Sonmarg to Srinagar – All that one can do

The day of rest : 29th July 2014
After returning from Domel in the morning, we stayed back at hotel Snowland. A full day rest was very much needed after undertaking a strenuous yatra. It was a bright sunny day once again, following yesterday’s sudden evening rain. There was a hill just opposite to the hotel, though placed far away. Sitting in the front side lawn of the hotel, we enjoyed the silky sun and cool breeze.

From Sonmarg to Srinagar on 30th July 2014

The stay at Hotel Snowland was pleasant and comfortable. We bid farewell to the hotel staff and started from Sonmarg at 11.30 am. While going to Srinagar, we decided to visit Ksheer Bhawani temple situated at Tul Mul in Ganderbal district. We reached there right at 1.00 pm. The temple was built in 1912 under the reign of Maharaja Prasad Singh. Later it was renovated during the reign of Maharaja Hari Singh. There were a Shiva Linga and idol of Mata Ragnya in the temple, which was surrounded by a stream. There were plenty of chinar trees all around. An army camp was placed in close proximity. At this temple, ksheer is distributed as prasad. With the help of panditji we performed puja. Then we started for Srinagar at 1.40 pm.

Ksheer Bhawani temple

Ksheer Bhawani temple

Inside the temple

Inside the temple

Shalimar Garden

We reached straight at Mughal Garden Shalimar, Srinagar at 2.20 pm. As we were touring during Id festival, plenty of local people were there. All the fountains were in operation. The garden was flooded with glowing flowers.

History says that during 2nd century, this garden was built during reign of Pravarsena II. He ruled Kashmir from 79 AD to 139 AD and founded city of Srinagar. He built a cottage for his stay at the north-eastern corner of Dal Lake and named it Shalimar. Over the years, the cottage fell into ruins, however name of the village remained Shalimar.

In the 16th century, Zain-Ul-Abedin, a Muslim ruler created the canal and a bund to Shalimar. The Farah Baksh (The Delightful) garden or the lower garden was created by Emperor Jahangir around 1620. The construction was overseen by Prince Khurram, who was named Shah Jahan later on. Around 1630, Fayz Baksh (The Bountiful) was added to the garden. During the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, European visitors were comforted at the marble pavilion.

Maharaja Hari Singh made electrification of the garden later on. The lower portion, comprising first three terraces was ‘Diwan-I-Aam’ where the emperor used to hold public audience. The upper two terraces named ‘Diwan-E-Khas’ were exclusive for the emperor and his courtiers.

These two parts were screened by means of a thick masonry wall having two similar gateways at each side of the water channel. This area was called ‘Zenna’ meant for the private zone for the Empress and other ladies.

Inside Shalimar Garden

Inside Shalimar Garden

Mughal Architecture in Shalimar Garden

Mughal Architecture in Shalimar Garden

Another view of Mughal Architecture in Shalimar Garden

Another view of Mughal Architecture in Shalimar Garden

Pari Mahal

Then we moved to Pari Mahal garden at around 3.45 pm. It is a seven terraced garden, situated at the western part of the city, on the slopes of the Zabarwan mountains. It was built by Prince Dara Sukoh in around 1650 at the site of the ruins of a budhhist monastery. Pari Mahal was named after Nadira Begum, wife of Dara Sukoh, who was also known as Pari Begum.

The place was used by Dara Sukoh for learning astrology, where he was believed to be killed by Aurangzeb. The garden itself was beautiful. Also, while standing on its terrace, delightful scenery can be seen. Pari Mahal has a domed ceiling with gardens laid out on terraces. The terraces can be accessed via sets of steps on their corners. View of golf course, helipad, Dal lake, Hari parvat etc. from the corner of terrace was inexplicable.

The Pari Mahal

The Pari Mahal

The garden inside Pari Mahal

The garden inside Pari Mahal

View of Dal Lake from Pari Mahal

View of Dal Lake from Pari Mahal

View of the helipad from Pari Mahal

View of the helipad from Pari Mahal

View of the Golf Course from Pari Mahal

View of the Golf Course from Pari Mahal

Long view of The Pari Mahal

Long view of The Pari Mahal

Chashme Shahi

Then we went to Chashme Shahi, at around 4.50 pm, which is situated in the same mountain, but at a lower altitude. This garden, which was built around a spring, was constructed by Ali Mardan Khan in 1632. He was a Governor of Emperor Shah Jahan.

