Srinagar Travelogue | The Kashmir I Knew
“If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here”, the Sufi musician and poet, Amir Khusrau aptly eulogized Kashmir as far back in time as the 12th century and it still rings true… “Agar firdaus baroye zameen ast, hami asto, hami asto, hami ast’.” Srinagar Travelogue | The Kashmir I Knew!!
My tribute to the Srinagar Travelogue |The Kashmir I Knew and fell in love with. Kashmir said come fall in love with me and I did. I fell hook line and sinker for this heaven on earth, for the awesome people and just for being Kashmir. From the acme of the Himalayas to the deep valleys, gushing springs and tranquil lakes they all seduce you to the extent that your senses are captivated and before you realize it some sort of magic takes place and you actually rise in love. There are virgin places like Doodhpathri to experience and savour the Kashmiri food.
The first visit to Srinagar Travelogue | The Kashmir I Knew
My first visit to Kashmir was when I was 15, on a school trip and I have clear images of standing on the shikara on the Dal Lake and pledging to return as soon as possible. I was a romantic phool at 15 and I am still a romantic fool at 55, mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the sun-kissed hills and enamoured with the simple and caring folk.
Tips to Experience Srinagar
After returning from Kashmir with my priceless stash of kahwa powder, I relive my vivid memories with the wafting aroma of a steaming cup of Kahwa in my hand. I landed in Srinagar with lots of expectations and aspirations. The early sunrise helped when I went to the floating market and the late sunset when I was visiting the illuminated gardens in the city. I hired a cab to see the sights of the city which are on the list of every tourist. When you hire a cab make sure to decide the time and places he will take you to and drive a good bargain. Do your homework well and note the places that you want to visit according to the area they are located. Accordingly, ask the cabbie to take you there.
The Beauty of Srinagar
Srinagar, the capital city is the jewel in the crown of Kashmir as it embodies all the real colours of the state. The city sits quietly on the banks of the Jhelum mulling over its exuberance. The gleaming water of the Dal and Nageen Lake with the musty smell of the houseboats and the romantic veiled Shikaras are the flowing robes of Srinagar. The divinity of the Shankaracharya temple looks down benevolently from the hilltop while the benediction of Prophet Mohammad from the Hazratbal Shrine and the Jama Masjid keep the city blessed.
Cheshmashahi Gardens in Srinagar Travelogue | The Kashmir I Knew
My first pit stop was the small Cheshmashahi Garden which is snugly ensconced amid the wooded hills. Shah Jehan the Mughal Emperor commissioned Ali Mardan Khan to build the gardens as a gift for his son Dara Shikoh. It is a part of the Zabarwan range and overlooks the Dal Lake. There is added security en route as it is located near the Raj Bhavan. The entry ticket is a mere 20 INR for adults and 10INR for kids for each of the gardens.
Cheshmashahi literally means Royal Spring, which gushes forth from the gardens uppermost level where there is a square fountain pool fed by a water spring directly from the mountains. I was looking wide-eyed at the spacious lawns and the flora and fauna which are captivating. The terraced garden layout is open and I spotted some rare flowers, gigantic Chinar trees, and tall Pear trees. A flight of stairs on either side of the terraces lead to the spring which flows down through falls and fountains to the ground level. I was looking around agape at the exquisite blossoms in myriad colours and climbed the first flight of stairs.
Memories in Images
I was approached by a genial photographer, a Mr.Bhat, who smooth-talked me into getting my pictures clicked in the traditional Kashmiri attire. I reluctantly agreed for 1 picture and ended up paying for 7! He volunteered to take my pictures in the garden with my camera as I was struggling with my selfie stick and auto click but still I was a gullible tourist like most and succumbed to the Kashmiri charm.
Do not forget to drink the water of the spring and carry it home in a bottle as the cool sparkling water is said to have curing properties. It is said that Nehru had the water of the spring flown to Delhi. Cheshmashahi by illuminated at night and it is as if the stars are sparkling on earth. If you have time just sit a while on the lawns and feel the cool zephyr kiss your cheeks and you would never want to leave. There were couples everywhere soaking in the romance.
Pari Mahal was the next stop and is on the tourist map but the cabbie will try to dissuade you from going there. Do not get taken in and insist on visiting Pari Mahal which is just a 5-minute drive away from Cheshmashahi. Another name for Pari Mahal is “The Abode of fairies” and it is a seven terraced garden situated at the top of the Zabarwan mountain, south-west of the Dal lake. The view from the top is breath-taking and should not be missed. The steps leading to the top are crumbling and I was breathless by the time I reached the top and sat on the edge to get my breath back and I was enthralled by the view and lingered a while longer.
Dara Shikoh, the son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan created Pari Mahal in the mid of 1600s. He dedicated the garden to his Sufi teacher Mullah Shah. Built around a small spring Pari Mahal boasts of beds of vivid flowers and is also illuminated at night. The entrance is typical of Mughal architecture with an arch and a row of rooms on either side. As it is on a height it gets freezing in winter and it is best to visit in the summer. It opens at 9.30am and closes early at 5.30pm.
