The word Srinagar is a combination of two words ‘Sri’, the name of the goddess Laxmi denoting abundance and wealth and ‘Nagar’ that stands for a city. Although a Hindu name, Srinagar as well as whole of Kashmir is predominantly Muslim.
It is a lively city located right in the lap of the Himadri Range or Higher Himalayas by the eastern banks of the Jhelum river. Jhelum is a tributary of the river Indus. The river begins from the Pir Panjal range and flows through the beautiful Kashmir valley before it enters Pakistan.
Srinagar is quite unlike the mortifying rumours one hears about terrorism there. On interrogating the locals, they assured us that attacks were extremely uncommon in the city and that it is all a political conspiracy. Having said that, you might find occasional disturbance and many armed officers on the roads of Kashmir with approximately an army officer standing guard every three metres.
India has the longest standing army in the world. There are around 12 lakh active troops in India of which approximately 9 lakh are guarding the Kashmir region itself. Although I assure you it’s only for our safety and won’t jeopardise your trip in any way.
Srinagar or the City of the lakes is popular for various reasons – Dal lake, houseboats, shikaras, Chinar trees, apple orchards, noon chai, kehwa, saffron, dry fruits, pashmina shawls, papier mache products and mostly for its simple hearted people.
I visited Srinagar in the beginning of March, which I won’t say is the best time but we were still mesmerised by everything it offered. Given below are the ten must visit places in Srinagar to call your trip complete. I have also included those which were closed during my visit or that I came to know about only after leaving Srinagar. I made mistakes but you shouldn’t.
Shikara ride on Dal lake. The popular Dal lake is a visual delight and stretches throughout the city of Srinagar. During the Mughal era, beautiful gardens were laid around the lake to enhance its beauty which are also popular attractions of Srinagar now.
Dal lake is home to 3000 shikaras. There are different charges for different shikaras. The bigger and better the boat is, the higher is the cost of renting it. The other factor influencing the price of the shikara is the number of points the individual wants to see. In Kashmir, negotiating for price is a must. The city is infamous for overcharging tourists. Read my other article on travel tips to avoid scam and trouble in Kashmir.
Initially, for 12 points, the boat owners demanded Rs. 8000 from us but after spending a few minutes bargaining, they reduced it to 5000. We were travelling with my grandparents and ended up overpaying for their comfort.
During a shikara ride, several local vendors sell Kashmiri antiques, handicrafts, earrings, clutches, metal articles to enthusiastic tourists. They also sell coffee, tea, fruit salads, sweet corn on boat. You can even stop at Maggi points in the middle of the lake for refreshment.
We were approached by shikaras which were mobile photo studios providing instant pictures. They dressed us up in traditional attires and photographed us with props. The pictures were delivered to us before we finished our hour long shikara ride.
Tip : If you like to stay away from the hustle and bustle of the city, opt for a calm stay in a houseboat located on the Dal Lake. Each houseboat provides a shikara or speed boat for to and fro rides to the shore. Sukoon houseboat is a traditional houseboat with modern comforts and one of the most popular housing boat on Dal lake.
Tulip Gardens of Srinagar. The largest tulip garden of Asia, Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip garden or Siraj Bagh is located at the Cheshma Shahi road on the foothills of Zabarwan Range. With an overview of Dal Lake, It has sixty-eight varieties of tulips and is a seven-terraced garden.
The garden also houses flowers like daffodils, hyacinths and roses. The flowers can be seen in their full bloom in the month of April during the Tulip or Bahaar-e-Kashmir festival. Since the average life-span of a tulip flower is three to four weeks and the flower is temperature sensitive, the garden remains open for public, only for a month in the spring season. Although the days are not fixed, the garden generally stays open between 25th March to 25th April. You can almost be certain of finding the garden open between the 1st to 3rd week of April. Entry tickets can be bought online at J&K Department of Floriculture website.
Lal Chowk. From intricately hand-woven Pashmina, Kani and Jamawar shawls to the traditional beverages of Kashmir like Kehwa and Almond Coffee as well as finger-licking fruit salads along with Gajar ka Halwa (a dessert made from carrots), Lal Chowk has it all.
It is also your one-stop place for hand woven carpets, cushion covers, wooden articles, paper mâché products, dry fruits like walnuts, black raisins, mulberries and Kesar (saffron). Often the place is flocked by tourists, especially the ones who are heading to other cooler parts of Kashmir, for purchase of shawls and warm jackets. However, my advise is to double check the genuineness of products you buy. Sometimes fake products are sold in the name of genuine by local vendors.
Lal Chowk is also historically significant. The first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, unfurled the Indian flag at Lal Chowk in the year 1948 post India’s independence from the British rule (1947). An important landmark in the red square is a huge pillar with a clock on the top known as Ghanta Ghar.
Badamwari. A favourite among locals who often flock there for picnics, Badamwari is lesser-known compared to the other gardens of Srinagar. This aromatic and historic almond garden is situated in downtown Srinagar on the foothills of Koh-e-Maran or Hari Parbat.
It is believed to have been built eight centuries back and has a dome-shaped structure that is named after Warris Shah, an Afghan Ruler. During Spring, the flowers on the almond trees are in their full bloom. To promote tourism, the J&K government announces opening ceremonies in both Badamwari and Tulip gardens showcasing cultural activities where local artists perform traditional folk songs and dances.