It is believed that the place is named after Rupa Bhawani, who was hailed from the sahib clan of Kashmiri pandits and discovered the spring. The family name of Rupa Bhawani was ‘Sahib’. It is believed that the name of the spring was ‘Chashme Sahibi’. Over the years the name was changed to Chashme Shahi.

The famous spring is located at the uppermost edge of the garden, is led through narrow water channels that drop sharply in the form of cascades to successive lower terrace levels. View of Dal lake from the terrace is unique.

Entrance of Chashme Shahi

Entrance of Chashme Shahi

Structure housed spring of Chashme Shahi

Structure housed spring of Chashme Shahi

The garden inside Chashme Shahi

The garden inside Chashme Shahi

House Boat

Then we reached our online pre-booked Sheikh Palace house boat floating on the Dal Lake. It was elaborate, nice and comfortable. Sitting in the front deck in the moonlit night, while enjoying the cool breeze of the Dal Lake, was unparallel. Every feeling can not be expressed in words and my capability to express an experience is very limited. I leave it to the readers to fantasise further.

The Sheik Palace houseboat

The Sheik Palace houseboat

31st July 2014
Shankaracharya Temple

From this day, we replaced our vehicle and got a Verna, in place of the Xylo, while the all inclusive rate remained the same, i.e. Rs.2500/- per day lumpsum.

First we went to Shankaracharya Temple, situated at the top of the Shankaracharya hill (earlier known as Takht-E-Suleiman) stood at a height of 1100 feet from Srinagar city. This temple was believed to be built by Jaluka, son of Emperor Ashoka around 200 BC.

We went upto the maximum point where the car was allowed. Then security check was done. Stairs started from this place. After reaching the top, one can have a 360 degree panoramic view of the entire city, which is simply splendid. In Srinagar, for common people, one can not have a better place to view the city other than this place.

Unfortunately, mobiles, camera etc. are not allowed here. So I could not take any photo. The city structures, Dal Lake, important buildings etc. and every edifice were clearly visible. The BSNL tower was adjacent. A circular walkway surrounded the temple. To enter the temple, one had to go up a few stairs more. It is believed that saint Shankaracharya stayed here 10 centuries ago when he visited Kashmir to spread philosophy of Vedanta.

Nishat Bag

Then we went to Nishat Bag around 12.35 noon. This is another beautiful Mughal garden, situated on the eastern side of Dal Lake with Zabarwan mountains at its backdrop. This “Garden of Joy’ was designed by Asaf Khan, brother of Noor Jehan laid out in 1633.

Consisting of 12 terraces, with long avenues of Chinar and Cypress trees, it is the largest of all Mughal gardens. Some Magnolia trees were also seen here and there. The view of Dal Lake from the corner of terrace was magnificent. The local people were in festive and ecstatic mood, enjoying the spirit of Id.

View of Dal Lake from Nishat Bag

View of Dal Lake from Nishat Bag

Inside view of Nishat Bag

Inside view of Nishat Bag

Hazratbal Mosque

Our next destination was Hazratbal Mosque. It is situated on the north western bank of Dal Lake, opposite to Nishat Bag. The Moi-E-Mukkadas (the sacred hair) of Prophet Mohammed is believed to be preserved here. This shrine is also known as ‘Assar-E-Sharief’, ‘Madinat-Us-Sani’ etc. While I was allowed to enter the main hall of the shrine, my mother was requested to remain outside.

Inside the main hall, many persons were seen to be in different stages of prayer. A big electronic display board was there to show local time of various important Islamic cities of the world. Photography was restricted inside the shrine. A new construction was coming up behind the existing mosque.

Front view of Hazratbal Mosque

Front view of Hazratbal Mosque

Makhdoom Sahib

From Hazratbal Mosque we went to Makhdoom Sahib. It was in Hari Parvat. There was cable car facility from ground level. Rate was Rs.100/- per head. A cabin can house 4 persons, which moved slowly. It even stopped moving after initial 2 minutes of start.

From the terrace adjacent to the Makhdoom Sahib, you can have the view of the old city, ruins of mosque of Akhund Mulla Shah, built by Shah Jahan’s son Dara Shikoh in 1649 and remains of the old city walls, built by Akbar in the 1590s. There was a fort at the top of the hill, which is said to be under control of Indian Army.

