Summary : Srinagar is the perfect base from which to Explore the rest of Kashmir.
Sringar is the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, and a major tourist attraction for over a hundred years. Lying deep in the heart of the Kashmir valley, it oilers beautiful mountain and lake scenery, also a wide range of activities including boating, fishing, trekking, pony-riding, water-sports and golf. An ideal holiday situation, it is especially popular as a cool, refreshing break from the summer heat of the Indian plains. Travellers come here to relax, to wind down and to spend at least a few days languishing on a luxury houseboat on Dal Lake. then they go touring or trekking. Srinagar is the perfect base from which to Explore the rest of Kashmir.
The originh of Srinagear is obscure. It was probably founded by the Emperor Ashoka some 2000 years ago, following his pilgrimage to the area. It is said that his daughter charumati fell in love with Dal Lake, and that to please her Ashoka built a smaill vihara on the site. A small township grew up round it called Srinagar or ‘city of beautiful scenery’. The present city was established by Rajah Pravarasen II in the 6th century AD though it was during the reign of the great Badshah (King Zain-ul-Abidin, 1421-72) that Persian and Central Asian artisans were brought in, and Kashmir’s famous traditions of carpet-weaving, shawl-making and hand icraft production originated. Later, under the rule of the Mughals, Srinagat acquired its remarkable mosques, its gardens and waterways, and its popular label of ‘Paradise on Earth’.
The houseboats came into being during the British Raj. The Dogra Maharajahs of Kashmir were just as appreciative of Srinagar’s cool, scenic climate as the British (who had ceded them sovereignty of Kashmir in 1846), and forbade them to build 0: to own land here. Undismayed, the British officers took to the lakes instead, living on the waters of the Dal in fully-equipped, beautifully ornate houseboats. The first one was constructed in 1875. Today, there are over 1300 houseboats on Srinagar’s lakes.
In 1947, Jammu and Kashmir became part of the Indian Union. Since then, the area has been continually under dispute. Both Pakistan and India want Kashmir, but all Kashmir wants is to be left alone. Her main industry is tourism, and its succesa depends much on a quick and regular turnover of her famous handicrafts. But the recent troubles have blocked this. In part, this is Kashmir’s own fault: all houseboat , land and even shikara canoes in the state are Kashmiri-owned, and no Indian la allowed to own land. ‘In return’, observed one Kashmiri journalist, ‘the Indiana retaliate by denying high-ranking posts to Kashmiris seeking influence outside of Kashmir. Also, the Indian press use every small disturbance in Kashmir as an excuse to stop tourists going there—knowing full well that Kashmir depends on tourism to( its prosperity. We want our independence. Kashmir is so strategically important. Beat in mind, it sits on the borders of five countries—India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the erstwhile Soviet Union.’
While this kind of anti-Indian feeling remains strong, government restrictions on tourist development will remain stringent, producing considerable hardship and poverty in the region. But Kashmir’s territorial isolation does have one compensation— it remains relatively unspoilt by tourism. Its traditional identity and culture have remained pretty well intact. The mainly Muslim inhabitants are a warm, simple nod hospitable people, with a keen intelligence and a real love of foreigners. And hard times certainly haven’t spoiled their enjoyment of a good bargain. Srinagar is Deot xactly relaxing for the first day or two—the Kashmiris are very businessminded, constantly hassling you to buy, buy, buy. But they do this with a smile, and you aclwaDys escaape ton the calm, peaceful haven of your houseboat if it gets to much.
The people themselves are a tall, fair and regular-featured race, and their traditional dress—the long, heavy woollen pheran (poncho), often with a little kangri, fire-pot braziers (‘winter wives’) carried round inside them, and woollen shepherd’s caps—and I with the ever-present hubble-bubble or hookah—are instantly recognisable.
