This is the Travelogue on Srinagar-Part II; The Srinagar chronicles continue and I wish by the time they end I am there again! Wishful thinking or is it possible?Kashmir has always been on the top of my bucket list but somehow evasive. I have no idea why the media has created a scare about visiting Kashmir. I can vouch that Srinagar is as safe a place as any other metro and I was wandering on my own the whole time. There are many places that I still wanted to see. Let me take you around to the Winterfell Café, Floating market, the historical Hazrat Bal mosque, the Jamia Masjid, Lal Chowk, and Downtown.
My daughter was working, and believe me, she works really hard and the only time she stepped out with me was on a Sunday afternoon to Winterfell Café; their interiors are themed on the Game of Thrones. She said there was a storytelling session and booked tickets. I went thinking I was going to listen to some novel stories and to my surprise, it was a storytelling workshop and we were going to be participants. I enjoyed the buzz created by the young girls around me. All of them were wearing a hijab and were very articulate, confident and knew what they wanted to achieve in life. Now I had never heard of Kommune; the storytellers Hari Sankar and Shamir Reuben and I realized that they were quite popular with the young crowd. Yes, I was the oldest participant there but then that was fine by me. I was the first one to be called to tell my story and I was surprised to be applauded by the youthful crowd there.
The floating market was next on my agenda but that was at dawn around 5.30 to 7am. I had to book a shikara in advance and asked the driver, Latif to pick me up at 5. It seemed an unearthly hour but I was awake before the alarm went off and was ready and waiting for the driver. Dawn was just breaking and the sky was blushing like a rose. I stepped onto the shikara gingerly and settled down imbuing the panoramic view in my heart and capturing it in my shutter lens. I actually wished I was a better photographer. The name of the shikara was New King of Kashmir, wonder who the old was!
We passed infinite stretches of pale pink lotus that looked ethereal in the morning light. The lotus flower, with its exquisite Corolla, blooms all over the Dal and is an enthralling vision of delicate shades of pink and white. The lake is dotted with Boathouses and each has a really fancy name.
There are all kinds of stores in the lake selling groceries, vegetables, cigarettes and even live poultry. What made me really happy was to see gender equality on the lake; there were women paddling canoes on their own and this was a very uplifting moment for the woman in me.
The only one of its kind in India, the floating market where vegetable sellers sell their ware from 5am to 7am on the lake and the rest heads to the local market. The produce is fresh and grows alongside the lake. The market is popular and many tourists come especially to take pictures. The shikara took a turn and the sight of the place agog with sellers wooing their buyers in innovative ways was invigorating. The vegetable sellers had local customers while the spice, woolens, imitation jewelry and flower sellers, cozied up to the tourist shikaras and struck up lively conversations and followed them back to the pier. The guy with the spices was speaking in immaculate English and tried to sell me saffron, cinnamon, kahwa, cardamom at exorbitant prices. Another pulled up along the other side of the shikara and displayed leather bags and woolen scarves. I was pretty amused by their selling skills and succumbed to the flowing tongue of the flower seller. I don’t know if the lotus seeds will ever sprout but the way he entertained me was worth the money I paid him. He gifted me a small bunch of flowers and said that a gift worth a rupee is worth a million; free gyaan! I picked up silver filigree trinkets from a gray haired gentleman who was sailing alongside my shikara patiently.Only when the others moved away did he try to sell his wares. He took out exquisite pieces from his treasure chest and I had to use all my bargaining skills to buy what I wanted at a price i felt was reasonable.
The sun was out now and most of the sellers were rowing out with their almost empty canoes. My shikarawala was a kind old man and offered me Noon chai and Lavasa; my first taste of noon chai or pink chai (noon means salty) I usually don’t take milk but I wanted to taste it and it wasn’t bad at all. We headed back to the pier while the spectacular sunrise with its golden hues was reflecting on the blue green waters of the lake radiating a magical aura.
The Shankaracharya Temple is on top of the Gopadari Hill on the Zabarwan Mountain and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is at a height of 1,000 feet above the plain and overlooks the city. The temple dates to 200 BC and was visited by Adi Shankaracharya and this is how the temple got the name Shankaracharya. It is also regarded as sacred by Buddhists. The Shiv Ling was placed inside during the Sikh period in the 19th century. It became an active Hindu temple when regular services were conducted. I did climb the last time I was in Srinagar and I wished I was decades younger again and could climb the 250 odd steps to the temple to have a panoramic view of the city but my bad back would have not taken it well so I just went up halfway and soaked in the view from there.