View of old city and ruins of mosque from Makhdoom Sahib

View of old city and ruins of mosque from Makhdoom Sahib

Badamvaer

This was a garden which was less crowded. All stone structures including entrance, side walls etc. were made saffron coloured stone. We found this garden full of young boys and girls only. Unlike other gardens, which were crowded during Id festival, this garden provided privacy to young couples.

Before visiting Kashmir during Eid time, I thought that social structure was very conservative. But we have seen free mixing and unshackled movement of boys and girls (in local attire) together everywhere, just we used to see in other parts of the country.

Inside Badamvaer Bagh

Inside Badamvaer Bagh

Then we returned to our house boat. At around 7.30 pm, we started the shikara ride. It was just evening, but full glow was there. The boatman was talking to us about a lot of things. Journey to a new place remains incomplete, unless we talk extensively with local people.

They can give us a detail picture about socio economic situation of the locality / town. It was my pre-plan to avoid hawkers of Dal Lake, so we preferred the evening slot. We did not go to any shops, rather continued to have an extensive roaming around the lake. The night was moonlit, calm and quiet, so the journey amidst cool breeze was memorable.

Those who think that traveling in Dal Lake in the dusk is something to be afraid of, my message to them is that myself with my aged mother did not face any single moment of uneasiness. We paid Rs.500/- for the one and a half hour ride and it was reasonable.

Dal Lake in evening glow

Dal Lake in evening glow

1st August 2014

Journey to Youshmarg

Next day i.e., on 1st August 2014, we decided to go to Yushmarg, which is located at 45-47 km South West to Srinagar. Ancient belief of Yushmarg is interesting. Meaning of the word Yushmarg is Meadow of Jesus. It is believed that Jesus once came to Kashmir and lived at this place for sometime.

The journey from Srinagar took apprx. 1hr 45 minutes through many towns and locality. On way to Yushmarg, one can find apple and walnut orchards by the side of the road. Before reaching the town, we crossed a huge natural water tank secured with wire mesh boundary.

Yushmarg

Yushmarg

After reaching Yushmarg, I took a ponny for going to Dudhganga river. The place is a marvel. It was a very cool one, covered by Pine and Fir trees. One can find a little bit of similarity with Gulmarg, so far as lush green valley is concerned. My ponny was under control of a young boy, hardly 20 years of age. He was a simple boy with helpful attitude.

I started gossiping with him as usual to know their social condition etc. This place remains under snow from middle of November upto end of April. So opportunity to making an earning is focussed on balance months of the year. The boy taken me to Dudhganga river, through a mountainous downward route.

The river is a tributary of Jhelum. It was all quiet everywhere. I saw some couple were gossiping in private, sitting on riverine boulders. I also took some rest. A tea stall hutment was nearby. We had tea and snacks and enjoyed the atmosphere.

White coloured water was flowing in front of us, justifying the name of the river. The panoramic view was somehow comparable with Himachal. Then we returned to the parking area, where my mother was waiting sitting inside the Verna.

Dudhganga river at Yushmarg

Dudhganga river at Yushmarg

Charar-E-Sharief

On return journey, we went to Charar-E-Sherief, which is located 13 km north of Yushmarg. Charar-E-Sharief is considered one of the most sacrosanct Muslim shrines in India. The Shrine of Charar-E-Sharief is approximately 600 years old, popularly known as the “Hazrat Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali”.

The whole town of Charar-E-Sharief got burnt down in 1995 during the fierce encounter between Indian troops and Mujahideen. An estimated 800 residential houses, 500 shops and many other non-residential structures were gutted in this fire. However, entire area was reconstructed gradually later on.

Shrine at Charar-E-Shareef

Shrine at Charar-E-Shareef

We were touring on Friday, the prayer day. It was flooded with millions of people. Perhaps myself and my mother were the only Hindu from outside Kashmir present there. But there was no discomfort for us. We sat in the park adjacent to the shrine. My mother being a traditional Bengali lady, was greeted by a family sitting next to us. We conversed in Hindi without any problem. I was allowed to enter the shrine.

