Yesterday, we were marooned inside our hotel in Srinagar due to a very heavy snowfall, where about ten inches of snow settled in a very short time and visibility was poor. No traffic was able to get to the hotel which was perched atop of a very steep hill. Srinagar is, these days, Summer capital of the India’s State of Jemmu-Kashmir. However, Srinagar is also the ancient capital of Kashmir, with its own wonderful heritage.
Today however, it was clear and at 9.30 AM, Aamir, our guide, picked us up and off we went to visit the Mughal Gardens, developed by the rulers of the Mughal dynasty. The gardens quickly make you fall in love with their beauty, even if they were all covered in snow! Using hundreds of elephants and horses to transport the thousands of trees, these gardens were the fine weather, recreation centers for the Emperors, their families and followers.
Emperor Jehangir had the Shalimar Garden built for his wife, Noor Jahan, in 1616. A second garden Faiz Baksh, (The Bountiful) was added to it later, during the reign of Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan (1628-1658). The Shalimar Garden offer amazing views over the other gardens, lakes and shallow terraces. There are hundreds of fountains, that at this time of the year, are not turned on. However, we used our imagination, as the beauty was outstanding. We visited the Emperors pavilion, from where he could spend his time admiring the surrounding beauty of not only the floral features, but also the many symmetrical arches leading up to his pavilion. Also known as the “garden of love”, the Shalimar Mughal Gardens has four terraces, rising one above the other. Each time that there was a change in rulers, that person would add their own personal touch.
Next, we went to visit the wonderful old city of Srinagar, with its distinctive blend of cultural heritage. It has many holy places of prayer, with historical mosques, some dating back to the 14th century and built in Persian style. Srinagar is located on both sides of the Jhelum River, and is famous for its nine ancient bridges that connect the two parts of the city. We also wandered around the many old shops, selling traditional wares like copper and, of course, the world-famous Kashmir carpets, hand-woven pashminas, herbs, spices and much more. Local people were friendly and welcoming.
Our last stop in the old city was to a wonderful stall selling small baskets, you may ask “what is unusual about baskets?” These have a use that we have never seen before and are called “Kanger”. They are actually portable warming baskets – a small amount of coal is placed inside and it is carried inside the gentleman’s Famen (a long woollen poncho) – this will keep him warm for most of the day as he will cuddle it close to his body.
Later, we enjoyed a Shikara ride on Dal Lakh a boat that’s a bit like a gondola, but not quite as grand! Srinagar sightseeing loses its meaning if you do not visit the Dal Lake. With the backdrop of mountains on three sides, the view of the Dal Lake looks like a picture postcard. One of the major attractions of the Dal Lake is the houseboats that stand lining its edges. These were originally introduced by the British in the 15th century and have been reproduced ever since – there are about five hundred of them and they provide holiday homes and can be rented on a daily basis with a three-man crew including, a cook, boat manager and boatman, who will take you on tours of dry land! We had tea on a luxury houseboat and were very impressed indeed. Dal Lake also has its own shops and a post office.
Despite the freezing temperatures, we had a truly wonderful day in magical, snow covered, Srinagar, ancient capital of Kashmir.
Tomorrow, we must fly back to Delhi and the next stage of our journey through India.