Pari Mahal. The Pari Mahal was built by the Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh in the mid-1600s. Dara Shikoh was the eldest son and apparent heir of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan but was wiped out from picture after being defeated by his younger brother Aurangzeb. The palace also known as the Angels’ Abode, served as a library and a summer retreat for him and was further used as an observatory to teach astronomy and astrology. Its exquisite arches and seven terraced gardens overlooking Dal Lake pays homage to both Shah Jahan and Dara’s love for art and architecture.
How the palace acquired its name is often debated by scholars. While some believed that the palace was so called because of its mystical sightings, others thought that it got its name after Dara Shikoh’s wife, Pari Begum. The palace is illuminated at night and being at the edge of the mountain it casts its reflection in Dal Lake which is beautiful sight to behold.
Note : The garden remains closed on Fridays. Tourists must carry their ID cards to enter the mahal.
Shankaracharya Temple. This temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is located on top of the Shankaracharya Hill on the Zabarwan Range in Srinagar. Despite the Shiva Linga inside it, the temple is actually named after the philosopher Adi Shankarcharya who visited Kashmir centuries back.
The temple is at a height of 1,000 feet above the valley and is accessible by 243 steps staircase. From the temple one can see a panoramic view of the city of Srinagar, however no cameras and phones are allowed inside the temple. Climbing the stairs to reach the temple won’t be easy but will reward you with a beautiful view and tranquility.
Note : Srinagar is cold almost all year round hence it’s better to wear socks inside the temple to avoid frostbitten toes.
HazratBal Shrine. HazratBal or Dargah Sharif is a holy shrine in Srinagar located on the left bank of Dal lake. ‘Hazrat’ means holy while ‘Bal’ stands for a place. In this shrine, Prophet Mohammed’s hair strand known as the Moi-e-Muqaddas has been preserved and revered. The sacred hair is only displayed to devotees on certain occasions, one of which is the birthday of Prophet Muhammad.
There is a separate section for men and women in the shrine, however only men are allowed in the inner prayer hall. Women must cover their head, arms and legs when visiting the shrine. Carrying a scarf at all times is a good idea in Kashmir. Don’t use mobile phones or eat and drink inside the shrine and please adhere to the strict rules. If you are lucky you might get to photograph a flock of numerous pigeons against the backdrop of Dargah.
Jama Masjid. Also located in downtown Srinagar, Jama Masjid is the biggest mosque in the Kashmir Valley. There are three entrance gates on the north, south and eastern sides of the mosque and can accommodate 33333 people for prayer at a single time.
The structure is surrounded by wide lanes on all four sides and has a square garden in the middle. The fountain inside the mosque premise is used for ablution or wadu. This colossal mosque has been damaged by fire thrice, but restoration work has still kept it alive.
Zero Bridge. Zero bridge is a pedestrian bridge on the Jhelum river. No vehicles are allowed on this historic bridge which is made out of deodar & walnut wood. There is a market on the bridge with many stalls selling Kashmiri handicrafts. Apart from tourists you will find many locals there too hence visiting it is a good way of experiencing the daily life of Srinagar.
There are many theories as to why the bridge was named so, hence I won’t debate here about that. All I can say is that it will surely be worth your time. You can also gauge the popularity of the bridge from the fact that it has many books, a movie and a NewYork band named after it.
Mughal Gardens of Srinagar. There are three Mughal gardens in Srinagar. Shalimar Bagh is the largest of the three Mughal Gardens. The other gardens are Nishat Bagh and Chashme Shahi.
Shalimar Bagh was built by Mughal Emperor Jahangir as a gift for his wife, Nur Jahan. The garden had three terraces, out of which the first terrace is a public garden ending in the Diwan-e-Aam. The second terrace garden is slightly wider with two shallow terraces and has the Diwan-e-Khas in the centre. Over the years, the garden was extended and improved by many rulers. This beautiful garden, on the eastern banks of Kashmir’s Dal Lake, is a must visit place in Srinagar.
Nishat Bagh, built by Asif Khan, the elder brother of Nur Jahan is a famous tourist attraction in Srinagar. Again a terraced garden, it commands a magnificent view of the lake beneath the snow-capped Pir Panjal mountain range. The cherry trees though fruitless in winters added charm to this garden. This garden is the second-largest Mughal Garden in Kashmir Valley, after Shalimar Bagh.
Although we did a bit of research before visiting Kashmir, we mostly relied on our local driver for suggestions and ended up missing a few promising attractions. I hope you find this consolidated list of best places to visit in Srinagar super helpful. After covering all of the above in Srinagar, if you still have time for more, visit the Dachigam National Park, situated 22 kms away from the city. The park is a habitat for hangul (Kashmir stag), Musk deer, Brown Bear, Leopards, Jungle Cats, Himalayan black bear and many rare birds.
I will reiterate, the best time to visit Srinagar is a very debatable topic. However, having visited Kashmir once, I can guarantee that it will charm you with its beauty no matter which season. Still pick the temperature and month that suits you best.
Summarising the beauty of Kashmir, on Jehangir’s death bed, when asked about his most cherished desire he is credited to have said –