Having never been to ‘heaven’, I cannot really describe it. So, when I first landed in Srinagar, there was no chance for me to recite poetic cliches such as ‘Ah, this is heaven’. But yes, I could smell the moist freshness in the air — and definitely not gunpowder — as I raced towards the Tulip Garden with the Dal Lake to my left. The transition from 42 degrees in Delhi a couple of hours ago to 21 degrees was in itself heavenly.
Srinagar is a land of gardens. The three Mughal Gardens of Chasma Shahi, Nishat and Shalimar, that offer a splendid view of the Dal Lake, are a must-visit. You don’t need to be a nature lover to appreciate Tulip Garden — the thousands of tulips in rainbow hues will surely draw you any way. Most tulips are imported from the Netherlands, and a walk through them is sure to make you feel like Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha in Silsila...
Srinagar has a unique cultural blend — the 18th-century Hazratbal shrine and the Shankaracharya temple draw people from all walks of life. And even if you are not religiously inclined, the 200-plus-steps climb to the 200 BC temple is worth it — the panoramic view of the town from the hilltop is breathtaking.
If you want to experience snow, then winters in Srinagar are great. Else, head straight to Gulmarg. A favoured shooting destination of yesteryear Bollywood films, a 15-minutes cable car ride will land you 10,000 feet above sea level and on a pristine expanse of snow. Keep some woollens handy with you (you can rent the boots there itself). Go skiing, sledging or just laze around and build a snowman. But remember, the last return cable car is at 4 pm.
Life on water
Srinagar is also called Venice of East. Houseboats, floating markets, lanes and by-lanes from the off-shoots of the Dal — water is the lifeline for people here. The mall area around the Dal is the ideal place to roam around in evenings, sipping some hot kahwa. While anytime on the shikara is a great option, five in the morning is especially recommended. With the only sounds being that of the oar touching the water and birds hopping from one lotus leaf to the other, it will be only you and nature. Let the morning unfold its most glorious colours. And you will say ‘yes, this must be heaven’.
Srinagar is the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir. All major airways have daily flights to Srinagar in the daytime. You can also take a train to Jammu, from where you can board a bus or taxi to reach Srinagar.
Where to stay
Houseboats or luxury floatels should ideally be the place of choice, with various travel deals available. But if that pinches your pocket, a number of hotels are available in the town offering good deals. And please forget about ghar ka khaana — if you are not eating Kashmiri cuisine, you are missing out on a lot.
Pahalgam, about 90 kms away, is a one-day trip. So is Gulmarg, 65 kms away.