Dr Sanobar Haider is Assistant Professor, Department of History, MBP Government PG College, Lucknow
This summer we traveled to one of the most beautiful places on Earth that is Kashmir. Reaching the capital city of Srinagar in around two hours by air, we were in Paradise on Earth. Surrounded by the lofty Himalayas, Srinagar lies in the Kashmir valley on the banks of the river Jhelum.
The city claims its name from Kalhan’s Rajtarangini which records the name as Shri Nagar or the land of the Sun while some refer to it as Srinagar or the City of Goddess Lakshmi. There are a number of lakes and swamps in and around the city. These include the Dal, the Nigeen, the Anchar, Khushal Sar, Gil Sar and Hokersar. Since the valley is surrounded by the Himalayas on all sides, winters are cool with temperatures sometimes dropping below freezing point at night. Moderate to heavy snowfall occurs in winter and the highway connecting Srinagar with the rest of India faces frequent blockades due to icy roads and avalanches. Summers are however warm during the day.
Srinagar, being the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir, is beautiful in its own way. It is home to natural environments, gardens, waterfronts, tall trees, and houseboats, renowned for its handicrafts like Kashmiri shawls and dry fruits. So, we were now settled for a few days on a blessed piece of land. Having checked in at a very homely and comfortable hotel we headed straight for some authentic Kashmiri food, the famous wazwan.
Wazwan, the Kashmiri cuisine, is a unique and inseparable component of Kashmiri culture. It comprises seven to 36 dishes of mutton or beef, chicken, fruits, and vegetables. The important ethnic meat products of wazwan include kabab, tabak maaz, aab gosh, rogan josh, nate-yakhni, rista, and goshtaba. We tried some of the cuisines and found it good but being a Lucknowite, the gourmet delights were found to be quite different in taste and flavors. We then went to Dal Lake which is referred to as an urban lake, the second largest lake in Jammu and Kashmir, and the most visited place in Srinagar by tourists and locals. It is also known as the Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir and Srinagar's Jewel; we hired a boat ride on the extremely beautiful water body dotted with shikaras and houseboats all across. Tourists could be seen hiring boats of vibrant colors and decorations for a mesmerizing trip around the lake. The boatman, being a very friendly Kashmiri, sang to us his folk song while water -vendors came closer selling bargainable handicrafts and flowers. The scenic beauty of the valley with mountains and high conifer trees all around simply left us spellbound.
By the time we left the boat, it was time for snacks and we moved around eyeing the beauty of the capital city of Srinagar. With tourists abound, there is a lot of hustle and bustle on the roads. The day ended with great food at the hotel in the chill of the night. The next day we were all set to visit the famous Mughal Gardens and the Hazrat Bal masjid. We reached the Shalimar Bagh which is located on the bank of the Dal Lake. The Bagh was built by Mughal Emperor Jahangir, for his wife Nur Jahan, in 1619. The Bagh is considered the high point of Mughal horticulture. The garden was built on flat land on a square plan with four radiating arms from a central location as the water source. We also visited the Chashma Shahi or the royal spring, which is one of the many Mughal gardens. Built-in 1632 AD around a spring by Ali Mardan Khan, a governor of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as per the orders of the Emperor, as a gift for his elder son Prince Dara Shikoh. The garden is located in the Zabarwan Range, near Raj Bhawan (Governor‘s house) overlooking Dal Lake in Srinagar. The beauty of these gardens was truly spectacular and speaks volumes about the rich beauty of Srinagar. The contribution of the Mughals towards enhancing the magnificence of the city is laudable.
After a long stay at the Gardens, we proceeded towards the famous Hazrat Bal masjid which is believed to contain the relics of the Prophet, PBUH. This shrine is held in great reverence and is a very beautiful piece of architecture in white. At the masjid, hundreds of pigeons offer a sight to behold and we were lucky enough to capture some pictures of the birds in flight. Many film scenes have also been shot here as was informed by the locals. After a lot of photography, we went to the local marketplace without which any journey is incomplete. The items to be taken away include handloom fabric, shawls, carpets, papier mache products, and walnut wood handicrafts. Our driver took us to the Lal chowk which was illuminated in the evening with the clock tower standing tall in the middle. The marketplace was laced with shops of all kinds. So, we entered the one selling shawls and dress material. The variety on offer was awe-inspiring. We were able to lay our hands on some good authentic pashmina shawls and suits. The fine fabric of the shawls was displayed by the salesperson to stress upon the purity of the material through the finger ring test. Then we went in for some ethnic and tribal Kashmiri jewellery which was available in silver. The famous dejihor or the Kashmiri gold earrings were a must-buy on our list. The dejihor is a dangler earring that hangs from the upper portion of the ear. It is believed to have been designed by the great Kashmiri acharyas to infuse divine strength in married women. Further, we picked up a few souvenirs for friends and family back home and made our way back to the hotel after a very happy day in the streets of Srinagar.
The following day was marked by our visit to the picturesque Gulmarg which is located at about a distance of 50 kilometres from Srinagar. We reached the hill town in about an hour by car. After independence Gulmarg was developed into a destination of winter sports in India. We reached the higher altitudes by the Gulmarg Gondola and were mystified by the snow-clad beauty all around. It is rightly said that Kashmir is a veritable paradise on earth. Beautiful as her mountains are during the daytime, they appear all the more beautiful and glorious at sunrise and sunset. So, capturing all the beauty of Kashmir in our frames we travelled back sipping on a cup of hot aromatic Kahwa soaked in the splendour of the beguiling city of Srinagar with so much left to explore on our next trip.