There were many persons offering prayer. I was the easiest odd man out. An aged person sitting with small paper packets consisting prasad like items called me. On being asked I told him that I was from Kolkata. He gave me one of such packets and blessed me with heartfelt cordialness. I placed a hundred Rupee note on a plate placed before him and travelled inside the hall of the shrine.

Being the sole Hindu, I did not face any kind of problem whatsoever. I returned to my mother waiting in the outside park, who spent some fine moments while talking to neighbouring ladies. We were more than 2300 km away from our home, but we did not feel so. We realised that humanity prevails upon everything, which can not be limited by religious or political boundary.

Green apples in an apple orchard on way back from Yushmarg

Green apples in an apple orchard on way back from Yushmarg

In the evening we returned to our houseboat at Srinagar. That day went like a flash. Our trip to Kashmir also headed towards an end. Next day, i.e. on 2nd August 2014, we took the afternoon Indigo flight from Srinagar to New Delhi and then the connecting Kolkata flight.

With the blessings of the almighty, we returned to our sweet home at Kolkata in the evening with one of our finest memories of life.

Mr.Sheikh, the owner of houseboat with us, before leaving Srinagar

Mr.Sheikh, the owner of houseboat with us, before leaving Srinagar

8 Comments

  • Uday Baxi says:

    Dear Santanu

    Another very good log with splendid photographs.

    The Youshmarg was refreshing. The Srinagar Golf Club has a very good in-house restaurant. They serve quality “Kahwa” and other Kashmiri dishes. Sitting around the fireplace in the winter, one can enjoy the evening and night life of the city.

    Thanks for sharing. Please convey my regards to your mother too.

    Regards

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Uday,
    Thanks for your compliments. I will try to taste typical Kashmiri dishes in my next visit. My mother also conveyed thanks to you for your continuous encouragement.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • aaliyah says:

    Lovely place and lovely article. Here is my experience about Kashmir…http://xplor-india.com/2014/04/kashmir/

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Aaliyah,
    Thanks for your nice comment and sharing your experience with us.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Nandan Jha says:

    That is quite a lot of places, for a single log as well as for the days you were there. This talks a lot of your own perseverance and more than that, your Moms. But I was surprised to see you on a Pony again :-).

    I believe Srinagar has a lot of Gardens, and all are at a big scale. With mountains all around and if it is adjoining the Lake (Pari Mahal) then it must be one heavenly experience, to be there. There is a similar 7-level/7-terraced garden near Chandigarh (Pinjore), my guess is that the inspiration must have been the one in Srinagar. I could see some folks in the water-body, is that allowed ?

    The house boat looks royal, just like the name and its owner.

    Your observations around young couples and your experience of being the lone Hindu but being at-ease is a matter of great pride for all Indians. I have said it so many times, but let me put this plug again. Our underlying thought behind Ghumakkar is peace. Traveling gives you a window to observe people who are unlike you closely and gives you the perspective to appreciate and understand them better. The chances of wrong-information influencing is less because you see from your own eyes that the global principles of love and brotherhood are common across all.

    Traveling builds tolerance and tolerance builds peace, one trip at a time.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Nandan,

    Thanks for your well versed analysis. Your realisation of the society and the world around you and putting it down into your own words, are of highest standard. Drawing reference to the Pinjore gardens is a good point to mention, which you did so nicely.

    Now coming to the trip : Yes the trip was moderately long. But my mother was provided with comfort and good hospitality, which kept her fresh. The houseboat was royal indeed. I can still remember, quality of furniture in the houseboat was awe arising.

    At Yushmarg, immediately after getting down from car, I was of no idea how was the condition of the way to Dudhganga. So I took a ponny, the ponny-walla acted as a guide for free.

    Our trip coincided with the Id. Environment at Srinagar and other places was full of festivity, just like Durga Puja time in Kolkata. So we saw lot of children playing and bathing in the fountains in many garden. Overall, our trip was absolutely memorable.

    Regards
    Santanu

  • Bhaskar Sengupta says:

    Dear Santanu,
    Your narration and photographs are so vivid & descriptive,again it reminds me of that virtual travel.
    Keep on writing,my friend,really enjoyed.

    Thanks,

    Bhaskar

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Bhaskar,
    Your ever flowing inspiration is a great asset in my personal balance sheet. Thanks for the encouragement and appreciation.
    Regards
    Santanu

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