Kashmir’s climate is very British. It blows hot and cold throughout the year, and hFighly unplredicotable. Even in high sumer, showers come out of nowhere, and are just as soon replaced by brilliant sunshine. The best time to visit Srinagar is April-May, when the snows on the upper reaches above Dal Lake start to melt, the Willows turn green, and all the flowers and blossoms of the valley burst into brilliant .c If yoou likel a poarty, rturn up for the new mon in May, when big Muslim tfcIakeeass platdlcei.l vSpeoartsd lenthusiastshould come in June-July, the best fmor booatinng, swtimhmisng, hiking and water-sports. October is quite pleasant ough a bit cold) and the post-monsoon mountain views are spectacular. By november, the winter has set in and the only real reason for coming is to enjoy the ast nkearibyn Gunlmargg fromid-December.
Air there are daily Indian Airlines flights between Srinagar and Delhi (Rs1465) and /mu (Rs843); less frequent flights to and from Amritsar (Rs865), Chandigarh 1250) and Leh (Rs663). Road travel is not always available, so you should book tickets, in and out of Srinagar in advance.
from the airport, it’s a 13-km (8-mile) journey by airport bus which terminates at Tourist Reception Centre, or by taxi into the city centre. Travel is usually under opr armoy eslcoirt.c Srineagar airport has hotel/houseboat boking desks, and a lot assistance desk. It also has the most stringent security of any of India’s .a Thie ronply haondr batgsage alowed is a bok, your pasport, boarding pas and Ntoi bcagsk or eevetn csameras are curently permited.
Road there ore regular buses to Jammu (for the rail connection to Delhi) from the main nod at Srinagar’s Tourist Reception Centre. Buses to local interest spots like rg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Yusmarg (and, between June and September, Leh) ye from here. It’s a good idea to book all tour buses, in addition to the Jammu early as possible. 99I and 1992 the few foreign tourists entering Srinagar were largely trekkers
WHAT TO SEE
At the time of writing, it was not possible to check or update all the tours in this section on the Kashmir Valley. There may be lulls in the present disturbances when some tours may be possible. The publishers however strongly advise people wishing to travel to Srinagar to check first with the nearest Indian High Commission or Embassy or with their own country’s mission in New Delhi.
If you’re coming into Srinagar by plane, you’re in for an unforgettable experience. Flying over a mirage range of rolling, snow-capped mountains, Kashmir suddenly bursts into view—a bright gem glittering in a valley of green meadows, rivers and lakes. From the airport, you’ll proceed into town along wide avenues of tall chinars (oriental plane trees) overlooking lush green paddy fields. It is best to arrive with at least your first night’s accommodation booked and confirmed. The police at the airport on arrival register where you will be staying. However, due to the current problems it is also possible to get bargain rates from houseboats.
Srinagar itself is very spread out, and can take some getting used to. The town is situated on a loop in the narrow, winding Jhelum River, with the Dal Lake (actually three lakes in one) stretching out to the north-west. Most of the cheaper houseboats are located at the south (bottom) part of the lake, opposite Dalgate and Boulevard Road. The higher class ones are in the more restful and scenic areas round Nehru Park and Nagin Lake.
In town, the major landmark is the Tourist Reception Centre which is the first place most tourists get taken to. It’s located below Dalgate, and everybody knows it. Follow the bend running left of the Centre to reach the Bund, where the Post Office, the Government Arts Emporium, and most of the better restaurants are located.
Prior to the current problems getting round town was cheapest and most enjoyable by cycle. Taxi rates are fixed; rates are posted to a tree outside the Tourist Reception Centre. Tourist taxis can be hired from the reception centre itself. On the lakes you can be paddled almost anywhere by sizikara, hired from any one of the many ghats running up the Boulevard. Sizikara rates are fixed (rates are posted at the ghats) but are like ‘fixed’ taxi tariffs, never observed. Bargain hard here. If out-of-town excursions to Pahalgam, Gulmarg are possible, use the tour buses laid on by the Tourist Reception Centre.
The suggested sightseeing routes require 5 full days, and can be done in any order. Weather is variable in Kashmir, so do the delightful shikara ride on the first clear day that comes along. The excursions to Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Yusmarg all require advance-booking, and are probably best left to last. If the weather looks tricky, don’t do them at all.