Dal Lake ~ Sikhara Ride
~ Floating through Paradise ~
The city of Srinagar is centered round the beautiful Dal Lake, no wonder Dal Lake is Srinagar’s prime attraction. The lake has a circumference of 15.5 km and covers an area of 21 sq. km. along with a 3 sq. km. are of wetland.
The Dal Lake actually consists of four lakes namely Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin. Nagin the smallest and the most beautiful of the four is often considered as an independent lake.
The major attraction of Srinagar are also located around the Dal Lake. Hazarat Bal Mosque, Shamkaracharya Temple and the Mughal Gardens (Shalimar, Chashmashahi and Nishat) are alll located around the Dal Lake.
The best way to explore the Dal is the sikhara, the beautifully decorated boat, the once iconic symbol of many Bollywood hits and also the logo of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Tourism Department.
“The concept of paradise as a garden is one of mankind’s oldest ideas.The paradise promoised in the Quran consists of several terraces of gardens, each more splendid than the other.”
World Heritage Series, Humayun’s Tomb
“Inheriting the Greek love of order and logic, Islamic gardens – like their buildings – are regimented into lines of perfect symmetry; balance and design is all; nothing is left to impulse or chance.”
William Dalrymple, City of Djinns
Babar, the first of the great Mughals, introduced into India the Timurid – Persian scheme of a walled – in – garden, subdivided into four quaters by raised walkways and canals. As the Mughal empire spreads its wings into India the Mughal gardens started coming up in different parts of the country.
Obviously Kashmir, the paradise on earth, was the ideal place to built the mughal gardens, the paradise promised by the holy Quran. It was fourth Mughal ruler Jehangir, who took up the initiative of building of first Mughal Gardens of Kashmir.
Sirnagar, the present capital of the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), houses three spectacular Mughal Gardens, complete with raised walkways water channels lined with fountains. Mughal Gardens of Srinagar are a prime attraction for tourist and locals alike.
Cheshma Shahi, the smallest but most elegantof the Mughal Gardens of Srinagar, was built by the governor Ali Mardan Khan, under the patronage of Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 – 33. Cheshma Shahi (or Royal Spring) derives its name from a water source, a spring located at the uper most terrace of the Cheshma Sahi Garden. The water of the spring is said to posses some curative properties, especially for stomach ailments.
The triple terraced Cheshma Shahi garden is strategically located and offers great view of the Dal Lake and the adjacent Jhelum Valley of Srinagar.
Abode of Love
The most spectacular of the Srinagar’s Mughal gardens, the Shalimar Bagh was constructed by emperor Jehangir for his beloved wife Nur Jahan. Shailmar (abode of love) Bagh follows the three terraced Mughal Garden layout with a dimension of 587m by 251m.The first terrace housed the public garden, the second the emperor’s garden and the third and final terrace housed the zenana (harem). The Shalimar Bagh also served as a royal court, during the summer months, and houses the Diwani Amm (public audience hall) and the Diwani Khass (private audience hall).
The Shalimar Bagh is built on a flat land with four radiating arms from a central water source. The water channels are lined with fountains and are marked on both sides by chinar trees.
Garden of Bliss
Nishat Bagh (Garden of the Bliss) is the largest of the Srinagar’s Mughal Gardens. Built in 1633 by Asaf Khan, the brother of Nur Jahan the garden is not a royal garden. As Nishat Bagh is not a royal garden, its hierarchical than the other Mughal Gardens of Srinagar. Nishat Bagh has twelve terraces, each representing a zodiac. The terrace begins from the public street level, which connects the garden’s water to Dal Lake. The twelfth terrace is located in the zenana gardens.
A central water stream, nearly 4 meters wide and 20 centimeters deep, flows down from the top of the garden through a channel decorated with fountains and occasionally divided into fountain pools. Chadars, stone ramps engraved with wave patterns to render the flowing water more beautiful, transfer water between the various terraces. In several places, stone benches cross the axial water stream near a chadar, and serve as seating platforms for the visitor’s enjoyment.
Nishat Bagh creats a striking contrast with the Dal Lake in the foreground and the towering Zabarwan Hills in the background.
