Area – 105 sq kms
Altitude – 1,730 m.
Summer – 29.5 C to 10.6 C
Winter – 7.3 C to 1.9 C
Rainfall – 52.9 cms
Best Season Throughout the year, though the winter months can be quite cold.
Clothing – Spring and autumn Light woollens. Summer Cotton/tropical, Winter Heavy woollens
Languages – Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi, English.
Shrinagar”s distinctive feature is the great body of water, the Dal Lake, which forms its focal point. The Dal has, within its area, two enormous sheet-like expanses of water-Lokut-dal and Bod-dal, the rest of its surface being broken up alternatively by man-made strips of land inhabited by whole colonies of people and vegetation. Thus the lake is not a flat, unbroken mass of water, but a labyrinth of waterways, awash with a lifestyle not found elsewhere in the world.
The Lakes – Leading from the Dal is the smaller Nagin Lake. Here too, the waters are edged by trees of willow and poplar whose reflection is mirrored in the lake. “Bathing boats” here, as well as on the Dal, hire out water-skis and motor launches. The waters of the lakes are pleasantly cool from mid-May to mid-September. Shikaras can be hired from any of the steps called “ghats” (jetties) leading to the lake. Some rides are fixed and their rates are posted at each ghat as well as opposite the Tourist Reception Centre. Shikaras are a refreshingly novel way of seeing Shrinagar by day and at twilight, the gentle soothing motion of the boat, as it glides along the water, is unbelievably romantic. Nagin Lake lies to the east of the city at the foot of the Zabarwan Mountain. The Shankaracharya hill (Takht-i-Sulaiman) is to the south and Hari Parbat on its west. The lake is 6×3 km and is divided by causeways into four parts. Gagribal, Lakut-dal, Bod-dal and Nagin. Lokut-dal and Bod-dal each have an island in the centre, called Rup Lank or Char Chinari and Sona Lank, respectively.
The Mughal Gardens – With terraced lawns, cascading fountains, paint-box-bright flowerbeds with the panorama of the Dal in front of them – the three Mughal Gardens of Chesmashahi, Nishat and Shalimar are the Mughal Emperors” concept of paradise and are today very popular places for picnics and excursions.
Shalimar Bagh – Built by Emperor Jehangir for his wife Nur Jehan, Shalimar, 15 kms from the TRC, is a beautiful garden with sweeping vistas over gardens and lakes, and shallow terraces. The garden is 539 m by 182 m and has four terraces, rising one above the other. A canal lined with polished stones and supplied with water from Harwan runs through the middle of the garden. The fourth terrace, by far the best, was once reserved for royal ladies.
Nishat Bagh – Situated on the banks of the Dal Lake, with the Zabarwan Mountains as its backdrop, (11 km. from TRC), this “garden of bliss” commands a magnificent view of the lake and the snow capped Pir Panjal mountain range which stands far away to the west of the valley. Nishat was designed in 1633 AD by Asaf Khan, brother of Nur Jehan.
Chashma Shahi – At Chashmashahi, is a tastefully laid garden in terraces, which commands a magnificent view of the Dal Lake below and surrounding mountain ranges. The cool water of the spring is highly refreshing and digestive. The original garden was laid out by Shah Jehan in 1632 AD. TRC Shrinagar free of cost to visit the permits can be had from the information Counter Chashma Shahi Garden. Permits can be had from the information counter.
Pari Mahal – Once the royal observatory, Pari Mahal has a charmingly laid out garden and is a five-minute drive from Cheshmashahi. A Buddhist monastery at one time, it was converted into a school of astrology by Dara Shikoh, Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan”s eldest son. Situated on the spur of a mountain overlooking the Dal, the ancient monument, with a well-laid spacious garden in front, is connected to Cheshmashahi by road. It is illuminated at night.
Harwan – On the hillside, south of the village of Harwan (19 kms from the TRC)), remarkable remains of ancient ornamented tile pavements of the Buddhist period have come to light. The tiles depict the dresses of the people, such as loose trousers, Turkoman caps or close fitting turbans and large ear-rings which reveal Central Asian influence.
Hazratbal Mosque – Hazratbal Mosque is located in a village of the same name on the banks of the Dal. Its pristine white marble elegance is reflected in the waters of the lake. Hazratbal”s special significance is derived from the fact that it houses a hair of the prophet Muhammad. This is displayed to the public on religious occasions, usually accompanied by fairs. Apart from these occasions, Friday prayers are offered at Hazratbal and attended by throngs of people. Hazratbal is remarkable for being the only domed mosque in Shrinagar; the others having distinct pagoda like roofs. The shrine – mosque complex is situated on the western shore of the Dal Lake opposite Nishat Bagh and commands a grand view of the lake and the mountain beyond.
