The next thing on the ‘list’ was to do upper India. Sringar; capital of Kashmir happens to be one of the few entry ports to start into that territory hence I flew out to Srinagar from Delhi on a cheap Spicejet flight.
Three things come to mind when Kashmir is mentioned 1. Apparently it’s Heaven on earth 2. Both India and Pakistan want a piece of it; several wars have been battled over it and 3. Kashmiri shawls are to die for. (I have thing for scarves)
I arrived in the afternoon at the small Srinagar airport. Immediately noticeable is the heavy military presence. Right from the airport and through out the entire city, you have armed military guys standing at every corner. It’s a bit unnerving at first but you get used to it. Something else you notice is the cleanliness. The streets are clean, there are proper toilets and the men are actually polite. They don’t do the rude staring thing in Delhi (well some!) but generally they are very well mannered. (And extremely good-looking with gorgeous eyes!) I spent the afternoon exploring the Lal Chowk market and out of sheer necessity had to invest in a Lonely Planet, which I thought I could do without since “I could speak Hindi”. I thought wrong. The boathouse owner was nice but very sly with his information and I had to put my foot down that I wanted to make my own travel arrangements etc.
Next morning I took a shikara ride to see the morning markets on Dal Lake. I spent the rest of the day, riding the shikara from Nagin Lake to Dal Lake, and then visiting the 2 famous gardens of Srinagar; Nishant Bagh and Shalimar Bagh and the Dharga. The Shikhara-wala got really friendly with me and helped me with arranging rickshaws and morning bus stand transfer. Hands down, Kashmir has the best food so far in all my travels! I spent the afternoon just lounging on the boathouse, drinking the scrumptious Kawa and relishing in the beauty of Kashmir. Next morning, I had to catch a shared-jeep (kinda like a viti-mini) to Ladakh. It was going to be a painful 14-hour ride.
- If you’re visiting Srinagar, it would be a crime not to stay in one of the boathouses on the famous Dal Lake. I stayed on the adjacent Nagin Lake however. It is a pleasant, much quieter side however a bit remote from the center of Srinagar.
- If you’re not on a package, its better you do your research well. There are no tourist information centers in Srinagar as otherwise suggested. It’s only a bus timetable and tickets booth. The houseboat owners try to take advantage of the isolation of their boats to put pressure on you to buy their packages.
- It’s cheaper to negotiate with a rickshaw to taxi you around to all the sites you want to see in Srinagar.
- As much as I wanted to go the Rozabal shrine and despite looking Indian, the rickshaw driver didn’t take me, as the locals do tend to get violent over the issue and they just don’t allow foreigners. So…just keep away.
- The gardens are not THAT impressive and unless you really, really have to see it, you could give it a miss!