The news of planning a trip to Srinagar was not at all welcomed by my family members. They were concerned and afraid like hell. And why not, thanks to the media, we were hearing so many incidents these days.
To be honest, not just parents , we were also scared a bit. Few of our friends were in Srinagar and surrounding areas a week before, so we were connecting with them and asking about the ground situation.
So how it went out for us ?
Keeping all fears aside we packed our bags and boarded the flight to heaven on earth ! As soon as we landed, there was an announcement by the captain— “This is a defense airport, clicking photographs is strictly prohibited on this airport”. This announcement was enough to remind everyone about the sensitivity of the area.
We deboard the plane and I start looking around eagerly. The airport is small so we didn’t have to get on a bus or skybridge to get to the arrivals gate. I was using this slot to check out the airport. It was surrounded by huge mountains. On entering the gate there was a hoarding saying “Welcome to Heaven on Earth” and a tourist information center. We collected our bags, picked some tourist pamphlets and left for the hotel.
On our way to hotel we crossed small water streams, Jhelum river, witnessed cute houses with slanting roofs and zero bridge. And yes we saw army men standing at each 1 km or so, guarding the city. We asked our driver if it is one off day or is it like this always, to which he replied “ Aisa koi masla nhi hai sir, ye to normal hai yaha, fikar ki koi baat nhi” — No such matter, its normal here, don’t worry.
We were already in love with the place. City is so clean , air so fresh and their language, masha allah! Kashimiri language has its own charm. It is heartbreaking that this adorable place which should be on every traveller’s list is mostly known for clashes, stone pelting, encounters, curfews and similar unpleasant events. Unfortunately most people are afraid of visiting Srinagar.
On reaching hotel we had a warm welcome and were offered “Kashmiri Kehwa” — a famous local tea which is basically a mix of cardamom, cinnamon, nuts and saffron , which supposedly keeps you warm in cold weather , builds immunity and burns fat. We spent around 30 mins in hotel and then went out for lunch followed by local sightseeing. We were in search of some vegetarian food. We passed through restaurant Delhi da dhaba, it was overflowing with tourists, we had to skip it and look for something else. Finally we had decent lunch at Moti Mahal near Shalimar Bagh.
After having lunch we went to Shalimar Bagh. Srinagar has many gardens built by Mughals like — Nishat garden , Chashme Shahi garden and Shalimar Garden of course. They are known for the large Chinar trees, fresh water springs and Persian architecture. We visited Srinagar on first weekend after the holy month of Ramzan , so there were many locals having picnic and enjoying themselves. Everything appeared so normal — school kids playing in water, locals having gala time , amidst all this we also started feeling touristy. We captured some frames and then went for shikara ride (Gondola ride) in world famous Dal lake.
Honestly speaking, we were not very comfortable in getting down at places, exploring local streets and markets , clicking pictures like we would otherwise do. While on shikara, I was having mixed feeling. A part of me was impressed by the picturesque place but I was still frightened. When your mind is full of notions it hard to be at ease. We have heard all sort of matters through media and hence were very conscious about every thing. In this state talking to locals was of great relief. Our driver, the shikara guy, hotel staff, they all were saying same thing — media has defamed Srinagar, some issues are there but its totally safe for tourists, no one wants to harm them as they are our bread and butter. I know it is very obvious to hear such things from them, but it was helping us free up our thoughts and create some space for other side of the matter. It was time to form new enduring relationships with the place.
The day was proceeding in a good way, our perspective was getting more clarity and direction and so was our shikara ride. We crossed few points in the lake witnessing house boats, floating shops, Meena bazaar, Mission Kashmir shooting point etc. There were tourists as well locals rowing in the lake.
Shopping — Kashimir is known for dry fruits and pashmeena wool. We purchased some pashmeena stuff at a Government approved emporium. They had a wide range of wool quality to choose from.
Best time to visit — it depends on what do you want to see. Whiles summers are generally pleasant and more favorable for sightseeing , winters offers amazing views with snow covered mountains. Generally April- October is considered most suitable time to visit Srinagar and near by places like Sonamarg, Pahalgam and Gulmarg.
So my take on “shall we or shall we not visit Srinagar” — I am so glad that I visited this beauty! For someone who is not sure or is afraid of planning a trip to Srinagar, don’t be afraid, just be a bit cautious. Be aware of the current situation in the valley. We all know the place has suffered a lot and at times things may go wrong . Thumb rule is to visit only tourist attracts rather then being adventurous in roaming around anywhere. Be gentle with the locals and they will be the same.