10th September 2015 (Thursday)….Srinagar…65 km
Srinagar is the largest city and the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir (India). It lies on the banks of the River Jhelum and has two large lakes namely Dal and Nageen. The city is famous for gardens, waterfronts, houseboats and also for traditional Kashmiri handicrafts and dried fruits. It is a major tourist destination especially with honeymooners. The city is beginning to get back into normalcy after struggling with militancy for over 20 years now.
Dal Lake, also named the “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir” has a shoreline of about 16 kilometres and is lined with gardens, parks, houseboats and hotels. Scenic views of the lake can be witnessed from the shore line Mughal gardens, such as Shalimar and Nishat Bagh and also from houseboats cruising along the lake. Sometimes, the lake gets frozen in winters. Watching people do their day to day activities in the lake, from slowly rowing shikaras is an amazing experience.
Got up with the early morning prayer sounds emanating from a mosque nearby. Drove to Nehru garden near Dal lake and had two cups of tea. Getting up so early and watching people do their day to day chores around the lake was quite interesting. People rowing shikaras carrying their little kids to drop them near bus stops, shopkeepers ferrying daily needs, vegetable and fruits into the lake for people living inside the lake and tourists lodged in houseboats. It was amazing.
After spending good two hours walking and enjoying along the lake I drove to Shankaracharya temple which is around 6-7 hour uphill drive from Nehru garden. The entry to the road is restricted and allowed only after proper security check.
The road to Shankaracharya temple is narrow but very beautiful. The view of Srinagar city, Dal lake and house boats was fantastic. I pulled the car near a vacant resting place and viewpoint on the road. The air was cool and scented with odour emanating from millions of flowers and plants. I took out a pillow and a blanket from the car and laid down on the wooden bench half lit with sunlight and half in the shade. It was cool and warm at the same time. It was so heavenly that soon I went to sleep.
The view of Srinagar city, Dal lake and house boats was amazing from this viewpoint. At times my sleep was broken with the chit chat of curious visitors to the place. Many of whom looked at my car and then at me sleeping with blanket on, with bewildered eyes. Few of them did ask me who I was and what I was doing there. On knowing that I was a solo traveller from Punjab who sleep inside the car, did surprise some.
Drove the car till the entry point of the temple. There were already enough cars parked along the road. After parking the car and security check I started climbing rather steep stairs to the temple. There were number of other tourists who were climbing the stairs, many of whom, who were city dwellers, were finding it difficult to climb the stairs.
The entire area around Shankaracharya Hill is heavily guarded. The temple and surroundings looked beautiful. Due to haze, the view of the city and others were not very clear though. I could not take any pictures as camera was not allowed inside the temple premises.
After spending quite a good time at the temple I drove back to the main Dal road and drove to Chashme Shahi. Chashme Shahi is a Mughal garden not very far off from main Dal lake. The name is derived from a natural spring which is famous for purity of its water.
Entry to every Mughal garden in Kashmir is through a nominal ticket and parking fee for vehicle. All the gardens have well laid out grassy lawns, decorated with rich green plants and a variety of colourful flowers. Cascading water running through the gardens originating from natural spring is unique to these gardens. In comparison to other Mughal gardens in Kashmir, Chashma Shahi is a small but a beautiful garden. Like most of the visitors I too drank water from the natural spring was an amazing experience.
After spending good time at Chashme Shahi I drove further up to Pari Mahal. The road to Pari Mahal is even narrower and very beautiful. It is a terraced structure and garden. Like all other Mughal gardens, it has beautiful well laid lawns decorated with numerous plants, trees and blooming flowers. The view of Dal lake and Kashmir golf course was beautiful from the garden.
From Pari Mahal again I drove down to lake again and decided to take full round of the whole lake. After awhile the road became bit empty but more beautiful. There were many road side carts selling hot sheek kabab. I too tried one.
Soon I was crossing Hazratbal shrine, believed to contain relic of Prophet Muhammad. The view of Dal lake, with Zabarwan Mountain in the background, looked even more beautiful from this side. The traffic increased again near the shrine.
I was now driving in between Nigeen and Dal lake areas. The road became very crowded now. University of Kashmir was on the right side. I asked for the way to Nigeen lake, could not find proper one, still bumped into a very costly houseboat in the lake.
The gentleman at the boat, told me that the most costliest houseboats of the valley are stationed at Nageen lake and people who look for peace and tranquility prefer a houseboat on Nigeen lake more than the crowded Dal lake. Nigeen lake is a sister lake of Dal lake and is connected to it through a narrow strait.
From Nigeen lake I drove to Hari Parbat. The security personnel at the entry point told me that I need to have a special permit for climbing to Hari Parvat fort. So abandoned my plans for Hari Parbat instead drove up to Sharika Mata Temple.
In the fading light of the day, the view of Srinagar downtown area and the sound of recitation of azan emanating from large number of mosques in the valley, was an amazing experience.
Visiting Sharika Temple (Hari Parbat) in the evening was a wonderful feeling. The atmosphere at the temple was very peaceful and calm. Like all other temples in the Kashmir valley, this temple too, was heavily guarded. The entry to the temple is allowed only after proper security check.
Hari Parbat fort in the fading light of the day looked beautiful. The drive from Hari Parbat down through the crowded Srinagar city was a nightmare. The city was way too much crowded. On top of it I did not know the route. Somehow managed and took a sigh of relief on reaching Dal road.
It was a hectic day all day visiting temples, gardens and driving on the most amazing road. I was bit tired and walking along Dal lake in the evening was very soothing. Walked a little, drove a little, enjoyed few drinks…parked the car again in the same link road near Nehru garden and slept inside the bar for the second time in Srinagar.