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Srinagar

The complete travel guide to Srinagar

The complete travel guide to Srinagar

It’s not for nothing that poets and writers call this part of the country paradise on Earth. Towering mountains, pretty lakes, and gardens that could well be from Eden, Srinagar has it all. While it is an all-year destination, you will have to decide when to visit: in spring, when tulips come alive and the Dal Lake turns into a flower market, summer when the orchards are rich with apples or winter, when snow drapes a silent blanket all over the town. Regardless of when you go, this guide to Srinagar will have you covered

What to see and do in Srinagar

What to see and do in Srinagar

The Dal Lake is the real draw in Srinagar. Immortalised through generations of Bollywood films, the Dal typifies the romance of the city. Flowers on shikaras, lovers on houseboats and birds skimming its surface—it’s a sight that gladdens the coldest of hearts. Quite simply, one can never get enough of the Dal.

But time is at a premium and so you must move on to Chashme Shahi, one of Srinagar’s many legendary Mughal Gardens. This one was built in 1632 AD around a spring, whose waters are believed to have medicinal properties. Perhaps why Pandit Nehru insisted that these waters be delivered to his home in Delhi. The garden is the smallest among the four Mughal Gardens of Srinagar. To visit the largest, make your way to the expansive Shalimar Gardens. The must-see of the four is Nishat Bagh. The ‘garden of bliss’ is right across the road from Dal Lake with a view of the snow-capped Pir Panjal Range. Nishat is dotted with rare plants and long avenues of chinar and cypress trees. There’s never a bad time to be at Nishat Bagh, but autumn brings with it a rain of red foliage, making the Bagh look more beautiful than ever.

Drag yourself away from this garden to visit the prettiest mosque in Srinagar, Khanqah of Shah Hamdan. Drenched in coloured glass and papier-mache, it was built in memory of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani, the Persian saint. Non-Muslims can only peek through a window of the Khanqah, but can enter the Pir Dastgir Sahib, a beautiful Sufi shrine nearby.

Backing onto Dal Lake, several kilometres north of the Old City, the Hazratbal Shrine–a large, white-domed 20th Century mosque enshrines Kashmir’s holiest Islamic relic, the Moi-e-Muqqadas, supposedly a beard hair of the Prophet Mohammed. The hair’s brief disappearance (in December 1963) nearly sparked trouble. It’s resurfaced now and all’s well with the world.

.On top of the thickly forested Shankaracharya Hill is a small Shiva temple built from hefty blocks of visibly ancient grey stone. Previously known as Takht-i-Sulaiman (Throne of Solomon), it’s now named for the sage Shankaracharya who reached enlightenment here in AD 750, but signs date the octagonal structure to the 5th Century and the site is even older.

When you’re done with history, take a step forward and discover how the best of Kashmir’s handicrafts are made. Go on a guided walk through the old city with Srinagar Walks where you can see artisans at work, in their homes, and even enjoy a cup of kahwa with their families after buying a pashmina shawl or two at prices that are substantially lower than at the shops.

The best restaurants in Srinagar

The best restaurants in Srinagar

The trick is to eat light during the day, and then get primed for an expansive and meaty banquet during dinner time.

Wazwans are prepared by chefs, called wazas, who are descendants of culinary masters from past royal courts. It is a laborious task, with 36 dishes in all. The grand finale is gushtaba (spiced meatballs dipped in yoghurt) if you can make it to the end of the meal. Ahdoo’s on Residency Road serves an elaborate and authentic wazwan.

For street food, a stroll around Dal Lake will throw up a medley of Kashmiri nibbles and snacks. Lotus stems, fried potatoes are on offer. Go on, you’re on holiday, try ‘em all. And don’t miss the fragrant concoction of hot green tea, cardamom and saffron called kahwa. A nice, healthy and happy ending.

If you wish, The Vivanta by Taj – Dal View on Kralsangri can set up the ultimate romantic meal experience for you at Char Chinar Island—a spot right in the middle of Dal Lake where four chinar trees rise on a small island and can be reached by shikara. Enjoy a delicious breakfast as you get a 360-degree view of the Zabarwan Mountains, the old city, the Mughal gardens and the lotus carpets.

While you sip Oolong tea in a Cotswolds-inspired tearoom housed above the iconic Mahatta & Co. photography studio, there’s a mix of culture brewing in the air. That’s exactly what Chai Jhai on The Bund, Residency Road is a tea-lover’s abode which also doubles as a space for conversations about arts, literature, and music. Serving around eight different varieties of tea from Kashmir and 25 from across the globe, the elaborate menu also includes local treats such as shirmal and kulcha, in addition to fresh bakery products sourced from the valley’s popular French patisserie Le Delice.

