Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Scent of the Mughals



By Swetha Amit
After exploring the Dal Lake on a shikara, we set off to explore the rest of Srinagar. The city has a unique blend of beauty, history and tradition. A visit here would be incomplete without a trip to the Mughal gardens, Shankaracharya temple, Hazratbal shrine, Jamia Masjid and the shops in the market. We began our tour with a visit to the Shankaracharya temple.

In God's abode: The Shankaracharya temple nestled on Takht-i-Sulaiman hill, which is about 1,000 feet above Srinagar. Being a Sunday, the road up the slope was filled with cars. After security checks, we went by car upto the landing of the stairs leading to the temple. We had to climb multiple steps to reach the holy abode. From the top, we got a beautiful view of the picturesque valley. A visit to this ancient shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva is a a soulful experience. Stone steps once led to the Jhelum river from the shrine. It is built at the site where the Advaita saint and philosopher Adi Shankaracharya stayed on his visit to Kashmir.
The flower show: After seeking blessings at the shrine, we visited the gardens in the city built by the Mughals. Kashmir is said to have been the favourite summer resort of the Mughal rulers and the gardens exhibited their love and care in the enchanting beauty of stepped terraces and water courses. There are four such gardens.

Fountains and roses: We visited the Botanical Garden first. It has a lake with boat rides being optional. We decided on a stroll across the acres of greenery. Blooming flowers of various hues were sprinkled like starlets on patches of green. The roses were spectacular in yellow, white, pink and red. We noticed gardeners hard at work, sweating profusely in the hot sun. We were in no doubt that their perseverance led to the creation of the botanical wonders. Another section of the garden had herbs renowned for their medicinal properties.

The garden of bliss: We then explored Nishat Bagh which is also known as the Garden of Bliss. This was built by Asaf Khan, the brother of Empress Nur Jahan, in 1633. It was built on the banks of the Dal Lake and has a panoramic view of the Zabarwan hill. A cascade of elegant terraces, about twelve in number, had water flowing through various chambers. The garden was crowded with families and was clearly a popular joint on weekends. Tourists could pose for photos wearing a Kashmiri outfit and flowers.


The abode of love: The Shalimar Bagh was built by Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan. Spread across acres, it had four terraces with staircases leading from one to another. Water gurgled through the canal located in the middle of the garden. It also gave a delightful view of the Dal lake.

Siraj Bagh: Asia's largest tulip garden: This was unfortunately not open during our visit. It is accessible only from March 15 to April 15. A recent attraction, it is India's answer to the tulip gardens in Holland and is considered a must-visit.

Badamvir Garden: This is a relatively quieter garden built by Emperor Akbar. This was the most beautiful amongst the four we visited, and made us wonder why more tourists did not frequent it to enjoy nature at its best. The yellow, pink, white and red flowers seemed like the jewels on a cascade of green. One could see bees resting undisturbed on rosy petals and birds trotting about without a care in the world. The garden provided a glimpse of a majestic fort in the distance.

The white marble shrine: Next we offered prayers at the Hazratbal shrine, one of the holiest in Kashmir. It enshrines a holy hair (bal) of Prophet Mohammed, which is displayed to the public on special occasions. Exquisitely constructed in white marble, the shrine had separate praying sections for men and women. We noted that it had a domed roof, unlike its counterparts that had distinct pagoda-like roofs.

Jamia Masjid: Situated in the middle of the old city and a phoenix in its own right, the Jamia Masjid was burnt down twice and finally reconstructed by Aurangzeb. It has a magnificent courtyard with a pool of water. Pigeons equalled devotees. We spent a few minutes in the serene prayer room where people were offering their afternoon prayers.


Kashmiri folk art: Our last stop for the day was the marketplace which displayed exquisite Kashmiri handiwork. One of the stores had souvenirs and show pieces. The shikara and houseboat models had intricate woodwork and came in various sizes. They were priced between Rs100-Rs300. We then looked at some interesting pen stands available at Rs100-Rs200. There were fancy bells priced at Rs50.

Srinagar was a mesmerizing experience. We realised why Emperor Jahangir called it the land of the eternal spring. The sincerity and hospitality of the Kashmiris amazed us. They yearned for more tourists to come and visit their land. We hope that the political turbulence will soon be a thing of the past and visitors from all over the world throng Kashmir.

How to get to Srinagar

By air: There are daily direct flights from Jammu, Delhi and Mumbai to Srinagar airport.

By rail: The nearest railway station is Jammu which is about 300km from Srinagar. There are trains from Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

By road: Jammu and Kashmir State Transport Corporation operates coaches from Delhi, Chandigarh and Jammu, and Srinagar is well-connected by road from these cities.
Best time to visit The best time to visit Srinagar would be between March –September.

Cost
A two-night stay in the houseboat inclusive of breakfast, dinner and a shikara ride per person would cost anywhere between Rs2,000-Rs3,000. The charges for getting photographed in a Kashmiri outfit comes to Rs100 per photo. The entrance fees for the gardens cost about Rs10 per person. The gift items can cost from Rs100 to Rs2,000.

Points to be noted
Dress conservatively to respect the local community.
Carry a jacket or shawl as the evenings in Srinagar tend to get chilly.
Avoid littering the gardens.
Maintain silence while visiting the mosques.

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