Nishat Bagh is a 12 terraced Mughal garden built on the eastern side of the Dal Lake. It is the second-largest Mughal garden and is very well maintained. It overlooks the Dal Lake. The garden overflows with flowers and the sentinel Chinars. The Nishat Bagh is a garden of bliss and has a central water channel leading to numerous fountains lined with flower beds on either side. Nur Jehan’s brother Asif Khan built this garden in 1633. Modelled along the lines of Persian gardens the concept had to be tweaked to suit the topography and water resources in Srinagar. The twelve terraces represent the 12 signs of the zodiac and the two sections are the public garden and the private Shalimar Bagh. I didn’t find anyone to take my pictures here so I used the auto-click feature and I struggled to take a couple myself.
By the time I reached Shalimar Bagh, I was a wee bit drained as the sun was sapping my energy and I forgot to get my hat and parasol thinking that Kashmir would give me relief from the Bezwada heat. Shalimar Bagh is one of the stupendous and exquisitely laid out gardens by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his beloved wife Nurjehan in 1619. It showcases the exemplary craftsmanship of the Mughals in horticulture. The Mughals sure knew how to express their love; Shalimar literally means ‘Abode of love’.
Lovely people of Srinagar Travelogue | The Kashmir I Knew
And while I was walking down one side of the fountains capturing the fountains and colossal flowers in my camera, I heard someone calling out to me. I turned around and there was this tall, stately grey-haired man relaxing on a charpoy,” Hello daughter, how are you? He asked.” Now the said gentleman definitely didn’t look old enough to be my dad and I was reluctant to reply but he approached me and struck up a conversation. I told him that I could not be his daughter and he placed his hand on my head in blessing and said okay then sister! Wherever I went people would approach me unabashedly and ask where I am from and why I was alone. This gentleman asked me where my partner was!!
He was the head caretaker of the gardens and had been maintaining them for 38 years, now retired. Speaking impeccable English and being ever so polite he became my self-appointed guide, giving me a brief history of the garden and insisted on clicking my pictures. And he made me pose at spots he liked and how he wanted me to pose! My trip is full of such incidents where I was chatted up by little boys, teenage girls and others and my pictures clicked everywhere and I loved every minute of it.
Shalimar Gardens more on Srinagar Travelogue | The Kashmir I Knew
The history of Shalimar Bagh dates back to the second century in the reign of King Pravarsena who was the founder of the city of Srinagar. He built a cottage here surrounded by a garden and named it Shalimar. In time, it came to ruins but the name stuck on. In 1630, the garden was further expanded on the order of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and he named it “Faiz Baksh” meaning “the Bountiful”. Other rulers too have made alterations to further stimulate its beauty. Shalimar Bagh is a typical Mughal Garden with a layout of three terraces; each terrace is comprised of a water fountain and pool with water supply in series. The sound of the water of the 410 fountains falling simultaneously makes a lyrical symphony that is music to the ears.
Gulshan Book Store @ Srinagar Travelogue | The Kashmir I Knew
I stopped for lunch on the Boulevard and it was still very hot to sail around the lake so I visited the Gulshan Bookstore on the Dal Lake. I am a bookworm and I HAD to check out this amazing bookstore on the lake. Even if you are not interested in books you should explore the bookstore which can be reached only by Shikara.
An idyllic bookshop with a reading room and a cafe attached to it in the Nehru park island of the Dal Lake is a book lover’s utopia. I had to hire a shikara to get there and the shikara man talked me into paying 100 bucks for the short ride. The name of the was Facebook Deluxe! Once I reached the bookstore I was told that there was a dedicated boat of the bookstore which gave free rides! I was so easily duped but I didn’t mind it.
The bookstore is well stocked and the interiors have some antique curios and pictures dotting the room. For Sheikh Ajaz Ahmad, owner of the Gulshan Bookstore having a book shop near the Dal Lake was his lifelong dream that he says he has realized finally. His great grandfather opened the first bookstore 100 years ago on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway. The bookshop remains open from 11 am to 11 pm. Even if you do not want to buy a book you can read books in the reading room that overlooks the Dal Lake and the Zabarwan hills. I adore kids and right below I saw kids learning kayaking. It was heartening to see girls wearing a hijab and learning to paddle.
Cafeteria in Gulshan Bookstore
I ordered a lemon iced tea and settled down to read a book on Kashmir but I never got around flipping more than 2 pages as there were so many things to take in. Men and kids were splashing about in the fountain pools to shake off the heat and shikaras were taking a lazy round of the lake in the late afternoon. The hills were looming in front and a cool breeze floated once every few minutes. I soaked in all these and decided to come back again. I had to leave as the cabbie was waiting for me.
While driving back home I was hugging my cache of memories close to my heart to be reopened from time to time and re-lived. Maybe these are priceless memories I will always cherish. There is more about the city here if you want to know more about Srinagar Travelogue | The Kashmir I Knew.
Now there is only
A Lament By P B SHELLEY
O world! Oh life! O time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more—Oh, nevermore!
Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight;
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar,
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more—Oh, nevermore!