India // Jammu and Kashmir //

The lakes and gardens

Srinagar would be a major draw on the strength of its Himalayan scenery alone but it is the city’s serene lakes and grand gardens that make it irresistable. There are actually several large bodies of water dividing the urban sprawl into its constituent neighbourhoods but by far the largest is Dal Lake, with a surface area of approximately twenty-one square kilometres. The lake is usually as flat as a mirror and incredibly photogenic, with the surrounding peaks reflected in the greenish blue waters. Apart from the houseboats that cover its southern end, nearest the town centre, the lake is famous for its floating gardens, as well as the floating flower and vegetable market, best visited in the early morning. The nearby island of Nehru Park has pontoons for swimming and even water-skiing facilities. The best way to tour the lake is on a shikara. Depending on your bargaining skills, these cost around Rs100 per hour to hire.

The perimeter of Dal Lake is punctuated by lavishly ornamental gardens, a legacy of the seventeenth-century Mughal period. These collections of fountains, terraced lawns and flowerbeds reach their zenith in Nishat Bagh, halfway along the eastern shore, and Shalimar Bagh, set a little way back from the northeastern corner. Towards the northern end of the western shore stands Hazratbal mosque, whose huge white marble dome towers above its spacious courtyard. It is considered to be Kashmir’s holiest shrine, as its plain but vast interior houses a single hair of the prophet Mohammed, purportedly brought from Medina centuries ago. The scene of heavy fighting during the worst of the insurgency, it is once more a tranquil spot that welcomes outsiders along with the constant stream of worshippers.

Tucked between the spit of land behind Hazratbal and the Old City, much smaller Nageen Lake does not have any particular sights but is more peaceful for that very reason and quite a popular choice for houseboaters.