As scorching summer beckons us to cooler places, we thought of focusing next few posts on that lovely paradise called Kashmir. Here we go with the first one on Srinagar.
For Indians who are brought up on the staple diet of Bollywood movies, Srinagar and Kashmir is not new to us. Whether it is Shammi gyrating to Rafi's song in Kashmir Ki Kali or Rajesh Khanna courting Sharmila in Aradhana, we always knew that this is a lovely place.
It was in August last year that we planned to visit Kashmir. The visit was more for the "Great lakes trek" in Kashmir. Our initial plan was to go for the trek and then spend few days in Srinagar to explore nearby places. As luck would have it, we could not go for trekking due to heavy rain in the hills which gave us full four days to explore Kashmir.
To say, Kashmir is beautiful is an understatement. As Kashmiris say, it is "Zannat" or "Paradise". We could realise it even as the plane was making circles over Srinagar before landing. The mist filled valley with houses made of colourful roof looked like as if we were landing in an European country. The first impression as we left Srinagar airport and moved towards our home stay in Raj Bagh was that everything seemed to be calm and peaceful. The roads were clean and was lined up with Poplar trees. There was a nip in the air and the previous day's rains had ensured that the city was cleansed of dust.
What do we do in Srinagar? We asked Yasmin, our host. We knew and read about Srinagar - Dal lake, its houseboats, the gardens, the lakes and then of course the cuisine. We wanted to explore beyond that. On her advice, we started with something exciting - Floating Market on Dal lake.You must have read about floating markets in some of the south east asian countries. But this is unique. Let us tell you why.
Thus, our first day in Kashmir started with a an early morning visit to the floating markets on Dal lake. We are not sure why this market start so early, almost at dawn. Yasmin had warned us to reach there in time lest we would see nothing. We woke up early and were ready to hop into the Innova. Muzaffar drove us down in the misty morning to the jetty in darkness. The flickering lights of the buildings on the banks were the bright spots in a dark surrounding. We had negotiated a shikara on the previous day who would take us around the market and bring back.
We started cruising on the lake early in the morning in darkness as dawn was breaking out. The stillness of water, the tranquility of surroundings broken only by the calls for prayers from distant mosques in the city provided for a thrilling experience. Fortunately it wasn't raining though the sky was overcast. The cruise on Dal lake is slow and manual. Thank heavens for that. The manual rowing of the boat ensure that tranquility of the lake is not disturbed.
After 45 minutes, we reached the floating market. It was already buzzing with Kashmiris with their wares. Having noticed that we are outsiders and tourists, few hawkers came closer to us asking us to buy the flowers. The flowers were fresh and lovely. Yusuf, our boatman was very enterprising and we had told him to take us to all corners of the market. At the same time he was also giving us a running commentary of how important this market is to Kashmiris. This market is a more of a vegetable and flower market. The fresh produce by farmers living on the banks of the lake is loaded onto the boat and brought here every morning. Yusuf manouvered well through the boats selling fresh vegetables and flowers.
Here are few vistas of the floating market......
The buyers had come in their own boats and we could see them bargaining with the wholesalers for the best price. Soon after an hour, we could see all the vegetables/flowers transferred from wholesalers to retailers and boats moving away slowly. The market is active only for an hour. This is the uniqueness of the floating market of Srinagar. It is not a permanent market like you find in some of the South East Asian countries. This is also a man's market. We did not see a single woman in the market!
As boats melted away into the horizon, Yusuf asked us whether we liked the experience. We said yes, we loved every minute of it.
Air - Srinagar is well connected by flights to all major cities in India.
Train - The train services are available only upto Udhampur which is connected to rest of the country. From here, either you have to catch a bus or hire a taxi to Srinagar.
Road - Srinagar is well connected to mainland India through one of picturesque roads. Regular buses operate from Jammu and other places.
Best time to visit
Srinagar is good to go in any season. Winters will be extremely cold. If you are looking for best season to be there it is May -June and September - October. The summer months of May - June will be crowded with tourists and prices will be higher.
There are plenty of options to stay in Srinagar including houseboats. We somehow did not like houseboats which are stationary in the lake unlike the ones you find in Kerala which move in backwaters. For a superb view of Dal lake and Srinagar city, go to Taj Vivanta.
We stayed in a lovely home stay in Raj Bagh area. We highly recommend it.
Let us restrict these tips only for exploring the floating markets.
a) Make sure you are there at sun rise. The market closes very quickly after sunrise. Transactions are quick here!
b) Make sure you book a shikara on previous day. Else, you may not find one when you arrive at jetty early in the morning.
c) You may be surrounded by hawkers selling flowers. Buy a bunch. That way you will be helping these folks. Of Course, the flowers are lovely.
d) Take drinking water and small eats along.