Note: visitors are highly advised to keep abreast with political updates; for safety, it is best to avoid travel during civil upheaval.
Lakes, shrines, mountains and gardens. Different landscapes, same city: Srinagar. Located in the Kashmir Valley, Srinagar is the largest city of the Jammu and Kashmir state. Populated with over a million people, it continually attracts visitors year round due to its pleasant weather, especially in the summer months. Temperatures range from 14°C to 30°C, however winters can be harsh, dropping as low as -4°C. However, the transformative panorama of the city retains its vibrancy and exquisiteness regardless of the season, and has been touted by Mughal emperors as a “true paradise on Earth”. The best time to visit is during April to October when it is perfect for sightseeing and other outdoor activities.
The Srinagar-Manali-Leh circuit is a popular route amongst tourists. More so, the National Highway 1 (also known as the Srinagar-Leh highway) is one of the most scenic drives you can take yourself on. It is one of the only two roads which connects Ladakh with the rest of India, passing through the mountain ranges known as the Little Switzerland of India.
Termed as the “Pride of the Kashmir valley”, the city is also known for traditional Kashmiri handicrafts and dried fruits. Below we collate a list of Srinagar’s greatest for those seeking a memorable holiday.
6km long and 4km wide, the Dal Lake is the main attraction of the city. The intricate maze of waterways are surrounded by four other bodies of water. Bask in the fresh, crisp mornings around the shining brilliance of the lake where the gorgeous floating market is located. Flowers, vegetables, pashima, saffron are only but a glimpse into the local culture and trade there. Turn your desktop wallpaper into a reality with the Pir Panjal ranges sitting in the distant horizon, making it a picture perfect souvenir. Senses heightened, it’s almost overwhelming. In the evenings, go on a shikara ride and explore the quiet corners of the lake. To end it all, stay at one of the dreamy houseboats docked on any of the lakes around Srinagar–Dal Lake, Nageen Lake, Jhelum River or Chinar Bagh. There are houseboats to cater to all budgets, but its unique experience is priceless. The locals are truly welcoming, opening up their hearts and doors to whoever is willing to receive their hospitality. It’s this that makes the city all the more charming.
A quick guide on where to find houseboats in Srinagar:
The local office for the Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association is located opposite the Tourist Reception Centre at Rajbag. This is where you may book your stay. The operators also organise local tours, covering sightseeing and other outdoor activities such as fishing tours. They’re usually customisable as well. A tip is to go during off season so that you’d get the luxury ones for much cheaper. While this is usually during the chillier months, the boats come heated so there’s nothing to worry! While the Dal offers a plethora of options, the Nageen is said to be less crowded, cheaper, cleaner and more intimate than the former.
Sprawling across hundreds of acres of land, the two most famous Mughal gardens (bagh) are the Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh. Other noteworthy ones include the Chashme Shahi Garden, Nehru Garden, Pari Mahal Garden and the Tulip Garden. The 12 hectares of tulips cover the banks of the Dal Lake, while the first two gardens have been seen in numerous Bollywood movies. They are hard not to recognise given the lush greenery and well-maintained terrace lawns and fountain pools. All gardens come with a small entrance fee.
The breathtaking Hazratbal Shrine, the majestic Jamia Masjid are all synonymous to Srinagar. Many of the mosques and temples feature a blend of Mughal and Kashmiri architectural styles. The religious spots evoke a sense of calm in visitors and just makes it all the more surreal, soaking in the serenity of the grounds as much as one can.
We can’t go on a holiday without savouring local delicacies. Though it might seem a banal recommendation at the first mention of Kashmiri food to any visitor, it behoves any local or guide to not mention Wazwan. Traditionally reserved for special occasions featuring intricate choice delicacies, many restaurant menus now feature Wazwan tasting menus to satisfy the curious taste bud. It’s a grand affair in itself, highly appreciated as an art as well as a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity.
Food in this region are heavily meat-based, especially in lamb. Rogan josh is a fine example, and while it may be found all over India, varies in taste throughout. A flavourful curried lamb packed with spices to tingle your senses. Tabak maaz is also a popular local delicacy, which is basically Kashmiri-style ribs marinated with spices, milk and then fried. Vegetarian options include nadru palak, nadru yakni and haaq saag. Desserts are also abundant in the Kashimiri cuisine, such as shufta.
The culinary experience in Srinagar is bound to have something for everyone, and can even be quite the adventure for any foodie.
Getting to Srinagar
With that said, there are several means to get to Srinagar. Flights are available from most major cities in India. For the rail route, take the train from New Delhi to Udhampur. Hop onto a cab to Banihal and get on a local train from there to Srinagar. The last train runs at 5PM and there are no trains after that so be sure to plan your journey with adequate safety nets. By car, it takes about 13hrs to get to Srinagar from Delhi. However, in return for a long car ride you get to pass the towns of Panipat, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Pathankot, Udhampur and Banihal.
Srinagar in the winter is equally enchanting. This post here can tell you more.