Srinagar is the capital of Kashmir defined by its large lakes and flowery gardens. The first stop during any trip to Kashmir valley is Srinagar. While the Mughal gardens bloom ushering in spring with all its colors; Dal Lake and Nagin Lake are its lifeline. The pristine beauty of nature comes alive as you float along the lakes, saunter in the gardens inhaling the fresh mountain air and dig into the delicious spread of kababs and pulaos.
The Best Time to Visit Srinagar is between March and October when you can see the valley bloom. It is best to avoid visiting during Amarnath Yatra period to avoid the crowd and rush. If you like to Trek for a day or a few days along with your trip then plan to visit in August-September when the routes are open for the Great Lakes and smaller ones around Pahalgam, Sonmarg.
The day time temperatures in the months of March to October will be between 15 degrees and 25 degrees centigrade. While woolens will be required in the mornings and late evenings, day time weather is pleasant with slight chill in the wind.
- Stay in a Houseboat for atleast 1 night. There are houseboats everywhere on Dal Lake and Nagin Lake. The fixed wooden boats are categorized by the facilities and locations and their rates are fixed as per category. They can cook and serve you or in some cases they get it from a nearby restaurant. If you are in a houseboat which is in the deep, then you will need a Shikhara to get to the main roads. Stay for a night at least and experience the life of a local.
- Shikara Ride on Dal Lake: I would suggest taking a morning ride and an evening ride in Dal Lake. The pristine beauty of the morning gives way to warmth and glow in the evening. You can watch the floating market in the morning warming up with Kahwa and watching the men do brisk business across their Shikharas. Pick up a few green apples if you want to but be prudent with buying spices. Evening is all about watching life go by and the sun set. Somewhere in the middle of the lake, a Shikhara may pop by with some freshly grilled delicious kababs. Take a pit stop at the Char Chinar- the small island with 4 Chinar Trees or the small park and get a 360 degree view of the lake.
- Walk around in the Mughal Gardens: A visit to Srinagar is incomplete without a stroll in these gardens. Built nearly 4 centuries ago by the Mughal Emperors and their ministers; Shalimar Bagh is the largest followed by Nishat Bagh and Chashme Shahi. They have retained their grandeur and charm over the years. They are located at the far end of the Dal within a 3 km radius with the Zabarwan range as the backdrop. While Nishat and Chashme Shahi have beautiful Dal Lake view, Shalimar Bagh is a little away from the Lake. All 3 gardens will be a good 3 hours. They are open from 9am to 5pm.
- Climb up to Shankaracharya Temple: This temple dedicated to Adi Shankaracharya is located atop the Zabarwan hill which can be noticed while you are floating on the Dal. It is believed that he meditated here in the 8th Century though the temple dates to 2nd century BC at the time of king Gopaditya who dedicated it to Shiva. There is a small Shivalinga in the temple where prayers are held daily. Indian Army personnel guard the temple round the clock. Vehicles are allowed at some point from where visitors need to walk up about 100 steps. Mobiles, cameras and bags are not allowed. The view from the temple is simply breathtaking and you will notice that most of the Dal Lake is now covered by house boats. Sharika Devi Temple in Hari Parbat is not accessible any more since the fort above is occupied by Indian Army
- Bow down in hope in Hazratbal Mosque which houses the relic (hair strand) of Prophet Muhammad. This shrine is located on the Western Bank of the Dal which can be reached by Shikara or by local transport. This sight of this spotless white majestic marble structure by the lake is sure to soothe the tired soul. I have not yet been lucky to go close; maybe you will. I am hoping to make it there during my next visit.
- Shop in the Boulevard/Lal Chowk: Boulevard is along the lake and Lal Chowk is the central hub of Srinagar, the square that defines the city. While it is easy to walk along the Boulevard with its plethora of shops and restaurants, you can perhaps saunter around Lal Chowk on a normal day. Look out for walnuts, apples, Kashmiri Shawls, Pashmina Shawls, paper mache items, wood carvings , carpets etc. Just be extra prudent during purchase and check the items you are buying. Better to go into established shops for quality assurance.
