Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.
If there is any paradise on the face of the earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this.
The laidback city of Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of J&K, is located on the banks of river Jhelum surrounded on all sides by lush green mountains against the backdrop of clear blue skies and amorphous bales of cottony clouds. Srinagar is composed of two words, namely, Sri which means wealth and Nagar, which means a city. According to Nila’s Nilmatapurana, the valley of Kashmir was an enormous lake, till a Hindu sage named Kashyap Rishi drained out the water, and there emerged the valley of Kashmir. The city’s history goes back almost 2000 years when it was founded by King Pravarasena II; and subsequently it was ruled by Mauryans, Kushans, Huns, and Mughals. The city has been in the midst of turbulence for the past 2 decades over who has the rightful claim to govern it.
The city is known for its lakes, shrines, gardens, springs, meadows and mountains that have always lured tourists in large numbers. The city is known for the world-famous Dal Lake that is a sight at night with the glittering houseboats lined and looking towards the overlooking Shankaracharya Mountain. I remember the annual cross-country runs of my school that started from the base of the Shankaracharya Mountain, and were usually scheduled on early Sunday mornings in the month of April. Children with little or no interest in the event would still turn up with the pre-planned preparations for a post cross-country run picnic.
I am writing this piece with my mind focussed on tourists who have very little or no information about the city and its surrounding areas. Summer is the best time to visit the city while the rest of the valley is a yearlong destination for tourists. The temperature varies between 22 °C (72 °F) during summers and 04 °C (39 °F) during winters, but in the recent past extremes in temperature have been recorded with the mercury going past 30 °C in summers and dipping to as low as minus 10°C during winters. There are two ways of reaching Srinagar, depending upon how big your wallet is; you can choose between comfortable air travel that would cost you anywhere between (3000-5000) INR from Delhi to Srinagar or the serpentine National Highway. The hotels are relatively cheap as compared to the other Indian cities; although top hotels like The Lalit, The Broadway, and Grand Mumtaz are also available depending upon your affordability.
The main city is about 10 kms from the airport and is a half an hour drive as the traffic is average compared to other Indian cities. As already stated the city is full of places of historical and aesthetic interest.
Sir Walter Lawrence writes “The valley is an emerald set in pearls; a land of lakes, clear streams, green turf, magnificent trees and mighty mountains where the air is cool, and the water sweet, where men are strong, and women vie with the soil in fruitfulness.” He further writes that the valley contains everything which should make life enjoyable. There is sport varied and excellent; there is scenery for the artist and the layman, mountain for the mountaineer, flower for the Botanist, a vast field for the Geologist and magnificent ruins for the archaeologist. Some of the places that I recommend for any visitor:
Dal Lake is the tiara of Srinagar; the Dal Lake is comprised of four enormous water bodies, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal, Gagribal and the Nagin Lake where it meets the Hazratbal Shrine. The lake forms an internal network of waterways that irrigate enormous tracts of land. The lake is beautified by a sequence of luxurious houseboats that were first introduced
Wular Lake is the largest freshwater lake in India, surrounded by high mountains on the north and north-east of the valley which lend it an aura of its own.
Hazratbal Shrine is a sacred Muslim place of worship lying on the banks of the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar; Hazratbal Shrine reflects the devotion and respect of Muslims for Prophet Mohammad and his relics stored here.
The temple overlooks the city and is situated atop ‘Takht-e-Suleiman’, mountain this ancient temple stands at an altitude of about 1100 feet above the surface level of main Srinagar city. The temple is accessible by foot from two ways; the mountainous trek from the U.N office behind The Burn Hall School or the road starting from Nehru Park.
Jama Masjid, located at Nowhatta is the biggest mosque in Kashmir with 370 pillars supporting the structure was built in 1400 AD by Sultan Sikander.
Also worth visiting in Srinagar are the, Gurudwara near Makhdoom Sahib Shrine, Chashma Shahi and Pari Mahal, Nishat Garden and Shalimar Garden.
One of the hallmarks of Kashmir and Srinagar in particular is its exquisite cuisine which mostly consists of different types of flavoured and spiced meats like Rogan Josh, Goshtaba, Ristah, Seekh Kabab, Shami Kabab, Tabakh Maaz, Marchwagan Korma, Badam Korma, Dhaniwal Korma, Kishmish Korma, Hindi Rogan Josh, Palak Rista, Naat Yakkhn, Maaz Maaz “>Yakkhn, Aab Gosh, Methi Maaz, Kukkur Kukkur “>Lahabdar Kabab Ruwagan Kukkur Rogan Josh to name a few.
The city is waiting to fill your bellies with Wazwan, lungs with flower scented air and hearts with love.
Yasir Yousuf Bhat
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ranopamas/3787975388/]