Srinagar is the heart of the Kashmir Valley, still preserves the imprints of the Mughals and the British. The valley takes great pride in its lakes, gardens and the charming rows of houseboats floating on them. Popular for traditional Kashmiri handicrafts, kashmiri clothes and dry fruits, Srinagar is bordered by five districts. To its northern side is Kargil, in the south is Pulwama and in the north-west lies Budgam. "If there is a heaven on earth, it's here, it's here, it's here", exclaimed the Mughal emperor Jahangir on his first visit to this place.
Srinagar has the privilege of having a multifaceted and unique cultural blend, making it different from the rest of the country, not only from the cultural front, but in point of geography, demography, ethics and social entities. as well. With its beautiful picturesque Himalayan backdrop, the crowning glory of hill stations Srinagar is enticed by the colourful houseboats , shikaras and the grandeur of Mughal sense of style.
Sri means Lakshmi or wealth and nagar a city. The summer capital of J&K State, Srinagar city has a vital role in the history of Kashmir. For this reason, Persian chronicles call it Shehr-e-Kashmir or 'City of Kashmir'.
According to Kalhana's 'Rajtarangini',Srinagri was founded by King Ashoka in 3rd century BC near Panderethan about 8 km from the present city Srinagri remained capital until the new city of Pravarapura was founded by Parvarasana II in AD 630 near Hari Parbat, which is the present city. Years after the new city also assumed the name of Srinagri since both cities were near to each other. Hiuen Tsang the Chinese traveler mentions Paravapura as the capital when he traveled to Kashmir in 631 AD. The choice of Parvarasana Il is considered impeccable as the present Srinagar city is supposed to be almost equidistant from Jammu, Rawalpindi, Leh and Gilgit through the old routes.
Every ruler chiseled a new shape of Srinagar and emphasized on better connectivity with surrounding areas. Srinagar has both medieval charm and a touch of modernity. The city is surrounded by awesome mountains and river Jehlum meanders through it. The old city bazaars,malls and shopping centers around Lal chowk reflect her importance as a commercial hub.Here, months could pass sightseeing at different locations, be it historical or religious places, gardens or lakes, craft bazaars or stone carving centres, places of poets or saints, wildlife sanctuaries or trout hatcheries - its a destination that always remains a discovery for visitors.
Lal Chowk and Residency Road, one finds selling stylish clothes and fast food specialities, located in some of the best shopping malls and lively streets open throughout the day and late evenings.
Connected by more than a dozen bridges over river Jehlum flowing across the city, a major portion of the old city is named after these bridges such as Amira Kadal, Budshah Kadal, Habba Kadal, Fateh Kadal, Zaina Kadal, Nawa Kadal, Aali Kadal and Safa Kadal and more. Zaina Hal, the first wooden bridge, was Kadal and more.Zaina Kadal,the first wooden bridge,was constructed by Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin.
The Dal Lake is unique for its beauty that lies in its pulsating surroundings, since it sustains a life on waters not found anywhere else in the world. The houseboat and Shikara communities have survived on the Dal for centuries and every thing is found on and nearby the houseboats including doctors, tailors and bakers in tiny wooden shops on the lake. The picturesque lotuses and gardens add to their mystic beauty. Shikara can also take you to the surrounding market places to have your buys. 8 km by 4 krn, Dal lake has a total area of 26 sq km. At Dalgate, a gate lets out the lake water to prevent it from floods. Dal has three islands ; Ropa Lank popular as Char-Chinar was built by Prince Murad, son of Emperor Shah Jahan in Lokut Dal (Smaller Dal). Sona Lank at the south end was rebuilt by Afghan governor Amir Khan Jawansher (1770-76), in Bod Dal (Bigger Dal). Nehru Park is an island just few yards away from the road side near Shankar Acharya hill.
In Srinagar water skiing is a favorite sport among tourists during summer. Motor launches with ski boards are available on hire. During the winter season, migratory birds float in the lake making it a magnificent scene. Srinagar lake offers splendid colours and moods with every change in the weather that mesmerizes the visitors and locals too. Dal is a photographers delight.
Expansion of houseboats is said to have been carried out during Mughal period and later, the Europeans further modernised them along with the boatmen of the day. Srinagar Dal Lake is home to more than a thousand houseboats known for their unique luxury, mostly having 2 to 6 double bedrooms with modern facilities. The interiors of the houseboat can be compared with a palace or a modern boutique hotel. Houseboats ore designed with Walnutand Deodar wood work and the base is made of a
special wood that makes it float for decades. It is advisable to book a room in advance directly with the owner or a travel agent. The centuries old hospitality culture of the houseboat owners and their endless efforts to promote tourism in the valley is worth of appreciation. A stay in houseboats in Dal Lake is always a memorable experience for every tourist, a not-to-be-missed experience.
'Boulevard', along the banks of Dal Lake, houses almost every tourist facility from internet cafes to vegetarian dhabas. It is a favorite route of joggers and cyclists.