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It is said that the Eskioms have a hundred synonyms for the word snow. Standing on the snow slopes of Gulmarg I wondered if the Kashmiris have more.
It was early winter and the snow was yet to come in Srinagar, and the leaf less Chinar trees welcomed me in the valley. After spending a couple of days in barren landscape and under an overcast sky I decided to head for Gulmarg.
As my jeep gained altitude patches of snow started appearing. Soon the patches grew bigger and bigger and by the time I reached Gulmarg (2653 m) it was snow, snow & more snow. It was first time in Kashmir I felt that I was in paradise.
After checking in one of the numerous hotels, and a quick brunch, I was out to explore the place. But was soon surrounded by the sledge wallas. The sledges are nothing but indigenous version of the Calcutta hand pulled rickshaw, where you are pulled along the snow in a wheel less wooden carriage (rather a piece of log) by a fellow human being. It was nothing adventurous and I decided to give the sledge ride a skip but the in the process denied a poor man of his income.
I was soon out of the clutches of the sledge wallas and was out to explore the place. My first stop was the Rani Temple. Built in 1915 by Mohini Bai Sisodhia, wife of the last king of Kashmir Hari Singh, the Rani Temple is strategically located on a small hillock and is visible from every part of Gulmarg. I followed the snow covered slippery steps to the temple only to find it locked, but the view was incredible.
Bidding farewell to the Temple I headed for the J&K Tourism office. Located about 500 meters away, the British cottage styled building was totally covered with snow. But the office was open and the young tourist officer provided me not only with tourist brochures but also chalked out an itinerary for my one and half days stay in Gulmarg.
Next to the tourism office is the Gulmarg Golf Club. The century old Gulmarg Golf Club is situated in a similar cottage. Bypassing the club house I headed through the snow covered golf course towards the St. Mary’s Church, located on a hillock overlooking the golf course.
Built in 1902 the church contains some stain glass work. After a brief stop at the church, I made my way through the snow covered meadows, where the enthusiastic tourist tried out their newly learnt skiing skills. Considering me unfit for skiing, I decided to give it a skip, and wondered aimlessly to a hill top, said to provide great mountain views.
It was late afternoon and by the time I reached the view point the clouds have reigned supreme and it was all set to snow. I took a shortcut and made it to the warmth of my hotel room just before the snowfall began. The snow continued all evening and late into the night.
Next morning I was greeted with the most spectacular sight. The snow had stopped and the skies have cleared. Without losing time I was out with my camera to shoot the snowscape.
After a breakfast I headed for Gulmarg’s prime attraction the Gondola Cable Car. As my four seater cable car started to move I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the Gulmarg valley crowned with the eternal snow peaks of the Himalayas & Karakoram. The ride was short and I was soon in Kongdori (3045m), where there was more snow.
Giving the ski training a skip I walked past the frozen seven springs, known for seven natural outlets of water, and headed for Khilanmarg. Located 4 km away Khilanmarg is known for its breath taking views of snow peaks extending all the away to Pakistan. But within a kilometer the snow reached well above my knee forcing me back. I headed back to Kongdori, from where I took a cable car back to Gulmarg.
Now it was time for home. As I retraced my steps back to Srignar, I was reminded of a line from J&K Tourism Brochure “They say a visit to Kashmir can divide your life into two halves – before & after Kashmir.”
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Once upon a time there was beautiful pond surrounded with lush green meadows lined with Deodhar and Pine trees crowned with the eternal snow peaks of the Himalayas. The pond was so enchanting that it came to be known as the “Patan Da Talab” meaning “Pond of the Princess” because the local princes used to bathe in its water. It is quiet likely that the English got the pronunciation wrong and it is still not when Patan Da Talab got transferred into Patnitop.
The pond have long dried up and has lost its past glory but don’t be disheartened the endless meadows lined with towering pine trees and the panoramic views of the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas are enchanting enough to turn Patnitop, along with its twin town of Sanasar, into your next holiday destination.
Located 105 km from Jammu on the Jammu – Srinagar Highway (NH1A) Patnitop (2024m) is an important tourist destination and since it is located on the Jammu side of Jammu & Kashmir state it is free of militant activities and can serve as a perfectly safe tourist destination.