Jama Masjid – The Jama Masjid at Nowhatta, in the heart of the old city, is the other important mosque in Shrinagar at which thousands of people congregate for the Friday prayers. Of imposing proportions, the mosque is built around a courtyard and is supported by 370 wooden pillars. The hushed quiet of the mosque counterpoints the bustle of the old bazaars surrounding it. Originally built by Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD, and enlarged by his son, Zain-ul- Abidin, it is a typical example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Destroyed thrice by fire and rebuilt each time, the mosque, as it now stands, was repaired during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh.
Shankaracharya Temple – The sacred temple of Shankaracharya occupies the top of the hills known as Takht-I-Sulaiman in the southeast of Shrinagar. The site dates back to 250BC. The philosopher Shankaracharya stayed at this place when he visited Kashmir ten centuries ago to revive Sanatan Dharma. Before this date, the temple was known as Gopadri, as an earlier edifice on the same site was built by king Lalitaditya in the 6th century AD. In fact, the road below the hill, with residences of high- ranking State Government officials, is still known as Gupkar road. Built on a high octagonal plinth and approached by a flight of steps with sidewalls that once bore inscriptions, the main surviving shrine consists of a circular cell. It overlooks the Valley and can be approached by a motorable road. A modern ceiling covers the inner sanctum and an inscription in Persian traces its origin to the reign of Emperor Shah Jehan. The original ceiling was dome- shaped and the brick roof, it appears, is not more than a century old.
Khanqah of Sha Hamadan – Situated on the banks of the river Jhelum, between the third and fourth bridge, it is the first mosque ever built in Shrinagar. The original one was built in 1395. Shah Hamadan”s full name was Mir Sayed Ali Hamadni, the surname being derived from the city of Hamadan in Persia. Shah-i-Hamdan, who came from Persia in the 13th century, was responsible for the spread of Islam in Kashmir. Khanqah-i-Mualla, on the banks of the Jhelum, was the very spot where Shah-i-Hamdan used to offer prayers. After staying in Kashmir for many years, he left for Central Asia via Ladakh. A mosque established by him at Shey (near Leh) attracts devotees from far and wide. The Khanqah is a wooden structure whose chief aesthetic feature is its beautifully carved eaves and hanging bells. The interiors are richly carved and painted, and the antique chandeliers give it an air of opulence.
Hari Parbat Fort – The Mughal emperor”s fort crowns the top of Hari Parbat hill. There is little left of its former glory, but the ramparts are still impressive and the old apartments within the fort, even though in a state of ruin, still convey at least a little of the grandeur of the Mughals” summer retreat in “paradise”. An Afghan governor, Ata Mohammad Khan, later developed the fort in 18th century. The hill is considered sacred to the Hindus due to the presence of temple of Sharika, which is believed to be a form of goddess Durga or Shakti. The wall around the hill was built by Akbar in 1592-98 AD. The hill is surrounded by almond orchards, which make a lovely sight during April when the trees blossom, heralding the advent of spring in Kashmir.
Makhdoom Sahib – On the southern side of the Hari Parbat hill is the historic shrine of Makhdoom Sahib, which is visited by people of all faiths.
Chhatti Padshahi Gurudwara – The sixth Sikh guru travelled through Kashmir, stopping to preach occasionally. A Gurudwara has been built at the exact site of each of these halts. The most important one among these is Chhatti Padshahi Gurudwara, situated near the Kathi Darwaza, in Rainawari, Shrinagar, which is held in great reverence by devotees of all faiths.
Martand – Martand, located atop a plateau, close to the township of Anantnag, has a temple dedicated to Surya, the “Sun God”. Built by king Laitaditya Muktapida (7th to 8th century AD), it is a medieval temple with a colonnaded courtyard and the shrine in its centre. The temple complex has 84 columns and offers a commanding view of the valley of Kashmir.
Kheer Bhawani Temple – The Goddess Ragnya Devi is symbolised as a sacred spring at Tula Mula village, 27 kms from Shrinagar. Within the spring is a small marble temple. The devotees of the goddess fast and gather here on the eighth day of the full moon in the month of May when, according to belief, the goddess changes the colour of the spring”s waters. The temple-spring complex is affectionately known as Kheer Bhawani because of the thousands of devotees who offer milk and “kheer” to the sacred spring, which magically turns black to warn of disaster.
