I was seven years old then. It was a happy occasion. My favourite uncle had just got married and after a trip together far away with his newly wed, they were planning to stay with us for a couple of days on their way back. The word ‘honeymoon’ was known by the seniors but was a big taboo, especially with the four kids around. So we didn’t know.
The D day arrived. They arrived. And after just an hour later came out a gift which was handed over to me by my new aunt. A fur cap 😁. So cute, so soft. I was so happy and I asked them. Where did you get it from? My aunt said, Kashmir. Next few days they were there, I slept sandwiched between my uncle and my aunt 😁 No jokes. I had fallen in love. With my newly wed Aunt and Kashmir.
Ask any Indian what their dream destination is. They would say Kashmir. Ask me where am I taking you today and in the next few days. It’s Kashmir. ‘Jannat-E-Kashmir’ as it is called. The Paradise on earth.
We took an afternoon flight from Delhi and in an hour we were in Srinagar. As we came out of the airport and our taxi drove along River Jhelum we realized why it is the dream destination of millions. Srinagar was a beautiful city.
By the time we reached our hotel it was early evening and an evening to relax. We had booked in Hotel Welcome Residency a medium sized hotel with great food and lovely helpful staff led by their manager, Lone. The view of Jehlum river, well-appointed rooms and cozy ambience provide the perfect setting for a great stay. The hotel is located at a short distance from Dal Lake. And with a view like this from our room, what more do you need. Nature and peace.
The city sleeps early and gets up early. So we got up very early, relaxed a bit before setting out after our simple breakfast.
Srinagar is the largest city and the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It lies in the Kashmir Valley on the banks of River Jhelum, a tributary of River Indus and Dal and Anchar lakes. The city is known for its nine old bridges, connecting the two parts of the city and for its natural environment, gardens, waterfronts and houseboats. It is also famous for traditional Kashmiri handicrafts, dried fruits and saffron.
The earliest records show the name Siri-nagar (or Sri-nagara) mentioned, which in turn is a local transformation of the Sanskrit name Surya-nagar, meaning “City of the Sun”. Alternatively, it may have drawn its name from two Sanskrit words: sri (venerable), and nagar (city) which would make it the “City of Wealth”. Either way Srinagar is a proud part of the Kashmir Valley which is aptly known as ‘Paradise on Earth.’ Surrounded by the majestic Himalayas, serene lakes and splendid gardens, this picturesque paradise looks stunning. Come let me take you through this wonderful joyous ride through the day.
We are in Pari Mahal, also known as The Palace of Fairies and is a seven-terraced garden located at the top of Zabarwan mountain range overlooking the city of Srinagar. It is an example of Islamic architecture and patronage of art during the reign of the then Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It was built as a library and residence for the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh in the mid-1600s. Dara Shikoh was said to have lived in this area in the years 1640, 1645, and 1654. It was further used as an observatory, useful for teaching astrology and astronomy. Let’s look around.
Our next stop is Nishat Bagh a terraced Mughal garden. ‘Nishat Bagh’ is Urdu, which means “Garden of Joy,” “Garden of Gladness” and “Garden of Delight.” The Bagh was designed and built in 1633 by Asif Khan, elder brother of Nur Jehan. There is a very interesting story about this garden.
This garden was built so beautifully that when Shah Jahan saw this garden, after its completion in 1633, he expressed great appreciation of its beauty. He is believed to have articulated his appreciation three times to Asif Khan, his father-in- law, with the hope that he would gift it to him. As no such offer was made by Asif Khan, Shah Jahan was piqued and ordered closure of the water supply to the garden. Then for some period of time the garden was deserted. Asif Khan was heartbroken. One day when he was resting under the shade of a tree, in one of the terraces, his servant was bold enough to turn on the water supply source from the Shalimar Bagh. When Asif Khan heard the sound of water and the fountains in action he was startled and immediately ordered closure of water supply as he feared the worst reaction from the emperor for this act of disobedience. Fortunately for the servant and Asif Khan, Shah Jahan, who had heard about this incident at the garden, was not disturbed or annoyed by the disobedience of his orders. Instead, he appreciated the servant for loyal service to his master and then ordered full restoration rights for the supply of water to the garden to Asif Khan, his Prime Minister and father-in-law.
Chashme Shahi (the royal spring), is one of the Mughal gardens built in 1632 AD around a spring by Ali Mardan Khan, a governor of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a gift for his elder son Prince Dara Shikoh. The garden is 108 m long and 38 m wide and is spread over one acre of land. It is the smallest garden among the three Mughal gardens of Srinagar; the Shalimar garden is the largest and the Nishat garden is the second largest. All the three gardens were built at the right bank of the Dal Lake, with Zabarwan mountains at the backdrop.