The day I visited the gardens was a Friday and I avoided going to the Hazratbal Mosque as it would be really crowded so I set out the next day this time in an auto rickshaw. Ashraf the driver was pointing out all the important spots en route. The mosque is on the left bank of the lake and is one of the holiest places in the state. The dargah houses a priceless relic; Moi-e-Muqaddas, a sacred hair of Prophet Muhammad. This relic is publicly displayed during the festivals and there is a huge fair outside. In the early 17th century, Sadiq Khan, the subedar of Emperor Shahjahan, had built a palatial edifice and garden which was later converted into a prayer house on the orders of Shahjahan. The holy relic arrived in Kashmir during the reign of Aurangzeb and was kept in the shrine of Naqashbad Sahib but in time the thronging crowds could not have a glimpse of the relic and hence it was shifted to Hazratbal.The entrance to the mosque is lined with various food and other vendors selling vegetables, fruits, and even terra cotta pots. It took 11 years to build the Mosque and is the only domed mosque in Srinagar. The pristine white marble façade reflects in the waters of the lake. Women are not allowed inside and I peered through the grilled gates but there was nothing I could see. I walked around the wide open courtyard and saw families picnicking, kids playing, a young man trying to catch some elusive fish and of course many were taking a ride on the shikaras.
Lal Chowk & Downtown
My daughter, Esha and I went shopping to Lal Chowk to stock up the kitchen and I had a good look at the market I have read so much in the newspaper headlines. Another moniker for it is Clock Tower or Ghanta Ghar and it is THE place where all sorts of protests take place and the flag hoisted on Independence Day and is closely guarded by the militia. But all was calm while I was there.I sighted many bookstores in the market and even while talking to people I came across, education was given a lot of importance.
Downtown was typical of most wholesale markets in the country and the stores openly displayed their wares. Kashmir is renowned for its handicrafts like carpets, shawls, silk, crewel stitched and embroidered fabrics, walnut wood carvings, papier mache products, namdas or rugs and basketry and of course the silken soft pashmina shawls made from cashmere wool that is incredibly priced and coveted. I was chiefly looking for copper products but I knew I could not carry much stuff. Copper and Silver Ware stores were Downtown and that’s where I went to just to browse around but ended up buying a copper plate and a very fancy spoon. It is not advisable to eat in copper and hence they are given a silver coating before being used in the kitchen or dining. The silverware is exquisite, like something out of the Arabian Nights. The shops were choc a bloc with hand-beaten samovars, plates and other utensils made of copper but polished when selected. The inlay and enamel work engraved or even embossed on the copper vessels are highly aesthetic.
The Jamia Masjid at Nowhatta, in the heart of the old city, is a prominent landmark of the city where thousands of people congregate for the Friday prayers. The mosque is impressive and is built around a courtyard supported by 370 wooden pillars. I felt tiny below the imposing pillars. The mosque has a bustling market all around it but once you enter, the hushed silence is very calming and the tranquility gives a spiritual atmosphere. When I entered the precincts of the mosque, I felt blessed and I sat a while in the serene ambiance imbibing the history, spirituality, and humility of millions of devout who have offered prayers there. It was originally built by Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD, and extended by his son, Zain-ul- Abidin, it is a typical example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. It was destroyed thrice by fire and rebuilt each time, the mosque, as it now stands, was repaired during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh. Jamia Masjid, is the biggest Mosque in Kashmir, is known as one of the sacred shrines of Islamic followers. Be it the holiness or the constructional elegance, Jamia Masjid is quite unparalleled in every aspect. It does not have a dome but is built in Pagoda style and looks very elegant. Jamia Masjid symbolizes one of the best architectural specimens which survived the ravages of time ever since it was constructed in the valley of Jammu & Kashmir.
I have covered almost the whole of Srinagar. I skipped Nageen Lake and wished I could visit the tulip garden but they bloom only in April. That gives me an excuse to visit again!
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