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Zanskar Yatra - Part 1 (Srinagar - Dal Lake and Hazratbal Shrine)

This post is in continuation of Series of posts on my recent Zanskar trip. For the first part on Srinagar, Click here.

Dal Lake

Famous as "Jewel in the crown of Kashmir" or "Srinagar's Jewel”, Dal Lake is the second largest lake of the state with a shoreline of about 15kilometers and covering 18 sq km area. While, Houseboats and Shikara (small boats or gondolas) bejewel the Lake, Mughal era gardens decorate its periphery. During winter season, the temperature sometimes dives sub-zero and freezes the lake.
Sunset at Dal Lake
Spread over 18 square kilometres, this Lake is essentially a part of a natural wetland which covers 21.1 square kilometres (8.1 sq mi), including floating gardens that are actually fenced and tied to wooden logs. These floating gardens are known as "Rad" in Kashmiri. The wetland is divided by into four basins; Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin. Lokut-dal and Bod-dal each have an island in the centre, known as Rup Lank (or Char Chinari) and Sona Lank respectively. (Wikipedia)
Save Dal, Save Mother Nature Kashmir
(ironically Kingfishers support it ;)
A duck at Dal
A water-lily
It's just beautiful at every angle
A view across the Houseboats
I took a shikara (boat) for an hour. Rates are fixed by government as Rs 300/- for an hour, and service tip is exclusive.  The guy told me it would be an honour for him to tell me about the Lake and would be glad if I appreciate at end. I took the clue. He rowed me through the Golden Lake, Dal Lake and the Bazaar, sharing about the houseboats and showing that particular one where Mission Kashmir was shot. Life of a houseboat that is built with woods is usually 70 years and is licensed by the government. Rates vary with the facilities, and likes of houseboat where Hritik spent a few hours could cost up to 10,000 for a night.  I loved the serene off white-light yellow water lilies of the Lake. At far distance on Hari Parbat, he showed me an old fort built by Akbar. He also advised to buy shawls, dry fruits etc at the Lake’s bazaar only, as this is the market from where other vendors buy and resell the Kashmiri items. We reached the place from where we started in exactly an hour. It was a short trip but I surely liked it.

A view of Dal through Shikara
Mughal fort at Hari Parbat across the Lake
A floating Garden of Dal Lake
It's just beautiful :)
Can't confirm - the boatmen said this is houseboat where Hiritk for Mission Kashmir
Beautiful floating market of Dal Lake
Beautiful floating market of Dal Lake
Beautiful floating market of Dal Lake

Sunset at Nageen Lake

On our return trip, we decided to spend the night at one of the Houseboats. That morning in Srinagar had a different story and we were not even sure about the very next morning when we were to leave the city. President Pranab Mukherjee was in the city to felicitate Srinagar University’s Convocation and some groups have boycott his presence closing down the city. 
Our Houseboat
Nevertheless, our driver suggested to stay at or near Dal, so did us. Through an agent we booked the houseboat Fazil. There were three double-bed rooms in the houseboat and it was well suited for a large family, but seriously not for a couple on honeymoons (would be sharing the Hotel reviews soon). That evening I took another boot-ride in the Lake with Dheeraj and other mates. This time the trip was not time-bound, and was rated at Rs 900/- for 9loactions or so plus tip. Luckily, we did have an opportunity to see two marriage possessions (baarat) on boats in the Lake.

A Kashmiri Baarat procession in Dal Lake
Hazratbal Shrine

The Hazratbal Shrine is a Muslim shrine located north-east of Dal Lake in Srinagar. It contains a relic believed by many Muslims of Kashmir to be a hair of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The name Hazratbal derives from the Arabic word Hazrat, meaning holy or majestic, and the Kashmiri word bal (which is a corrupted form of Sanskrit word Vala meaning an enclosure) meaning place. (Wikipedia)
Hazratbal Shrine
After spending over an hour or so at Dal Lake, I thought to visit Hazrat Bal, leaving Shankrachrya Temple for next visit. I decided to walk, not just because the auto-walas were not quoting sanely, but as walking is the best way to learn and enjoy any city, especially the Old ones! There are two routes that lead to the shrine, one by the Hazratbal Road, through the city and Nigeen Lake; the other anticlockwise along the Lake and through the boulevards of magnificent gardens by Boulevard road. I chose the earlier one, it being shorter still an 8km walk. While crossing the bridge on lake, I met a Kashmiri guy who guided me through the alleys, which I loved to the core, towards the mosque. While walking, he told me how their lives have been getting back on track with tourism. According to him, foreigners aren’t afraid of Kashmir and they love roaming around. He was sorry for a few stone-pelters but, honestly, weren’t very comfortable to share his heart out. Well, probably I could understand and I shouldn’t try to give words to his feelings. I remembered the first taxi-guy I met at airport, who too wanted to share a lot, but wasn’t that comfortable. We could see the Army guys and trucks on corners and circles, near Gurudwara and Government buildings. It felt very weird and to good extent frightening to me, and I was praying not to meet any hooligan. That guy left me at a circle where the alley met the main road. There the army convoy was in anti-curfew outfit, with ... etc. I walked pass that area and after crossing NIT-Srinagar, reached another circle. On my left was a road with an actually disheartening look and stones on road, I could feel ‘something has happened’.  I could see the shrine on my left, though the main entrance was still at a hundred meters walk. I took a few snaps of the shrine and went ahead. So much I wanted to take snaps of the market, but yes I was scared. Taking recess at a kulfi-vendor, I asked about the market, and was told that have just missed the stone-pelting by a minute or so. Respecting the scene, I enquired autowalas to drive me back to Laal Chowk, and to no-surprise none agreed. That kulfi wala guy came to rescue me at that very crucial moment and arranged a seat in a pick-up auto for a few hundred bucks. That auto took the 16 km long Nishant Harwan-Boulevard road, and I enjoyed the ride happy that could take a round trip of the Lake. City was still alive, especially on the Boulevard road and Dal lake, but the talk I had with the driver alone that too in a ‘curfewed city’.

Amazing night of Dal Lake
Take aways
  1. As rightly said by one, there is no particular season to visit Srinagar. Whatever may be the season; one can visit this place any time and have a different view of the city.
  2. Most people are too good and amiable. They are going through bad times, but struggling hard to get on to the track. Respect them and roam freely, but yes – stay cautious. Just because of a few people Srinagar’s mood may change anytime, avoid being alone on roads.
  3. There are a lot of places to visit in and around Srinagar. Do your homework well before reaching the city.
  4. Give ample time to discover the Mughal Gardens – Shalimar Bagh and Nishant Bagh. They are not only marvellous, but also tell a magnificent historic tale. I missed it, and regret it :(
  5. Spend at least a night at a houseboat; it’s altogether a different experience. (for photolog on our houseboat, visit here.)
  6. Auto rates are on higher side, but that stays true with most of tourist destinations in India. Learn how to negotiate ;)
  7. If you want to shop ethnic Kashmiri, Meena Bazaar is probably the best place. I can’t assure the best rates, but this is the place I got recommendations for.
  8. Walking is the best way to learn a City, so is true with Srinagar with beautiful streets and great souls to interact with.
  9. And, please don’t visit Srinagar for just a day or two, spend some time here – you would never regret it :)

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