Patnitop is famous for its four distinctive seasons, each with its own peculiar character and charm. Spring sees a million blossoms turning the ground into a riot of colours. In summer the entire valley turns into a mosaic of varying shades of green. In autumn the green turns into gold and finally to rustic red. In winter the landscape turns bare only to be covered with the white mantle of the first snowfall. I was lucky to be in Patnitop a day after it received its first snowfall of the season.
My journey to Patnitop kicked off from Jammu on a fine mid December afternoon on a Tata Sumo. After a short lunch break at Kud I reached Patnitop in about 3 hours. It was already dark and I checked in one of the numerous hotels calling it a day after more than 40 hours of train & road journey from the other end of the country.
Early next morning I set out to explore Patnitop, and its twin town of Sanasar, on a Maruti van. Sadly there was no snow
in Patnitop but the surrounding hills were covered with a fresh layer of snow. One such hill was Nathatop my first destination, which not only provide fresh snow but also panoramic view of the snow clad peak of the Himalays. Nathatop, located 14 km from Patnitop, is a hub of adventure activities like paragliding, skiing, sledging and pony rides.
Within a few km from Patnitop I encountered my first snow along with a host of Himalyan Peaks dominating the North – Eastern horizon. At Nathatop I was out in the snow enjoying a snow ball fight with other tourist. But it was bad news for adventure sports. The snow was enough to stop the paragliding and pony rides but not enough to start skiing. The only activity was sledging but it was nothing adventurous. The sledges are nothing but indigenous version of the Calcutta hand pulled rickshaw, where you are pulled along the snow in a wheel less wooden carriage by a fellow human being. I decided to give the sledge ride a skip but in the process denied a poor man of his income.
I spend about half an hour on Nathatop enjoying the snow as well as the views and last but not least a refreshing cup of hot tea. I was soon on my way to Sanasar, which was located 5 km away. This entire stretch of the road was covered with snow and made driving extremely difficult taking 15 minutes to cover the 5 km stretch.
Like Patnitop the prime attraction of Sanasar are its meadows, pine forest and views of snow peaks but in Sanasar the meadows are much larger, the pine forest more enchanting and the snow peaks much more closer. But the star attraction of Sanasar is its isolation as most of the “see the snow only tourist” return from Nathatop, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the pristine beauty of Sanasar all on my own.
Reaching Sanasar I was out to explore the place. I took a walking trail which took me past the J&K tourism tourist complex and past the meadows to a forest lined with pine trees. There were several benches but I decided to sit on the grass to enjoy my breakfast of biscuits, cakes & chocolates brought all the way from Calcutta.
Soon I was out to explore the place all on my own feeling like a “monarch of all I survey.” After about 2 hours of
exploration I decided to head for Patnitop. I reached Patnitop at about 2pm and after a heavy lunch & a short rest I was out to explore Patnitop.
I headed for the Patnitop Tourist Complex located just above the bus stop. The complex houses the resort of J&K Tourism complete with cottages and restaurants. The landscape is similar to Sanasar but much smaller in magnitude but it is more touristic with hawkers selling Kashmiri artifacts & dresses along with fast food like puchka & bhel – puri. I waited in the complex long enough to enjoy my last evening in Patnitop.
Getting There: Jammu is the nearest rail head. Jammu is connected to Calcutta by Himgiri & Jammu Tawi Express. Jeeps & busses are available from Jammu (105km) and Srinagar (280km). Jeep fare from Jammu Rs150 (takes 3 hrs) and Srinagar Rs250 (takes about 5 hrs). Prices are subjected to bargaining.
Places to Stay: Both Patnitop & Sanasar have J&K Tourism tourist complex. Room / cottage rates vary from Rs800 – Rs3500. Both the places have several private hotels to suit all budget.
Getting Around: Taxi is essential to visit Nathatop & Sanasar. Cost around Rs1000. Patnitop can be explored on foot.
Places to eat: All the hotels have restaurants and there are several road side eateries selling excellent food at throw away price. Tea & snacks are available at Nathatop as well as Sanasar.
For more Information Contact: J&K Tourism Office, 12, Chowringhee, Calcutta. Ph 2228 5719