Srinagar Kashmir - Dal Lake
Srinagar Kashmir is a disputed area in India for many years. It's a primarily Muslim area divided over Pakistan and India (two third is Indian territory). Due to attacks by terrorist (in the view of the Indian government) or freedom fighters (in the view of many of the locals) Srinagar's Dal Lake does not see the tourists the area deserves.
I've been twice to Srinagar Kashmir, once early spring, when there was still snow on the mountains, and once in August.
I believe that if paradise ever existed, Dal Lake could very well have been the place.
Srinagar is the capital of Jammu & Kashmir state in the north east of India, bordering Pakistan and China.
The city is located in Kashmir valley which is the main attraction to come because of Dal Lake. Kashmir is further famous for it's Kashmir wool, handicrafts and dried fruits.
It's a very old city, archeologists think it's over 2000 years old. It's a city of lakes. Dal Lake is known for its houseboats. Nagin Lake is another famous lake in the city. Just outside the city are found the Shalimar Gardens created by Jehangir, the Mughal emperor, in 1619 although when I visited (early spring), the gardens didn't offer much beauty.
The place to be for a traveler is Dal Lake. The houseboats offer some amazing luxury accommodation. But the city itself has much to offer, and trekking in the area offers some amazing views. And there is of course the very scenic road to Leh Ladakh.
Kashmir is not the most safe place in India. Since India and Pakistan became independent, the dispute over Kashmir has resulted in several wars between India and Pakistan.
The Indian government claims Pakistan supports the terrorists in Kashmir. The Pakistani deny. Truth is that the terrorist attacks keep many tourists away and as tourism is a large part of the states economy, everyone, including Muslims, suffer.
My first visit to Kashmir was just a week after a car bomb cost several people their life. I saw plenty of road blocks, especially around the Jama Masjid but during the week I was there, I had no problems.
The second time I came from Ladakh. I had a night in Kargil just a day after a bomb destroyed part of the local market. So, is it dangerous to go to Kashmir? Yes and no. I still believe it is far more dangerous to walk across the street in any metropolis in the world. That said, check the day before you intend to visit Kashmir the newspapers. Things can change quick.
What to see
Srinagar has some amazing views from Dal Lake. Get a shikara and let yourself be pedaled over the lake. You will find many shikaras trying to sell you all kinds of souvenir stuff (and they can be very persuasive).
Srinagar is the capital of the state and has some beautiful Mosques. Srinagar's Jama Masjid, the 15th century mosque is among hundreds of heritage sites and certainly worth a visit.
Should you be interested, some claim Jesus, after the crucifixion didn't go up to heaven but instead escaped to Kashmir where he was buried in the Roza Ball Tomb (Yuz Asaf). It is a Muslim tomb (Muslims venerate Jesus as a prophet).
When I asked the Iman if Jesus was lying here, he said the body was removed to a secret place but there are stories about documents proving Jesus was indeed buried here. Jesus mother Maria is also said to be buried in the hills around Srinagar.
When to visit
The Kashmir valley around Srinagar is a must visit. During my first visit in early spring, the valley was almost totally yellow because of the mustard flowers.
Higher up, the snow had not disappeared from the mountains and gave spectacular views of snow waterfalls and houses thick in the snow.
Different times of the year offer totally different views, as I experienced first hand. Was the Kashmir Valley in very early spring filled with mostly brown and grey colors (plus the yellow mustard flowers), in the later summer of August it was colorful with flowers, beautiful blue skies, no more snow on the mountain tops, in other words, a very different place to be.
There are two ways to Kashmir. You can fly from Delhi or overland from Jammu. If you only want to visit Kashmir but skip Ladakh, I would recommend flying in and overland back to Jammu. If you either come or go to Ladakh, go overland, it's more then worth to take the road from Srinagar to Leh.
There are daily flights but you may find it a little difficult to get a ticket. Many of the travel agencies in Kashmir will try to lure you into a Kashmir tour and they can be very persuasive.
Going overland is much easier. There are plenty of buses every day doing the 293 km journey. There is also a train connecting straight to Delhi (railway station is 5km out of the city center of Srinagar Kashmir). For cyclists, it is good to know you can find a hotel in Anantnag, Archabal and Udhampur (basic but OK).
Stay in Srinagar Kashmir
For most travelers a few days staying at a houseboat is the best experience. It is however not the cheapest way although, with some effort and bargaining you can find good deals.
The houseboats are usually limited to a few rooms, so you will enjoy a kind of family atmosphere.
The problem is that you do not totally control where and when you can go somewhere as some of the boat owners, having not that much business due to the regional problems will try to lure you into their own deals. It's why the second time I was in Srinagar I stayed in a guesthouse in town.
There are many good (and cheap) hotels in town:
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Former royal city Leh has plenty to offer but you will want to come during the Ladakh Festival. It's a spectacular event usually held in August and September.
Ladakh is a large area to cover. However, the main sites are in and in the vicinity of Leh.
Jaisalmer is nicknamed the Golden City as the fort in the sunset has a golden co lour, an effect reached by the sandstone of which the fort is made of.