Srinagar – Capital of Paradise

“Are you sure about this?”

“Is it safe?”

These are some of the questions which were asked to us when we planned our trip cum trek in Kashmir. With regular incidents of stone pelting and the unprecedented killing of a tourist, even we were sceptical but then we had already decided and there was no looking back. And I am more than glad that I didn’t cancel my trip

Srinagar or Sri Nagar (meaning the beautiful city) is known for its lakes, gardens and many historical monuments. But the most beautiful element of its charm is the Kashmiri People. Kashmiris are the most hospitable as far as our experience goes (Bhutanese come really close but they have never seen inhospitable situations like Kashmir). Trust me, your interactions with the people of the valley will end up being the highlight of your trip. Ours did.

Reaching Srinagar

Our flight to Srinagar landed right on time (4 hours flight from Mumbai via Jammu). Descend to the airport was particularly amazing. With the lush green valley and colorful houses distributed unevenly along the road, the place looks like a surreal painting. Experience it yourself, do take a left window seat.

Our driver, Majid, was waiting for us. We had booked him though Danish, the owner of our houseboat. Majid was to take us around Srinagar for the next couple of days.

Staying in Srinagar

We had planned for three nights stay in Srinagar with one night each in a homestay, a houseboat and a hotel. We booked Cottage Nigeen, Young Bombay Group of House Boats and Fourpoints by Sheraton. All three of them turned out to be exceptionally good.

Exploring Srinagar

Lakes – Nageen and Dal

I don’t think I need to talk much around exploring lakes. Much has been has been said and written about Dal but very few talks about Nageen, which is blessing in disguise for serenity lovers. Out of the two magical sunsets which I saw in Srinagar, the sunset at Nageen was much prettier and soothing.

There nothing much to do in Negeen but Dal has host of attractions:

  • Evening Shikara circuit ride: If it a clear sky, go for it. My personal favorite ride was in that of Nageen Lake.
  • Char chinaar: Although this is a must visit place on everyone’s list, I gave it a miss. Reason: long shikara ride and costly as well.
  • Morning vegetable market: The early morning vegetable market is a photographers delight and guess what the market gets over by 7 AM. So needless to say, pre-book a Shikara a night before (charges around INR 500-600)

Gardens – Chasma Shahi, Chinaar, Nisat and Shalimar

The Mughals built some of the most breathtaking gardens. In my limited opinion, Nishat Bagh is the most beautiful with stair structure facing the majestic Dal Lake. In Tulip Garden, flowers are in full bloom only during the months of March and April, so time your visit accordingly

Shankaracharya Temple

Although I could not visit it due to time and vehicular constraints but the temple situated on top of the hill offers panoramic few of the Dal Lake and the city. You can either go there using car/auto or you can also trek uphill for 4-5 KM.

Hazratbal mosque

Hazratbal mosque is the white domes structure at one quieter side of Dal Lake. It enshrines holy relic of Moi-e-Muqqadas, beard hair of the Prophet Mohammed. We didn’t get a chance to see it but the imposing structure and surrounding gardens are a treat in itself.

The market outside the mosque has shops selling delicious halwa paratha. The size of paratha is enormous. Also there are some good handicraft shops for you souvenir hunger.

Eating in Srinagar

Srinagar is a non-vegetarian’s paradise. The city offers everything from lip smacking street food to luxurious candle lit wazwans (traditional Kashmiri multi-course meal). Some of the must go places are:

Ahdoos Restaurant

Ask anyone of place to eat in Srinagar, the first option will alway be Ahdoos. This is a family run century old restaurant which serves some most amazing rista (softest lamb meatballs), kashmiri pulao/biryani and kababs. The restaurant also has a bakery downstairs which offer cookie tasting before buying.

Winterfell Cafe

Yes, a Game of Thrones themed restaurant with actual throne and swords and no, I am not recommending this restaurant for your insta-hunger but for the food and music. The Italian dished served here are really good.

Food at any homestay

We had some amazing food in all of home stays. If you want to try authentic Kashmiri flavor, find a home stay and make sure to request them for a food.

Chai Jaai

The instagram favorite and actually serves some amazing Kashmiri Kahwa.

Lahasa Restaurant

The Chinese cuisine restaurant is at one end of the Dal Lake which serves amazing Chinese and Tibetan cuisine food.

Street food in Srinagar

Area near Hazratbal shrine

As I have mentioned earlier, the market near the mosque is flooded with carts selling street food like halwa-paratha, nadir monji (fired lotus stems), various types of masaal (some sort of wheat preparation) and sugar coated delicacies. Halwa-paratha and nadir monji are must tries

Khayam Chowk

This place is the Chandani chowk of Srinagar (minus vegetarian options). The Seekh Tujjs or Seekh kabas are yummy. It is served with a variety of lip smacking chutneys and the traditional Kashmiri bread, Lavasa. Imran Cafe is apparently suggested in many blog but none of them mentions there are atleast five of those. Anyways, we randomly chose one and it was amazing (although I felt it was slightly raw but loved it nonetheless). We hopped in couple of other shops as well to try other kabas and chicken curries and each one of them was amazing. Bottom line – Don’t be afraid to experiment. In my next visit to Srinagar, I will reserve my all three meals of the day for this place :). NOTE: if anyone in your group is vegetarian, don’t drag the person along, there is absolutely nothing for vegetarians.

Dal Lake: Yes, you heard me right. There are lots of Shikaras selling kababs, bhels and chai – pakodas in Dal.

Overall, Srinagar is one the best single-city travel destination in India. it really pains me that so much is getting lost just to feed ego of “divisions” that we have made. I wonder how beautiful this city would have been:

“Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast”

Thus said a Persian poet

If your are still not convinced, here are some of the picture which will certainly get you on your feet:

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