Srinagar Hill Station
The capital of Jammu and Kashmir and the largest city in the state, Srinagar (1,730m) is famous for its canals, houseboats and Mughal gardens. The city itself is quite unlike most other large Indian cities for here you are much more in Central Asia than on the sub continent. It's a city full of intriguing alleyways and curious buildings. A place where it's very easy to spend a few hours simply wandering - particularly along the old city streets near the Jhelum river.
If one is longing for the delights of a houseboat holiday, then check out lakes of Srinagar to try one. Srinagar is a unique city because of its lakes - the Dal, Nagin and Anchar. The River Jhelum also flows through a part of the city.
Most houseboats on the Nagin and the Jhelum are situated on the banks of the lake, and can be accessed directly from land without the help of a Shikara. While all those on the Dal require a Shikara to get to and from them. Most houseboats on the Dal are situated in long straggling rows; some face the boulevard, Srinagar's exciting address, while others are situated singly or in groups of two and three.
City Of Lakes
Srinagar's lakes are the reason why the city receives so many tourists. Not just expanse of water, the lakes are filled with houseboats, villages, narrow water canals, lotus and vegetable gardens and houses and shops. Life on the lakes, as witnessed from the confines of a Shikara, is unique. It is possible to book a Shikara for the whole day and sightsee Nishat Garden, Nasim Bagh, Hazratbal Mosque, Pathar Masjid and Shah Hamdan's Shrine, having a picnic lunch in the boat.
While Nagin is quieter, the Dal is full of local colour, with tourists being rowed in Shikara to shops selling every conceivable handicraft - all within the lake.
Let's Have A Ride Of The Lake!
A Shikara ride is one of the most soothing, relaxing aspects of a holiday in Kashmir. It can be an hour-long ride to see the sights of the Dal; a shopping by Shikara expedition to visit handicraft shops within the periphery of the lake; or a whole day trip to visit important city landmarks. Because the Dal is so central to the landscape of Srinagar, many places of tourist interest have, over the ages, been built in its vicinity.
The Mughal Gardens
The art of designing formal gardens which the Mughal (also spelt as Moghul) emperors expended such time and energy upon, reached its zenith in Kashmir. The Mughal gardens in Agra or Lahore may be very fine but only in Kashmir is the formal beauty of the gardens matched by the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside. The gardens follow a standard pattern with a central channel carrying water through the descending terraces in a delightful series of cascades, falls and pools.
Prime Attractions of Srinagar
Dal Lake: Dal Lake is, initially, one of the most confusing parts of Srinagar for it's not really one lake at all, but three. Further more much of it is hardly what one would expect a lake to be like - it's a maze of intricate waterways and channels, floating islands of vegetation, houseboats that look so firmly moored they could almost be islands and hotels on islands which look like they could simply float away.
Gulmarg Biosphere Reserves: The reserve area is located at a distance of 48-km from Srinagar, to its southwest. It is famous for retaining several rare and endangered species such as the musk deer, and a rich and varied avifauna.
Hari Parbat Fort: The 18th century fort tops the Sharika Hill, which is clearly visible, rising to the west of Dal Lake. The fort was constructed by Atta Mohammed Khan from 1776 but the surrounding wall is much older, it was built between 1592 and 1598 during the rule of Akbar.
Hazratbal Mosque: The most important Muslim shrine of Kashmir, that commands the reverence of the people beyond measure, is undoubtedly the Hazratbal Shrine, which is situated on the left bank of the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar. This unmatched reverence is anchored in the love and respect for the Prophet.
Mughal Gardens: Set some distance back from the lake, but reached by a small canal, the Shalimar were built by Emperor Jehangir for his wife Nur Jahan, 'light of the world' in 1616. The Nishat Bagh is another lovely garden with its 12 terraces representing the 12 signs of the zodiac, which descend gradually and seem to almost merge into the lake. Smallest of the Srinagar Mughal gardens, measuring just 108 metres by 38 metres, the Chasma Shahi, or 'Royal Spring', are well up the hillside, above the Nehru Memorial Park.
