The incredibly beautiful Kashmir Valley, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, is rich with history, culture and gorgeous landscapes. From the houseboats on Dal Lake to the architecture of the many mosques, Kashmir is a unique and wonderful place to explore.
Srinagar is an old city in Kashmir. We weren’t sure how safe it would be to visit as there have been years of unrest between a few vocal Kashmiri separatists and the Indian government. Kashmiris, originally from Persia, are Muslims living in a Hindu country. A small population of Kashmiris want to separate from India and are violent towards Indians and supporters of the Indian government. Because of this unrest, armed soldiers are on every street corner in Srinagar and there are army check posts throughout the state. While we were in Srinagar we felt completely safe and found the people incredibly gracious and friendly. The local Kashmiris are also very curious about us as they see so few westerners. We were asked to be in more selfies here than anywhere else on our travels. After our stay however, we found out about 2 recent incidents of targeted assassinations. We still believe it is a safe place to visit, especially around Dal Lake, but caution is required.
Dal Lake is an interesting part of Srinagar. This shallow lake, in the middle of the city, has many small canals and bays bordered with small islands and marshes. There’s an interesting, small community living on the lake. Most of the homes are on the many islands. The residents have hanging vegetable gardens and some run shops on houseboats. There is a wooden boardwalk that connects many of the homes and businesses, but the main transportation is by wooden dugout canoes or shakaras. Shakaras are larger wooden boats with a roof and a passenger seat that feels like Queen Sheba’s throne. They are mostly used as taxis by tourists.
Each morning at 5 am, there is a floating vegetable market. Farmers load their dugouts with produce and shop owners make their daily purchases. It seemed to be an important social event for the men as well as a market.
The main tourist attractions in Srinagar are the houseboats acting as part home and part guesthouse. The British originally built these houseboats to transport goods along the rivers. Now these houseboats have been converted to guesthouses and although they are floating, they remain in their births. Inside they are decorated with traditional Kashmir walnut furniture and Kashmir carpets. The outsides have intricately carved walnut eaves. We stayed with a very nice family who were wonderful hosts. They showed us the lake, the city and explained a lot about life and food in Kashmir. Two of our favourites were Kahwa (Kashmiri saffron tea) and Kashmiri pulao (saffron rice). It was a lovely way to experience this unique culture.
Houseboats on Dal Lake, Sinagar
In this city of 1.2 million, there are several mosques. We visited the oldest and most important ones. Jama Mosque was built in 1672. The prayer room has 378 large wooden pillars, apparently one came from heaven, but no one knows which one. From the mosque’s courtyard you can see the ruins of the old Hariparbat fort perched up on a hill above town.
Khanqah Shah-i-Hamadan Mosque has the most beautiful interior with brightly painted papier-mâché decorations on the walls and ceiling. At all of the mosques we were well received, but at this one, the friendliness factor went up a notch. Two women approached Maggie and gave her a hug, and kisses on the cheek and hand. They said they were so glad to meet us and one invited us to her home for tea, but we had to say no.
In the 1500s, Mughal emperors ruled Kashmir and built gorgeous botanic gardens. There are still 5 well-tended gardens today. They provide a serene escape from the busy city.
Dodhpathre is one of the many beautiful valleys in the Kashmir Valley area. It has lovely green meadows and treed hills with a few short walks. We passed small villages of summer huts belonging to the local shepherds. On the drive we saw many people cooking and selling food on the side of the road. We bought barbequed corn, it was delicious.
We had a lovely time in Srinagar and are now looking forward to trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Coming up next: Kashmir’s Great Lakes Trek
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