Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Trip to Heaven and Back...May be Not!! - Day 3 - Sightseeing Srinagar

Staying at Mount Villa was the only respite in the particularly unfriendly and hostile city. Situated in the bylanes not very far from the Dal Lake, this is an ancestral house converted into a homestay for guests travelling to the city. Managed by the very enterprising Yasmin Ali and her small team, we were made to feel extremely at home from the moment we set foot here. I'd made the bookings well in advance over the internet. The house is extremely tastefully done and reminded me so much of my maternal grandparent's house in Bareilly. A working fireplace, old blue ceramic pottery, wire mesh doors with springs, beautiful front and back gardens and old wooden furniture.  The food wasn't too elaborate, but well made and tasty. They also have an extensive menu to order from. 

 Our suite at the villa

 Seating area in the suite

 View from the window

 Entryway to the garden

 Beautiful bird bath

Its our third day in the city and we decided to explore the city a little more. We were suggested the local touristy places which include half a dozen gardens and a few religious shrines. We take off to the Shankaracharya Temple, dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, which sits on the Takht - i - Sulaiman Hill, about a thousand feet above Srinagar city. Made from stone, this temple was built where the great philosopher Adi Shankaracharya stayed during his visit to Kashmir. We alight the taxi and begin the climb to the temple. About five kilometers from the temple, we are asked to alight, barring the driver, made to walk through scanners and metal detectors. The taxi driver drops us a kilometer away from the actual temple site since the road up is extremely narrow and jammed with parked vehicles and buses of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims. No cellphones, cameras, or any other electronic equipment are allowed into the temple so you must leave everything in your vehicle. It is imperative that you arrange for your own travel to the temple and the city, local transport is totally absent. The entrance of the temple is a huge army and police checkpost. You need to stand in separate lines and get checked thoroughly by police officers. Once thats done you begin climbing the two hundred steps to the actual shrine. It isn't as tiring as you think, we were up in about thirty minutes :) The view of the city from the temple is breathtaking, The entrance to the actual temple is narrow and small and only one person is permitted at a time, so you need to get into an unending queue. I conveniently missed that and hung around the outside admiring the view. 

View of the city from somewhere near the Shankaracharya Temple

Our second stop is Pari Mahal, which translates to a grand palace. This palace was originally a Buddhist monastery. The various gardens around the outside of the palace are what attract tourists to it. There are no guides, no history mentioned anywhere except a small board at the entrance. 

Chashme Shahi not very far away from the Pari Mahal is what we visit next. The driver explains to us that this garden boasts of a spring that flows directly to the center of the garden from the mountains behind it. The spring water is said to possess many curative properties. This was the dirtiest of all the gardens that we saw around the city. People were washing and spitting right into the spring. We grab lunch at the only restaurant here managed by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism. The food is nothing great and we ask for some rajma (Kidney Beans) and steamed rice. The rice arrives undercooked so we know they don't get too many guests eating at the restaurant. 
We wanted to get done with the rest of the gardens in the city, so that I could go have a look at the local market for Kashmiri fabric and jewellery.
Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh are like the other gardens and are a real waste of time. Siraj Bagh or the tulip garden is closed during this time of the year. 
After I insist on being taken to the local market. The driver takes us around to a few emporiums, run by the local business men, which are just dingy basements with over priced leather and woolen stuff. Every seller says he's selling pure pashmina! You will not find any women around to help you buy the Kashmiri Phiran, which comes in various fabrics and awkward sizes. The hostess at the homestay recommended Polo View Market to shop for fabrics and knick knacks, but I found nothing original and interesting. I came back from Kashmir with no fabric :(( 
Our last stop for the day is The Hazratbal Shrine. This shrine houses the a strand of hair of Prophet Mohammed. It's also well known for its beautiful dome and minaret. Sadly we got to see nothing of its grandeur as the dome was covered for renovation. Men are allowed to go inside the shrine, but women are only allowed to go all around the shrine to the back leading to a room covered with sheets all around. There's nothing to see! 
Our driver was extremely impatient and dropped us off at the Villa. He had to be home for breaking of the Roza (Fast) at sunset. 
To get the mood up, I arranged a little tea party along with the hostess, in the garden. My Ma-in-Law hadn't cut a cake for her Birthday so thats exactly what we did. The cake was ordered from one of the oldest bakeries around, Jan Bakery. I've never had such a light fluffy cake ever other than what my Ma bakes at home!  

Tea party in the garden

 The mouthwatering cake

All smiles at the tea party

The day was long and tiring and we get to bed early. Oh I must mention, at three in the morning we are woken by the loud sound of drums beating at the window. Both the Mister and I are startled and jump out of bed to the door only to be told that this is a ritual for the month of Ramadaan! 
Early next morning, we have another surprise in store for us that ruins our visit to the glaciers at Gulmarg :(( Thats in my next post. 
Hope you're having fun reading :))


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