Srinagar is the summer capital of Kashmir and stands on the picturesque Dal Lake and the Jhelum River, surrounded by pristine alpine scenery, soaring mountains, crystal clear lakes and flower-dotted valleys. Until recent years, this picture-postcard corner of northern India was largely off limits for tourists, until the FCO lifted its travel warning in 2012 and international tourists started to slowly return.
The city itself has a distinctly Central Asian flavour and the old town contains a maze of unique, dilapidated wooden buildings of great architectural value, as well as intricate mosques and bustling bazaars. Make time to buy some Kashmiri shawls and scarves – one of Srinagar’s most famous products, loved for their soft pashmina and warmth – and choose from a myriad of intricately hand-woven Kashmiri carpets.
The lakes and waterways in and around Srinagar are serene in their beauty and a visit to Kashmir is not complete without a trip on a 'Shikara' – colourful, ornate, traditional canoes – or a stay on a houseboat, a throwback from the Raj when the British were not allowed to build their homes on land. An iconic feature of Kashmir, houseboats typically boast exceptional woodcarving and embroidery, and are strewn with colourful Kashmiri carpets.
Glide through these placid waterways and visit the floating flower and vegetable market on Dal Lake. Around the edges of the lakes are the pleasure gardens such as Nishat Bagh, the Garden of Gladness, which is located between the hills and the lake. There is also Shalimar Bagh, which is about 4 km away, set back from the lake and reached by a small canal. Nasim Bagh is the oldest of Kashmir's Mughal gardens.
Make time to visit Hazratbal Mosque – a shimmering marble mosque on Dal Lake’s western shore, which is said to house an enshrined hair of the beard of the Prophet Muhammed – and explore the fascinatingly chaotic old city, which is topped by a fortress and dotted with historic wooden mosques, like the Mosque of Shah Hamadan.
Some other attractions worth visiting include Nagin Lake (connected to Dal Lake via a narrow strait), Pathar Masjid, Jamia Masjid, Hari Parbat Fort (site of the famous Sharika Devi temple), Pandrethan Temple and Shankaracharya Hill. Adventurous activities available within the region include mountaineering, trekking, river rafting and fishing. For truly intrepid travellers, skiing and heli-skiing in Gulmarg is gaining popularity – a 1.5-hour drive from Srinigar, these exotic powder pistes offer an unforgettable and unique skiing experience.
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- Jaime Benitez, South India
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