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Srinagar - Mughal Gardens and Dal Lake

Gardens and Lakes

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View Mountains, monasteries and much more - Lakakh and Kashmir 2013 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a lazy late start (the only lie-in we've had so far on this trip – we didn't actaully leave the boat until 09:50) and a very nice breakfast of masala omelette and birthday cake – with David being very excited at being offered hot OR cold milk for his corn flakes (that's a first, cold milk has been almost impossible to get here in Ladakh and Kashmir – corn flakes with hot milk is a bit like... erm... porridge) we noticed a dead fish in the lake water just off the boat. I didn't realise the champagne was THAT bad! Poor little thing, but what a way to go!

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Ali, the trusted Shikara paddler (there are only hand paddled boats on the lake, not motorised craft) took us to a different ghat (dock) on the mainland this morning which meant we got to see some different parts of the lake.

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At the ghat Tariq was waiting in his Innova to show us around Srinagar.

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The Mughal Gardens
The famous gardens of Srinagar were the Mughal Emperors' concept of paradise, and still give pleasure to locals and tourists alike. The gardens which are based around the lake, were laid during 16-17th century and back then they numbered was about five hundred but now only a few of these have survived. The layout was broadly taken from the Persian gardens, consisting of three terraces with fountains & lined with Chinar trees. Each of the 3 terraces carried distinct importance, the first one being the public terrace; called the Diwan-e-Aam. The second terrace called the Diwan-e-Khas was accessible only to nobles or guests of the court. And the third & the highest terrace called as “Abode of Love" was reserved for the king and the royal ladies.

Chashmashahi
The first of the beautiful Mughal gardens we visited today, Chashme Shahi Garden (also known as Royal Spring), was founded in 1632 with a length of 108 meters and breadth of 38 meters making it the smallest among the famous Mughal gardens. Tariq was not only our driver, he also acted as a guide and came around the gardens with us. He spoke very good English and was a joy to be with.

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At the second level of the gardens, a photographer took pictures of us dressed in traditional Kashmiri costumes, which we could then collect later at the exit. It was quite hot in the outfits, but we certainly amused the locals!

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The natural springs near the top are said to be hot in winter and cold in summer. One of the things with Tariq, was that he always assumed that we wanted our photo taken everywhere we went, so we probably have more photos of both of us from this one day withTariq than all the other days put together. I suppose having their photo taken in front of various attractions is what Indian tourists do....

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Shalimar Bagh
Mughal garden in front of the Dal lake constructed by Emperor Jahangir in 1619 for his beloved wife Nurjahan, with four terraces, imposing fountains, well laid out manicured gardens, tall trees & fresh mountain air.

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As we were walking along the path by one of the little ponds, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my leg. The another. At first I thought I'd been bitten, then it dawned on me that the strimmer was spewing out cuttings at the speed of light. They really quite hurt by the time they hit me!

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The gardens were very much 'under reconstruction' and I am sure they will be very nice when they are finished, but...... It didn't seem to put the thousands of Indian tourists off though.

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India is not known for its high standards of Health and Safety, and there were a few areas of these gardens that would probably have been condemned back home.

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Nishat Bagh
Situated on the banks of the Dal Lake, with the Zabarwan Mountains as its backdrop, this 'garden of bliss' was designed in 1633 by Asaf Khan, Nur Jahan's brotherand it is among the largest of the Mughal Gardens. It was also my favourite out of the three we visited today.

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Through the centre of the gardens, ran a little stream, with a series of cascades. Stepping stones and large slabs of rock acting as little 'bridges' allowed you to step from one side to the other, and was also used as props for Indian to photograph each other. And us. Every few yards we were stopped and asked by a group of Indians if they could have their photo taken with us. Initially it was just the brave young lads, then others jumped on the band wagon. We didn't really experience this so much in Ladakh (just on the odd occasion) but we have found it in some of the lesser touristy areas of India in the past.

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It was interesting talking to people in Ladakh about the fact that we were coming to Srinagar after – the opinion seemed to vary between: “Srinagar is so dangerous” and “Srinagar is so romantic”. I can't say I have found it particularly dangerous, not do I find these gardens especially romantic. But each to their own.