Nagin Lake: Known as the 'Jewel In The Ring', Nagin is generally held to be the most beautiful of the Dal lakes. Its name comes from the many trees, which encircle the small, deep blue lake. Nagin is only separated from the Larer Dal lakes by a narrow causeway and it also has a number of houseboats moored around its perimeter.
Shankaracharya Hill: Rising up behind the boulevard, beside Dal Lake, the hill was once known as Takht-i-Sulaiman, the throne of Solomon. The philosopher Shankaracharya stayed at this place when he visited Kashmir ten centuries ago to revive "Sanatan Dharma".
Islands : There are three main islands in the lake, each poplar excursion points. Silver Island is at the northern end of Dal Lake and is also known as "Char Chinar" after the four-chinar trees, which grow on it. There's a small snack bar on the island as there is also on Gold Island at the south end of the lake. It is also known as "Char Chinar" for it too has four Chinar trees. The third island is Nehru Park, at the end of the main stretch of the boulevard and only a short distance from the shore. It too has a restaurant although it's a very run down, miserable affair. The children's playground here has also seen better days. Often in summer there are evening shows, dances and festivals held at Nehru Park. North of Nehru Island a long causeway leads out into the lake from the boulevard just off its end is "Kotar Khana", the 'house of pigeons', which was once a royal summer house.
Excursions from Srinagar
Gulmarg: (56Km.) The valley of Gulmarg, a large meadow about 3-sq-kms in area, stands at 2,730m, 56-km south west of Srinagar. The name means 'Meadow Of Flowers' and in the spring it's just that, a rolling meadow dotted with countless colourful Bluebells, Daisies, Forget Me Not's and Buttercups.
Pahalgam: (86Km.) At an altitude of 2,130m and about 95-km from Srinagar, Pahalgam is probably the most popular hill resort in the Kashmir valley. Since it is rather lower than Gulmarg the nighttime temperatures do not drop so low and it has the further advantage of the beautiful Lidder River running right through the town.
Sonamarg: (87Km.) At a height of 2,740m, Sonamarg is the last major point in the Kashmir valley before the Zoji La pass into Ladakh. At the pass the green, lush Kashmiri landscape abruptly switches to the barren, dry landscape of Ladakh. Sonamarg is thus not only a good base for treks but also a jumping off point for trips into Ladakh.
Amarnath:(143Km.) The Yatra (pilgrimage) on foot to Amarnath Cave, considered one of the holiest naturally occurring shrines of the Hindu faith, has continued annually for little more than a hundred years. Extending up 130 feet, the Amarnath Cave is high and shallow.
In Summer - June To Early November
In Winter - December To February.
How To Get There - Srinagar
By Air :
Various airlines fly to Srinagar from New Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Jammu and there are flights operating from Srinagar to Leh and back. Flights are more frequent during the summer Tourist Season; at that time there will probably be several flights a day between Delhi and Srinagar. Some services are direct, while others operate via Chandigarh, Amritsar or Jammu. Flight time duration from Delhi on the direct flights is about an hour and ten minutes.
By Road :
Srinagar is connected by an all weather road to Jammu, which in turn is connected to many parts of North India. One can catch buses from Delhi but people making the trip by road should take up the route via Chandigarh, Amritsar or from the Himachal Pradesh hill stations.
Buses leave Jammu early in the morning for the 10 to 12 hour trip to Srinagar in the Kashmir valley. Although there are many buses, still one should book a seat as soon as one arrives in Jammu. The same applies from Srinagar as the day before departure all seats may be sold out. Buses also go from here to Leh and Kargil.
Srinagar's railhead is Jammu, which in turn is connects all parts of the country, including Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta), Pune, Mumbai and Kanyakumari. The distance is about 876-km from Delhi to Srinagar although almost everybody coming up from Delhi, or other Indian cities, by land will come through Jammu from where the buses run daily to Srinagar.
By train there are about four services a day from Delhi or New Delhi to Jammu Tawi, across the river from Jammu. The trip takes nine to 13 hours, usually overnight. For information about booking trains from Jammu while in Srinagar enquire at the railways office in the tourist reception centre.