The Awantipur ruins – Founded by Avantivarman who ruled Kashmir in the 9th century, this ancient township is 29 kms from Shrinagar. The site has two imposing temples, huge walls mark the larger one of Siva – Avantisvara, some half a mile beneath the town on the outskirts of village Jaubror. The subsidiary shrines are to the rear corner of the courtyard. The complex has, over the years, lost its grandeur and been reduced to ruins, though it is still visited by the devout. Half a mile up is Avantisvami – Vishnu, a better preserved, though smaller temple.
Wular Lake – It is difficult to describe in mere words the beguiling beauty of Wular Lake. For one, its formidable size – this is one of Asia”s largest fresh water lakes – for another, it changes character with every few miles.
Manasbal Lake – The drive from Shrinagar will take you to the calm waters of Manasbal Lake, where there is no other sound but birdsong. Manasbal has often been described as the bird watcher”s paradise, and as your shikara glides through this mirror of tranquillity, you will experience yet another facet of Kashmir. Driving through the town of Bandipora, which has a delightfully laid out Mughal Garden, the Wular will always be to your left. Here and there, you will hear women chanting some age-old ditty as they pick water chestnuts, deftly navigating the weeds in flat-bottomed skiffs.
Watlab – Gradually, the panoply of the “real Kashmir”, miles away from well-traversed areas, will unfold before you, and you will reach Watlab. Here, high on a hilltop is the shrine of a Muslim mystic, Baba Shukurddin. From here, the Wular Lake stretches away as far as the eye can see, edged by picturesque villages around terraced breeze-rippled fields of paddy, in a riotous burst of colour. At Watlab there is a Forest Rest House amidst sprawling apple orchards. You can rest here to enjoy the sheer grandeur of the spectacular countryside at leisure.
Achabal – Once the pleasure retreat of Empress Nur Jehan, Achabal (1,677 m) has a fine garden in the Mughal style, with its own special charm and character. It was in Kashmir that the Mughal Garden was brought to perfection, and Achabal is one such masterpiece. Situated at the foot of a hill with a row of majestic chinars framing it, the Mughal garden is a visual delight with their stepped terraces, formal elegance, ornamental shrubs, sparkling fountains and falling water. Achabal is 58 kms from Shrinagar, via Anantnag.
Daksum – Past the Mughal Gardens of Achabal, with their tinkling fountains, through the breathtaking splendour of the springs at Kokarnag, lies Daksum. Tucked away in a densely forested gorge at an altitude of 2438 m, Daksum would be completely silent but for the Bringhi River which gushes through it. Daksum is a walker”s paradise. Up the hills which are swathed in coniferous trees, past gurgling brooks, the simple, haunting notes of a flute will waft down to you from where an unseen shepherd tends his flock. For in the hills surrounding Daksum, suddenly you will find yourself in grassy meadows where sheep are taken to pasture. Daksum is a reviving experience -the bracing mountain air, the solitude, the densely clad hills, and beyond them, snow covered mountains, all contribute to Daksum”s mystique, making it the perfect retreat.
Kokernag – Situated in the heart of Bringhi valley, Kokernag (2,020 m, 70 kms from Shrinagar), is set amidst sprawling gardens fragrant with the bloom of thousands of flowers. The Kokernag spring bubbles at seven places at the foot of the forested mountain. The water of the spring is famous for its medicinal and digestive properties.
Yusmarg – A two-hour drive from Shrinagar ( 47 kms ) will take you to acres upon acres of grassy meadow ringed by forests of pine, and towering beyond them, awesome and majestic snow clad mountains. Here are walks of every sort – a leisurely amble along flower-strewn meadows or away to where a mighty river froths and crashes its way over rocks, its mild white foam earning it the name of Dudh Ganga. Further away, a captivating lake, Nilnag, is cradled by hills. Nearby are several peaks-Tatta Kutti and Sang Safed to name a couple of them. About 13 kms from Yusmarg, a short detour away from the Shrinagar road, is Charari- Sharief, the Shrine of Kashmir”s patron saint Sheikh Noor-ud-din or Nund Reshi.
Aharbal – Gradually, the distant rumble becomes a roar as one approach the waterfall of Aharbal, which crashes down a narrow gorge. Aharbal is more than just a waterfall. There are several places to picnic in the surrounding areas, as well as delightful walks of varying lengths all over the hillsides. Interesting treks-one of them to the high altitude lake of Kounsernag at 13,500 ft above sea level-takes off from Aharbal.
Verinag – Located 80 kms from Shrinagar at an altitude of 1,876 m, the spring of Verinag is believed to be the chief source of the river Jhelum. Construction of the octagonal base of the spring and the arcade around it was undertaken by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and completed during the reign of Shah Jahan. Down the stream to the east lie the remains of a Mughal pavilion and baths. Verinag can be approached through the link road, which turns off, from the national highway at Lower Munda.