Friday, October 7, 2011

Kashmir - Srinagar

. Upon arriving take your time to find the perfect houseboat to stay. As you probably are arriving late from either Leh or Jammu, spend the first evening just chilling on the front deck of the boat and soaking in the Kashmiri atmosphere.
There's nothing quite like Srinagar in the evening: the air fills with prayers from the numerous mosques around the city and the different coloured lights of the houseboats give the lake an evocative feel.
Visit the bazaars to the slightly bizarre brick tomb of Mother of Zain-ul-Adidin, to the astonishingly beautiful shrine of Shah-i-Hamadan (in the pic), to Sufi shrine Pir Dastgir Sahib and to a Sikh temple.

When visiting the mosques don't be shy about your camera. Do ask before taking any pics but at least in my case the attendants were all too quick to tell me to take photos before I managed to open my mouth. The oddest thing was that the most photogenic looking old men with either piercing eyes or a cool costume came to me and asked me to take their photo as if they knew I wanted to picture them.
Girls, do keep a scarf with you all the time if you intend to visit the mosques. It's mandatory. There's a sign at the Pir Dastgir Sahib saying visitors are not allowed in naked, but that's a serious understatement.

If you come here during the Ramadan  visit the silly secret cafes. There men, who are supposed to be fasting and keeping a way from cigarettes, make chimneys seem like a blast from the Middle Ages. You will recognise a secret cafe from the curtains on the door. It's like going back to sixth grade when the bad boys smoked behind the corner, away from the eyes of the teachers.

On your second day hire a shikara (a roofed little boat, with plush pillows to lie on) for tour of the lake. You'll see floating gardens (the lotuses are in full bloom in end of May), fishermen, floating markets if you get moving early enough (5AM), more of beautiful houseboats and the amazing reflections of the mountains and clouds on the clear, quiet lake.
On the way you can stop to Hazratbal mosque, which with its Taj Mahal -like features, is the only big mosque in the city which looks like a mosque. The others, Kashmiri styled square mosques with balconies are apparently unique in the islamic world.
A full day shikara tour will cost you 600-1000 rupees per boat

You should visit one of the gardens for which Srinagar is famed for. Other than that you find people trying to bring bout religion while you are casually speaking with with your houseboat owner or a local guide or a shikara....just get into it if u want to play around or change the topic!

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