In the words of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, "If there is a heaven on earth, it is here... it is here... it is here." This sentiment beautifully encapsulates the essence of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, in India. Nestled amidst the majestic Himalayan ranges, with its serene lakes, grand Mughal gardens, and enchanting houseboats, the city is a testament to nature's magnificence. Although there is much that the city has to offer, there are few native experiences that you cannot miss while visiting the city.
Here are the five must-do things that will not only give you the best India trip but will also etch a special mark on your heart!
A Shikara Ride on Dal Lake: Window to the Unique Ways of Local Life
One of the most iconic images associated with Srinagar is that of a Shikara, a traditional wooden boat gracefully gliding across the mirror-like surface of Dal Lake. A trip to Srinagar is only considered complete with riding on a shikara! These boats are also a testament to the region's traditional craftsmanship. Each boat is handcrafted, often by the boatman himself, and is adorned with vibrant colours and intricate carvings. To enhance the experience, you can opt for a sightseeing tour around the lake, offering visitors an intimate experience of the lake's ecosystem!
What makes the ride more beautiful is the opportunity to witness the ways of Kashmir. For long, these Shikaras have served as the lifeline of the lake. They not only are a means of leisure for tourists but also play a crucial role in the daily life of the local community. Shikaras function as floating markets, mail delivery boats, and even school buses. Seeing children in their school uniforms hopping onto a Shikara to reach school is a charming spectacle unique to Dal Lake!
A Walk Through the Mughal Gardens: Tracing the Footsteps of Emperors
Next on the recommendation is a visit to the Mughal gardens – Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh, and Chashme Shahi – offering a slice of Mughal history wrapped in nature's grandeur. Out of these, the Shalimar Bagh is the largest of the three gardens, whereas Chashme Shahi, meaning "royal spring", is the smallest but arguably the most picturesque of the three gardens. The latter was built around a natural spring, believed to have medicinal properties. Even today, visitors can drink directly from the spring. The third is the Nishat Bagh, often referred to as "the garden of joy", with its unique twelve terraces, each symbolizing a zodiac sign. This intricate symbolism often goes unnoticed, but it adds an extra layer of depth to the garden's design.
Interesting insight! The layout of these gardens follows the Persian concept of "Chahar Bagh", meaning "four gardens", symbolising the four Gardens of Paradise mentioned in the Quran. This design often includes water channels and fountains, representing the rivers of Paradise.
Exploring the Hazratbal Mosque: A Spiritual Sojourn
Located on the western shores of Dal Lake, the Hazratbal Mosque is a site of profound spiritual significance. The mosque houses a sacred relic - a hair believed to be from the beard of Prophet Muhammad. This relic is displayed to the public on certain religious occasions, attracting devotees from far and wide. The architecture of the mosque is a harmonious blend of Mughal and traditional Kashmiri styles. While the dome and minarets exhibit Persian influences, the intricate wooden carvings are distinctly Kashmiri. A beautiful site to behold is its pristine white marble façade reflecting beautifully in the waters of the lake, creating a serene and peaceful atmosphere.
tourHQ tip- Remember, as with any religious site, it's important to respect the customs and dress modestly when visiting. You can even hire a local Srinagar guide to help you navigate the cultural barriers easily and interact with locals primarily known for their warm hospitality.
A Shopping Spree in Old Srinagar: Unearthing Hidden Treasures
Shopping in Old Srinagar is more than just a retail experience. It's a journey that immerses you in the local culture and traditions, allowing you to carry a piece of Srinagar back home. On your visit, remember to check out the famous Lal Chowk and Badshah Chowk, which offer a delight for any avid shopper. As for Kashmiri crafts and goods, here are a few souvenirs that you can buy on your trip-
Pashmina shawls: Available in a rainbow of colours in the shops of Zaina Kadal, these shawls, hand-woven with the softest cashmere wool, are a testament to the meticulous craftsmanship of local artisans.
Likewise, the intricately designed Kashmiri carpets, often woven with silk and wool, are renowned worldwide for their beauty and durability.
Authentic Kashmiri saffron, one of the most precious and expensive spices globally, is a must-buy from the spice shops in Badshah Chowk. Alongside it, you'll find a variety of local spices that form the heart of Kashmiri cuisine.
Furthermore, you can explore a range of handcrafted silver jewellery, traditional wooden furniture adorned with intricate carvings, and the unique 'Papier-mâché' artifacts, adding a vibrant splash of colour to these bustling markets.
Savouring Authentic Kashmiri Cuisine: A Culinary Journey in Srinagar
Traditional Kashmiri cuisine, with its unique blend of flavours, is a gastronomic delight that promises to tantalise your taste buds. The most famous is the Rogan Josh, a fragrant meat dish cooked with a blend of spices that infuse it with a rich, robust flavour.
The story of Rogan Josh: The dish is believed to have arrived in India under the rule of the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great. The royal cooks, known as "khansamas," perfected this aromatic mutton curry, which was a favourite in royal kitchens. The interesting fact is, despite their predominantly vegetarian diet, the Kashmiri Pandits made an exception and embraced the dish. This led to the creation of a unique version of Rogan Josh, cooked without onions and garlic, respecting the community's dietary restrictions, but rich in traditional Kashmiri spices like asafoetida (hing) and fennel seeds. This story is a testament to how food transcends boundaries and adapts to local customs and traditions!
Other must-try dishes on your Srinagar tour are Yakhni (a creamy yoghurt-based mutton dish subtly flavoured with aromatic spices) and Dum Aloo (a popular Kashmiri dish where potatoes are deep-fried, then cooked slowly at low flame in a gravy with spices). And what better way to round off your meal than with a cup of Kahwa? This traditional green tea is a blend of saffron, cinnamon, and crushed nuts, making it a warm and fragrant brew that perfectly encapsulates the essence of Kashmiri culture.
Srinagar, a city that once captivated emperors, is waiting to captivate you with its timeless charm. From the mesmerising shikara rides on the tranquil Dal Lake to the enchanting Mughal Gardens, from the spiritual tranquillity of the Hazratbal Mosque to the vibrant markets of Old Srinagar, this city of dreams never ceases to amaze. So pack your bags and embark on a journey to India's summer capital, a journey that promises to leave an indelible mark on your heart and soul.