I visited Kashmir in the month of February when winter was just withering away. Since the winter was quite harsh this time I expected to see snow and if lucky experience snowfall as well. And indeed, my wishes were fulfilled and not only that, the entire trip surpassed my expectations. Paradise on Earth is truly justified!!
I planned this trip around my friend’s brother’s wedding which was to be held in Delhi. This also helped me schedule the itinerary beforehand so that I would be able to cover the maximum number of places we could. Another friend also joined me from Bengaluru.
Also staying in Delhi for a day helped us to acclimatize to the weather a bit rather than directly going to the subzero places. We had a couple of hectic days of getting up early to catch the early morning flights but we were on a mission! It was to be the routine for the next five days and we were totally up for it.
So, during the flight from Pune to Delhi, the air was expected to be filled with Smog as the plane approached Delhi. To this contrast, we were greeted with clear blue skies as the flight from Delhi to Srinagar approached its destination. The snow-capped mountains got us excited.
We reached in the morning at around 9:30 as the flight got delayed a bit. We were hopeful to check in to the hotel even though most of the hotels in Srinagar had a check-in time of 2 PM. We had booked a car beforehand and the driver greeted us at the airport. There was some VIP movement that day so we saw a huge line of cars on the opposite side to get into the airport. We were told that this traffic jam usually happens if there is an army convoy or some VIP movement. We were lucky in that regard throughout the trip that we didn’t face this issue.
Once we reached the hotel, we decided to hire the car which took us to the hotel from the airport for the entire journey. It is better that way as it saves the hassle of the suspense of whether a car would be available when we need it. Also, the driver used to stay just behind the hotel, which also helped us to go to some eateries later when we used to come back to Srinagar from other places.
We were greeted at the hotel with hot Kahwa, a traditional Kashmiri drink made of seven spices. After doing the check-in formalities we decided to not waste much time and head out to visit some places in Srinagar.
Our obvious go-to place first was Dal Lake. The view approaching Dal Lake was breathtaking and it was like imagination coming to reality. I have been on boat rides before but this was something else. We spent a good two and a half hours to three hours on the Shikara ride yet we didn’t want to leave the place.
We took the Shikara from Ghat No. 20 as that looked ideal. This particular section is the opening to the wider portion of the lake. The package depends on your budget and the time you want to spend. Tourist places have one thing in common. BARGAINING! If you are good at it you are going to save a lot more money than you can imagine. I am really bad at this, to be honest. Although after hearing experiences from the driver of some cases, I felt the amount, we paid was not that bad even though the driver said we paid almost double. It is understandable that drivers don’t interfere in the bargaining in order to avoid the rift between the locals.
The weather was quite pleasant even though it was slightly overcast. Throughout the entire Kashmir trip, we hoped that rain wouldn’t become the spoilsport. Luckily, even though we did experience bad weather later it was an experience by itself.
Also Read: The Vale of Kashmir
Coming back to Dal Lake, we saw many spots like the spot where they have speed boats taking you to a certain section of the lake. The lake is actually massive with a length of 24 km, and running 15-20 feet deep. Surprisingly, there were no life jackets provided by default. When we asked later, they said they have available for extra charges.
The other places we saw were Nehru Park, Kabutar Khana, Lotus flower spot, and the floating gardens where the locals breed vegetables. There is a floating vegetable market that sells vegetables early in the morning to wholesale shopkeepers. This unique trade happens with the locals on 100-150 small boats selling vegetables for a living. Although this time of the year especially winter not much grows in these areas.
We also came across the famous Sukoon Houseboat which is one of the best places to stay during summer. It was undergoing maintenance during our visit and it reopened on the 1st of March. It is preferred to stay on houseboats during the peak seasons of summer as the place remains cool due to the water. Keep in mind that if one wants to book a houseboat it needs to be done well in advance or you will run out of luck to get one!
There was also a Floating Meena Bazaar which had shops in line on both sides of the narrow section of the lake. The shops literally looked like they were floating. They had different shops which were selling handicrafts, Paper Mache products, saffron, dress materials, and even carpets!
I wouldn’t suggest buying anything much from these as one has to do a lot of bargaining as the prices were too high in my opinion. Even then, I ended up buying a few things keeping in mind that we wouldn’t be getting much time later on as we wanted to cover as many places as possible within the next three days.
After Dal Lake, we visited Chashme Shahi, which is one of the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar. This was built around a Natural water spring that the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had gifted his eldest son Dara Shikhoh.
The natural spring has three sections namely the aqueduct, waterfall, and fountain. The place of origin of the water spring is in a hut-shaped enclosure through which there is a ramp that takes the water down to the fountain. The water of the spring is also known to have medicinal properties.
Chashme Shahi had a beautiful ambiance with the entire complex surrounded by the snow-clad Zabarwan mountain Range. There was a cool breeze flowing and it was another apt place to relax.
This time of the year, one would not be able to see the blooming flowers in the gardens so we decided to skip both Shalimar and Nishat gardens.
We also missed Shankaracharya Temple as it was closed for certain vehicles due to VIP movement. So, we headed to Pari mahal which was not too far from Chashme Shahi.
Pari Mahal is situated to the East of Chashme Shahi and houses the smallest of the three gardens of Srinagar. Dara Shikoh used to come here to learn Astronomy. There are three terraced sections and the higher one goes, the more beautiful scenic beauty one would experience. With the backdrop of the Zabarwan mountain range and Dal Lake, this place is surely not to be missed.
The first day in Kashmir made all the tiredness of the previous two days go away. Not only it calmed our minds but also gave us a sense of pride. Srinagar is indeed Kashmir’s jewel and places within Srinagar echo that nature is calling out to you. So, do cherish the Pale Blue Dot, as it’s the only home we’ve ever known!