- Warm up with Kahwa and Cool off with Falooda: Kashmiri Kahwa is less of tea and more of a health drink. It is made from Kashmiri Green Tea leaves which is boiled with Kahwa mixture (green cardamon, cinnamon sticks, almond powder, sugar) and is instantly energizing. On the other hand is the cooling Falooda specially on a warm summer afternoon is a drink made from vermicelli, rose syrup, vanilla ice cream mixed with sabja seeds.
- Dig into Kashmiri Wazwaan:Visit to Kashmir is incomplete without digging into the flavours of Wazwan. Ever since It is not one dish nor is it a drink but the name of the elaborate and uber delicious set of dishes from the Kashmiri cuisine typically served in banquets. Experience the delights of Tabak Maaz, Chilly Kabab, Gushtaba, Rista, Pulao etc and round it off with the dessert Firni. Well if you are a vegetarian, the paneer, green apple curry and Aloo Dum are not to be missed. Ahdoos and Mughal Darbar are some of the famous places for experiencing the Wazwan delicacies.
- Day trip to Sonmarg – which is about a 3 hour journey(87 kms) away from Srinagar. The landscape changes as you drive by the Sindh which is a tributary of the Jhelum. Most visitors head to the Thajwas Glacier on a pony to get a glimpse of this meadow of Gold. Sonmarg is also the starting point for the Amarnath Pilgrimage or the Great Lakes trek that leads to Vishansar, Kishansar, Gangbal, Nundkol Lake at the feet of Mt Harmukh. The real Kashmir is concealed in the lap of the mountains far away.
- Day Trip to Pehelgam and Gulmarg via Awantipora: This will be a 2 day trip if you are planning to visit all 3 places. Awantipora is the ruins of temples built by Awantivarman just outside Srinagar on the way to Pahalgam which is 3 hours away. Pahalgam is located at the confluence of the gurgling Lidder and the Sheshnag Lake. Apart from being the starting point of the traditional Amarnath Yatra and the Tarsar Trek it is also home to several Mughal Gardens (Kukkernag) and beautiful valleys (Betaab movie was filmed). Gulmarg is a Skiing destination in winter and famous for Gondola Rides in Summer.
- Srinagar is connected by Air from most major Indian Cities connecting through Delhi/ Mumbai/ Amritsar. Alternatively, take a train to Jammu and then drive to Srinagar (about 8 hours). You will pass through the Jawahar Tunnel on this route.
- The ideal tenure of the trip for all the above is about 6-7 days.
- Day 1 – Srinagar- Pahalgam via Awantipora
- Day 2 -Pahalgam- Kukkernag; Betaab Valley
- Day 3 – Pahalgam to Gulmarg via Martrand Sun Temple. Evening Gondola Ride
- Day 4- Gulmarg to Srinagar; Afternoon Shikhara Ride
- Day 5 -Gardens and Shankaracharya Temple in the Morning; Wazwan in the Afternoon; Shopping in Lal Chowk and Trip to Hazratbal
- Day 6- Sonmarg Day Trip
- Day 7- Morning Shikhara Ride to Floating Market and Depart
- The rates for hiring cars, sightseeing trips, horse rides are fixed by local authorities and better to go with an authorized people to avoid hassles. Others may offer some discount but it may come with an untold rider that you may realize later.
- Inspite of all the turmoil, this city has resiliently held its ground; just go and explore Paradise on Earth and you will love your time spent in this beautiful land.
- In case you are flying out of Srinagar, just report to the Airport hours in advance since there are 3 levels of checking. Please do not carry any hand luggage other than your wallet, laptop, camera. If you have crossed your luggage limit shopping in Kashmir or carrying boxes of apples; they may just let you go!!
- Everyone expects a little extra tip; keep that in mind to travel smooth. The state hardly has anything beyond tourism and given the weather and terrain they need to earn for the year in 5-6 months.