A Gloomy, Wet, and Cold Srinagar
The first thing you’ll notice when you step foot in Kashmir, specially if it’s your first time, is the intimidating presence of armed military men everywhere. They stand in groups at the airport, on the roadside, or anywhere really, as if their presence is such a normal part of the city.
Once you’re past the uniforms (just try hard to ignore them) you see beautiful people, a laid-back city, fresh vegetables, and snow-peaked mountains.
We’ve come specifically to see the snow. I’ve been reading the weather report ten times a day for the past few days, checking to see when and where it’ll snow. And since Srinagar doesn’t get much snow at this time, we decline the hotel guy’s suggestion to stay here for more than 2 days. We have other places in mind.
This is what we think: if you’re in Srinagar during the winter, you need not stay here for more than 2 days. In fact, one day seems enough for us. Srinagar is a place to enjoy during the summer with its flower exhibitions, blooming gardens, and bright green trees.
It’s drizzling when we arrive in Srinagar. Two in the afternoon seems like six in the evening. Dogs are rolling about in chunks of ice at the roadside. “It snowed last night”, the driver tells us. The wind is fresh but cold. I don’t mind it though. The cold, I mean. That’s what I’ve specifically come here for.
Now this Dal lake is nicknamed the Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir not only for its beauty but also because of its importance as a source of tourism and commercial operations (like fishing and water plant harvesting).
The two most common touristy things to do when you reach Dal Lake are riding a shikara (and the boat guy will even offer you something traditional to wear and take your picture) and spending the night in one of the numerous houseboats parked along the lake.
You don’t stay in houseboats during the winter though. Unless it is your intention to freeze all night. There’s no proper heating system or hot water in the shower. But we’re told it’s a lovely experience during the summer.
I’m impressed by how calm the water is. The surface of Dal Lake is like a clear mirror. It beautifully reflects all the colorful boats, the sky, the trees that line the lake, and even the mountains.
Translation: the Royal Spring. It’s one of the several gardens in Kashmir built by Mughal emperors. Albeit the smallest of all Mughal gardens in Kashmir, this one’s famous because of it’s spring. Riaz, our driver and guide, reminds us to have a drink. “It has medicinal properties,” he says as we alight the car. “Fill up your water bottles!”
It’s winter. The trees are bare and the gardens devoid of flowers. We get distracted by the majestic snow-capped mountains behind the garden.
Masood eyes the water suspiciously at first. He then proceeds to fill our water bottle and brings it up to eye level to examine closely. We didn’t drink the water at first, specially since we couldn’t see its source.
Back at the hotel later that night when we ran out of drinking water, we drank the one we filled at the Chasme Shahi. And guess what, it just tastes like your regular water.
It’s just a small garden, really. Nothing exciting to write about.
Translation: Garden of Delight.
Another garden built by the Mughal emperor, except that this one has twelve terraces with cascading waterfalls! Some renovation work is going on at the moment, but I’m sure this place looks breathtaking in summer with all the colorful flowers and bright green trees!
Like the other royal gardens, this too faces the Dal Lake.
But the restrooms are awful. It’s old, dark, wet, and scary.
When Riaz pulls up the vehicle in front of this structure, we think it’s just one of the masjids in Srinagar. But he tells us that this place is special because they believe it contains a relic: strands of hair of the prophet Mohammed, sallalhu alaihi wassalam.
How the hair got there is a long story. Turns out it’s just like any other masjid, a place to pray.
Masood enters through the front door, while I am asked to enter from the door located at the back of the masjid. I look up ahead and see a vast, open terrace. Just as I begin to walk towards it, a guy tells me to remove my shoes.
With shoes in my hand, I sprint across the wet and very cold floor, trying to reach the ladies’ entrance as fast as I could. Still, my socks get drenched and my frozen feet begin to feel numb.
To my great display, there’s nothing to see inside. As I peek inside the room, I see a couple of ladies praying. There’s a book shelf at one side. And that’s basically it. No relic.
Dashing back to the main gate, disappointed and cold, I come across a couple of middle-aged women from Mumbai.
“So what’s it like?” asks the taller one, her bare feet turning blue on the cold floor.
“Um, there’s nothing to see, actually,” I reply.
“What do you mean? Is the hair not there?” she asks again. “What did you see?”
“Well, it’s just a prayer room for the ladies, that’s all,” I try to quickly end the conversation so I can run back to the gate and wear my shoes again. I can’t feel my toes at this point.
Turns out Masood didn’t see anything as well. We’re somehow skeptical about the legend surrounding this relic so have wanted to see it with our own eyes. Maybe there are strands of hair somewhere inside that masjid that may or may not belong to the person they claim it belongs to, but we don’t see it.
It’s a beautiful masjid nevertheless and worth visiting when you’re in the city. Maybe when it’s not too cold.
We cover all these places in six hours (time spent in traffic included). Later, we have a heavy Kashmiri meal that keeps us full until lunch the next day.