmir what it is, a paradise. Added to it, the hospitability of the people gives you an experience you would want to live over and over again. We were slowly grabbing a hold of what Kashmir really was and the many experiences that will be unfolding ahead. We bid goodbye to Srinagar and took the road to Pahalgam.
Editor: Devika Sisodia