The garden presents Mughal architecture as used in different Mughal gardens. The artistically build garden has Iranian influence in its art and architecture and the design is based on the Persian gardens. The main focus of the garden is the spring which flows down in terraces and is divided into three sections: an aqueduct, waterfall, and fountains. A two-storey Kashmiri hut stands at the first terrace which is the origin of the spring. The water then flows down through a water ramp (chadar) into the second terrace. The second terrace serves as a water pool and a large fountain stands at its centre. The water again flows down through a water ramp into the third terrace, which is a square five-fountain pool. It is the lowest pool at the entrance of the garden. The visitors are received through a flight of stairs on both sides of the terraces which leads up to the origin of the spring.
Shalimar Bagh is the largest Mughal garden and is linked through a channel to the northeast of Dal Lake. The Bagh was built by Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan in 1619. The Bagh is considered the high point of Mughal horticulture. It is also called the “Crown of Srinagar”.
While the recent history and development of the Mughal types of gardens is credited to Emperor Jahangir, the ancient history of the garden can be traced to the 2nd century when it was built during the reign of Pravarsena II who founded the city of Srinagar and ruled in Kashmir from 79 AD to 139 AD. He had built a cottage for his stay at the northeastern corner of the Dal Lake and had named it Shalimar.
The word Shalimar in Sanskrit means ‘abode of love’. The king, on his visits to a local saint by the name Sukarma Swami at Harwan, used to stop at this cottage. Over the years the cottage fell into ruins and later could not be located. However the name of the place remained as Shalimar.
This garden built on a flat land on a square plan covers an area of 12.4 hectares (31 acres) built with a size of 587 metres (1,926 ft) length on the main axis channel and with a total width of 251 metres (823 ft) with four radiating arms from a central location as the water source. This central channel, known as the Shah Nahar, is the main axis of the garden. It runs through three terraces and each one of the three terraces has a specific role.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden was set up in 1969 in memory of India’s first prime minister. It contains many types of plants and vegetation. This garden has a collection of about 15,000 ornamental plants and a huge collection of oak varieties. It also has a rare collection of Kashmiri tropical plants. It has four main divisions: the Plant Introduction Centre, the Research Section, the Recreational Garden and the Botanical Garden.
Located in Nowhatta in the heart of the city of Srinagar, the Jamia Masjid is a famous mosque that is more than 600 years old. The quaint mosque is located in a historic area which has witnessed numerous historical events of great importance.
The mosque was built by Sultan Sikandar Shah Kashmiri Shahmiri in the year 1394, The architectural style of the Jamia Masjid is inspired by the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, and also bears similarities to Buddhist pagodas. The Jamia Masjid is also the largest mosque in Kashmir that is known for its peaceful atmosphere, and the mosque becomes especially crowded on Fridays when thousands of people come here to pray.
The Shankaracharya temple is situated on the hill known as Takht-e-Suleiman. It is housed at a height of 1100 ft. above surface level of the main city on the hill. It is believed that Raja Gopadatya got the temple constructed in 371 BC, giving it the name of Gopadri. The great philosopher Shankaracharya is supposed to have stayed here when he visited Kashmir to revive Sanatan Dharma. This incident, which took place ten centuries ago, led to the renaming of the temple as the Shankaracharya temple.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is thought to be the oldest shrine in the Kashmir valley. The temple is of great importance, not only from the point of view of religion but also from architectural viewpoint. A high octagonal platform supports the temple approached by a flight of approximately hundred steps. There is a Persian inscription inside the temple, dating back to Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule. The main surviving shrine consisting of a circular cell provides a magnificent view of the valley below.
Dal lake is the second largest in the state and is integral to tourism and recreation in Kashmir and is named the “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir”. The lake is also an important source for commercial operations in fishing and water plant harvesting. The lake covers an area of 18 square kilometres (6.9 sq mi) and is part of a natural wetland which covers 21.1 square kilometres (8.1 sq mi) including its floating gardens. The floating gardens, known as “Rad” in Kashmiri, blossom with lotus flowers during July and August.
The shore line of the lake is about 15.5 kilometres (9.6 miles) and is encompassed by a boulevard lined with Mughal gardens, parks, houseboats and hotels. Scenic views of the lake can be witnessed from the shore line Mughal gardens such as Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh and from houseboats cruising along the lake in the colourful shikaras. During the winter season, the temperature sometimes reaches −11 °C (12 °F), freezing the lake.
It was a busy day but so refreshing. We got to discover the charm of this beautiful place but what was equally charming was our interaction with the people we met in the last two days in Srinagar. Wonderful people, big hearted and so caring.
You too could enjoy this unmatched hospitality in this beautiful world called Kashmir.
Come to Kashmir. Enjoy Srinagar. Experience India Beautiful 🇮🇳