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SandeepaChetan’s Travel Blog

On the tourist trail in Kashmir, Srinagar is synonymous to Dal lake.Which is not surprising at all. A quick glance at a map of Srinagar revealed the enormity of the Dal lake. The impact the Dal lake has on the tourists as well as the locals of Srinagar is easy to gauge.

Getting to Dal lake

We stayed in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar. Lal Chowk is often referred to as Ghanta Ghar (House of the Bell). It is a tower with a clock and a bell. With hotel lined streets and a bustling market, it is always full of action.

Once we managed to look beyond the barrage of tourists and vendors, Srinagar beyond a major tourist hub emerged before us.

A beautiful sit out in the middle of the road, the Lal Chowk is ideal for some social mingling. From reading the morning newspaper to a congregation of seniors in the evening, it served its purpose well. Resting on one of its sheltered benches on a sunny day, made us feel “just like the locals”!To avoid the crowds, we left for Dal lake early in the morning. At sunrise, around Ghanta Ghar, we met two youngsters. “Welcome to Kashmir” was their ice breaker. “Please feel safe to roam around in our city. People will be happy to help you.”

They advised us to use the public transport. It was day 1 for us in Kashmir and the first bit of advice we received. We took it to heart and used it happily for the rest of our couple of months in Kashmir.

The walk to Dal Lake was little less than half an hour. We passed through the beautiful wide stretches of the Chinar lined Residency Road. In a park next to the Jhelum, people were going about their daily exercise routine. It was good to see women out as well.

Tip for Srinagar:

We highly recommend walking to Dal lake, if you are staying at Lal Chowk or thereabouts. It was a perfect introduction to life in Srinagar.

Dal lake is synonymous with houseboats and shikaras.

Shikara is a characteristic boat from Kashmir used to transport people and goods across the lakes in Kashmir. In Dal lake, they vie for the tourist’s attention with bright colours and bold multi coloured tapestry. It can seat 4 people. The boatman rows from the upper bow.A shikara ride in the Dal lake, though clichéd, is a must do activity in Srinagar.

Tip for Srinagar:

A pre dawn vegetable sets up in the Dal Lake every day. A shikara ride can be arranged for this. It is supposed to be the best time to take this ride.

We were surprised by the variety of wares they sell in the Dal lake. Our shikara-man would try to steer us in the direction of these sellers and we had to vehemently tell him we weren’t interested. The secretive display of jewels, assurances that the saffron is the purest and the flowers the freshest is all quite amusing, though. We did have ice cream in enticing saffron and Gulkand (fresh rose petals) flavours.

The most enterprising are the mobile photo studios

They approached us with a sample photo album and asked us to choose the picture of our choice. A variety of props to perfectly match the Kashmiri dress you choose, these photo studio shikaras stock it all.They promised a perfect Kashmir ki kali “Damsel from Kashmir” picture. By evening, the photo would be delivered at our hotel room!

Tip for Srinagar:

All of this was a bit too dramatic for us, but for the more costume adventurous, we would say, go give it a try!

The main street along the Dal Lake is the Boulevard street.

Here, the Dal lake is lined with houseboats. Their heavily carved facades and names ranging from California to New Zealand, they are very much an invitation for some fantasy.When staying in a houseboat, make sure it is approved by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department.

The Boulevard Road makes for a lovely evening walk especially at sunset time. Viewing the sunset over the Dal lake is another must-do in Srinagar.

Shankaracharya Temple in Srinagar

A spiraling road on the left of the Boulevard Road goes up a hill to the Shankaracharya Temple. The road has a thick cover of trees on both sides and is a pleasant drive.

Photography and any luggage is not permitted after a point. This is where vehicles have to be left behind. 200 steps after this is the Shankaracharya Temple.

From the top of the temple, we got a 360 degree view of Srinagar. The entire city – the various bridges over the river Jhelum, the poplar and Chinar trees that make its green cover, the typical wooden houses with tin roofs, and cricket and golf grounds – all stretched up to the horizon.

Tip for Srinagar:

It is a wonderful panorama etched in our minds. This view made the Shankaracharya Temple one of our best experiences in Srinagar. Highly recommended.

Hazratbal, the most important shrine in Srinagar

It is also the biggest and regarded as the holiest shrine in Srinagar. The shrine is believed to house a holy box with a strand of hair of Prophet Mohammed. This is what gives Hazratbal its exalted standing.

It is a beautiful sparkling white structure of Islamic architecture. The dome was under renovation when we visited, so we couldn’t view Hazratbal in all its glory.

Surrounding the Hazratbal are the old houses and markets of Srinagar.

Hazratbal also stands on the banks of the Dal lake. This part of the lake is quieter and doesn’t have the tourist hustle bustle of the Boulevard road.

Tip for Srinagar:

Women have to cover their head while stepping inside the shrine. Though they provide a black scarf inside, we recommend carrying your own scarf when visiting Hazratbal.

Pari Mahal is another structure further up from the Dal lake

Pari Mahal translates to a palace of the fairies. If the name doesn’t catch your fancy, maybe this picture of the view from Pari Mahal will.

Or the idea of a walk in the forest – in the middle of a state capital!

On a whim, we decided to walk up to Pari Mahal. It is a 3 km walk from the base, at the Dal lake. The crowds at the Tulip and Chashm-e-Shahi gardens en route, veered us directly towards Pari Mahal.

Just after the gardens, we saw boards declaring this area to be a bear sanctuary. Srinagar was hot at the time but the thick forest cover made in a pleasant walk even in the middle of the day. We couldn’t believe we were in the middle of a city, let alone, a capital city!Most tourists do not go beyond the gardens, so this walk further up was quiet and peaceful. In fact, we were the only ones walking all the way to Pari Mahal!

The structure of Pari Mahal itself is a seven storied Mughal garden which was also used for astronomical observations. The mighty mountains were right behind and before us spread the sprawling Dal lake.

Tip for Srinagar:

The climb and this view, made Pari Mahal our definite favourite Srinagar experience. 

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This is the original work of SandeepaChetan’s Travel Blog