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Just as we were leaving, we were given a little rose bud each – for a small baksheesh of course.

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Arts and Crafts Emporium
We really thought we'd got away without having to do any shopping on this trip, but Tariq took us to the Arts & Craft Emporium where the carpets and shawls are mostly made by handicapped people – apparently some 8500 families are being helped by the work in this place. To be fair, the guy who showed us around did not put any great pressure on us to buy – we made it quite clear from the start that we weren't shoppers, but he insisted it “is a pleasure to show you around”.

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He explained that as today was a holiday, all his workers were off, but he was able to show us how each carpet has up to 600 'patterns' (the orange paper on the table), which is not written in Hindu or English, but in 'Carpet Language'. Each pattern is hand drawn completely by freehand, then the colours are added.

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Then of course he started to show us carpets, explaining about the various combinations of silk, cotton and yak wool. This gold and black carpet
This particular gold and black carpet took two people four and a half years to make.

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Because we so obviously weren't going to buy a carpet, the shawls came out, then the tablecloths (at my request). Unfortunately, all the tablecloths were square (and our table is rectangular), otherwise we might have bought something. I couldn't believe the amount of stock they kept – a huge room full of shawls, stacked from floor to ceiling.

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Back to the docks for the shikara ride to the houseboat for lunch, with a bit of bird watching along the way. Ali was always so good at slowing down when we saw something interesting and even turning the shikara around so that I could photograph the birds.

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When Mahmoud asked us yesterday after dinner if the food was OK as far as spiciness goes, I mentioned that I haven't yet found anything that has been too spicy for me, and when he brought our lunch today, he mentioned my 'challenge'. He made the dhal “very very spicy to suit madam” - it was still only a 7-8 on the Grete scale of spiciness, but it sure was delicious! We also had some aloo gobi (at David's request) and rice of course.
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Dal Lake
Later in the afternoon, we got Ali to paddle us around the lake. Affectionately known as “Venice of the East”, the “Kashmiri Venice” or Srinagar's Jewel, Dal lake is spread over 26 km²; partitioned in to four areas by four causeways and a myriad of inter-connecting channels.. The lake is an important source for fishing and water plant harvesting, and is part of a natural wetland which covers 21 km², including the floating gardens with its aquatic plants used as food, fodder and compost. These floating gardens, known as "Rad" in Kashmiri, are full of lotus blossom at this time of year. I loved the relaxing time, just watching the life on the water, with all its inhabitants – tourists, vendors, locals and workers.

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Where the lake opens up at the far end, several fountains are set into the water, and with the late afternoon sun, they created the most vivid and amazing rainbows I have ever seen!

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At this point Ali turned the shikara around and headed back into the sun.

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Taking a different route back to the houseboat, Ali showed us the 'floating market' and shopping district of the lake, with literally hundreds of shops on stilts at the edge of the water or in boats, paddling up alongside your boat, showing you their wares (and getting in my way for photography!).

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Further along, within an area that appears to be a maze of little canals, was the market gardens, where vegetables are grown - an area that was teeming with birds, including penguins. Penguins?

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With the narrow canals, this area seemed particularly busy with tourists, and we found ourselves being photographed constantly. At least this time we didn't have to actually DO anything, just sit there and look...arm... 'western'.

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Back at the houseboat we had a nice long chat with Ajaz, the owner, when the muezzin call to prayer could be heard, and Ajaz stopped mid-sentence with an "excuse me, I have to go for to break the fast". After 16 hours of not eating or drinking in this heat (Ramadan started a few days ago), I am not surprised about the urgency!

This being our last night in India, we had a love curry dinner, followed by half a night's sleep!

Posted by Grete Howard 09:32 Archived in India

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Comments

Awesome pics, Grete! Colors, expressions, all in great focus, vibrancy, and clarity. When I'm in India, I feel too uncomfortable taking pics of the locals. You've brought these places I haven't visited to life.

by Ajay Badachhape

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