Where to stay in Srinagar

Where to stay in Srinagar

  • Vivanta by Taj – Dal View, Kralsangri Hill

    Perched on a hill, the views from this hotel present Dal Lake in all its splendour, this one is for the hopelessly romantic. Feast on dazzling views: carpets of colourful tulips in spring, the snow-capped peaks of the Zabarwan range during winter and the golden chinars in autumn.
  • The Lalit Grand Palace, Gupkar Road

    In its former avatar as a lavish palace, The Lalit hosted an enviable list of famous personalities, Lord Mountbatten being just one. It’s your turn now to live like a royal, with the Dal Lake and the mighty Himalayas around you.
  • Butt's Clermont Houseboats, Dal Lake

    Moored in a sheltered corner of the lake, the houseboats are built with cedar wood and furnished with Kashmiri objets d’art. Legend has it that this is one of the places Ravi Shankar taught George Harrison how to play the sitar. When you’ve had your fill of the unparalleled views—placid waters and surrounding snow-covered peaks—step directly onto Naseem Bagh from your houseboat–a beautiful Mughal garden where you can spot chinar trees that are over 400 years old.
  • WelcomHeritage Gurkha Houseboats, Nagin Lake

    A stay on these exquisitely carved wooden houseboats is a must, especially to kick-start your holiday. Spend your evenings with a hot cup of kahwa and watch locals sell their Kashmiri crafts right in the middle of the lake.
Where to shop in Srinagar

Where to shop in Srinagar

Whether it’s ethnic fabrics or exotic spices, Srinagar’s markets have plenty, provided you know where to look:

  • M Shah, Polo View Road

    Famous for designing Nargis Fakhri’s outfits in the movie Rockstar, this store is frequented by locals looking for stylish Kashmiri fashion. It specialises in hand embroidery on wool, cotton and silk.
  • Saklain’s Coterie, Polo View Road

    Rashid Ahmad Kawos’s store sells gorgeous-smelling essential oils made from local produce such as lavender and walnut, and handmade soaps such as almond honey and royal saffron. You’ll also find saffron, dry fruit and a powdered version of Kashmiri kahwa for those who want to take this aromatic local tea back home.
  • M Sadiq & Sons, Polo View Road

    Among the numerous papier-mâché and handicraft stores on Polo View street, this one stands out for its quality and design.
  • Amin-Bin-Khaliq, Polo View Road

    Kashmir has long been famous for its dry fruits, and this store sells produce of a particularly high quality. From smoked almonds, walnuts and saffron to dried cranberries, dates and prunes, the array of produce here is endless.
  • Kashmir Loom, The Bund

    Jenny Housego, a textile historian (and former member of the textile department at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London), started this company along with locals Hamid, Zahid and Asaf Ali. Immersed in reviving the Kashmir shawl and Sozni traditions by creating collections in cashmere, silk and cotton, a visit to their studio is a must, but be warned—it’s by appointment only.
  • Kashmir Government Arts Emporium, Boulevard Road

    This is a great place to buy Kashmiri products, as it ensures the artisans get their fair share of the profits. You’ll find apparel, handicrafts and woven carpets, as well as walnut wood furniture, which can be shipped all over the world.
  • Andraab, Humhama Chowk

    Producing Pashmina pieces woven and embroidered by hand, its clientele includes celebrities such as Richard Gere and Judi Dench. The store is on the way to the airport, near Humhama Chowk, the perfect way to end your holiday.

6E and Cheeky

There’s more to Srinagar than just gardens, lakes and shikaras. Contemplate a visit to The Lalit Grand Palace, to have a gin and tonic under the courtyard’s chinar tree: this spot was once the meeting site between Gandhi and the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, who formally joined Kashmir to the Indian union back in 1947. Could anything be more historic?

At the north end of the Sufi shrine of Pir Dastgir Sahib in Khaniyar is another small, green shrine known as Rozabal. A highly controversial theory claims that the shrine’s crypt holds the grave of Jesus Christ. Tourists are actively discouraged from approaching, but the mere existence of this little place poses some intriguing questions.

All that mystery making you hungry? Wait for early dawn, when it’s still dark and haul yourself over to the Dal Lake’s floating vegetable market. Gather some tomatoes, lotus stem and spinach and then persuade the chef back at the hotel to rustle up a Kashmiri omelette. We get first dibs on that.

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Indragandhi Road, Humhama, Badgam, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir 190007 SXR
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