Nine kms from Dal, is yet another lake with serene waters, "Nagin Lake". It has some of the most luxurious deluxe houseboats. This area is preferred by people looking for calm and quiet environment. For this reason, foreigners find it more interesting to stay at Nagin Lake. The Lake is approachable by road through the old city and fore-shore Road alongside the Dal Lake. Shikara ride in this placid lake is a memorable experience.
Shikara are boats used as means of transportation from ghats to houseboats and for sightseeing in the lake. While on shikara ride, one gets immersed in the panoramic view of the Zabarwan range and the vastness of the loke symphonized with the waves formed by shikarawala's rowing. A boat ride of interior Dal is an adventure. The water borne life of the people inside the lake is a different experience. The floating shops on the boats are the main markets of the people. Visit to floating gardens (radh) is yet another wonderful experience. Radh is a long strip of Lake reed.with a breadth of about 6 feet. These strips can be towed from one place to another and are moored at four corners bypoles. Vegetables are grown on these floating gardens carried in number of small boats and supplied to the city early morning. A cluster of lotus flowers amidst the lake is a heavenly sight. One keeps watching the light pink petals adorned by the water droplets, atop the large round heart shaped green leaf. This flower is popular as 'Pamposh'. Rates for the shikara rides are fixed by J&K Tourism dept for every Shikara stand.
The Mughal emperors gave birth to the gardens to feel the presence of heavenly bliss in Srinagar. Chesmansahi is the first Mughal garden with a stupendous layout and a wonderful view. It has to its credit three terraces in addition to a natural spring of water enclosed in a stone pavilion. Nishat Bagh, constructed by empress Nur Jahan's Brother Asaf Khan, has several terraces and a central water course which gives a magnificent view of the Dal and the Zabarwan Hills. The last and the third one, the Shalimar Bagh was created by emperor Jehangir and was shaded by magnificent chinar trees with paintbox bright flower beds.Most pleasurable day picnic spot for the tourist, the famed Mughal Garden are located between Dal Lake and Zabarwan mountain range on Boulevord.These gardens in Srinagar are memorials of love for mankind and the natural beauty.
Crowned to greatness by the ruins of a fort, the Hari Parbat hill, according to legends, grew out of pebble stones dropped by Parvati the Hindu Goddess while trying to defeat a demon. Though today it is no more than rubble, the thick massive wall around the fort is an imposing evidence of a historic past. Over the centuries, the vicinity of the hill has seen several temples being erected in the name of its past glory.
(Royal Springs) (9km) from Srinagar. Situated on the foothills of Zabarwan range, the garden has a spring known for its medicinal properties. Cheshmashahi was Iaid out in 1632 by Ali Mardan Khan. It is considered as most serene since the garden is 4 km away from Boulevard's hustle and bustle. On the way to Cheshmashahi, one can visit a marvelous garden spread over several acres of land. The Botanical Garden was established by government for floricultural purpose is now open for the public.
(Palace of Fairies), 3km ahead of Cheshmashahi, is a school of astrology built by Prince Dora Shukho, eldest son of Shah Jahan, who had keen interest in observation of stars & Sufism. Situated amidst the Zabarawan hills, the breathtaking scene of the lake and city makes every visitor stay for a little longer at garden.
(Garden of Pleasure) (11km) Designed in AD 1634 by Abul Hassan 'Asif Khan',eldest brother of Nur Jehan, who was governor of Kashmir during the reign of Jehangir. This garden has 7 terraces and a stone channel for running water in the centre. Largest of Mughal Gardens, it is most visited as well. Garden offers spellbinding view of the Dal Lake and Zabarwan hills.
(Garden of Love) (15 km) built by Emperor Jehangir for his wife Nur Jehan in 1616.The garden has some attractive Mughal structure carved from black marble in "Diwan-e-Khas" (hall of private audience)used for the guests of the Emperor as banquet halls. The outermost enclosures "Diwan-e-Aam" (hall of public audience)were used for public gatherings.
20km, like Mughal Gardens, Harwan gets a large flow of visitors for its natural ambience and crystal clear lake 'Sarband'.Ancient remains dating back to the buddhist period have been excavated in this area. The tiles depict dresses of the people which reveal Central Asian inluence during the supremacy of Kushans.Kanishka, greatest of Kushan emperors, is said to have convened his great council of Buddhist divines near Harwan.
At a short distance from Harwan Garden is "Dachgam Wildlife Sanctuary"where Kashmiri Stag, Hongul or Barasingha (cervus elaphus hanglu), is protected. Hangul sheds its horns around the end of March, making its way to high mountains and returns to the lower ridges when its horns are renewed in autumn. The sanctuary also protects brown and black bears, leopards, musk deers, marmots and various bird species. At the mini zoo near the entrance gate Leopards can be closely seen in the enclosed areas. Behind the sanctuary lies the Mahadev peak (4267 meters), it is a trekkers delight. For a visit to Dachigam, entrance passes for visiting the sancutury should be procured from Wildlife Dept office at Gupkar, boulevard. Visit to Dachigam is real treat of Jungle safari for children and adults alike.
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