As you travel from one Indian state to another, you often feel like you have arrived in another country. Stepping off the plane in Kashmir was no exception. We said goodbye to Steve and Sarah in Guwahati and made our way to Delhi so that we could catch a flight to Srinagar.
Arriving in Srinagar was particularly dream-like, as we had to catch our flight from Delhi at 5am, meaning we needed to be up and out of the door by 3.30am.
The first thing to hit us was how clean it was everywhere. The second was the extent of military presence. This of course was to be expected in an area which has essentially been a conflict zone for six decades.
We arrived at around 6.30am which is a golden hour to be anywhere in the world. The majority of people are still sleeping, the roads are peaceful and if you’re lucky with the weather, the magical golden glow is cast upon your surroundings.
We travelled North with our friends Harsh, Henning and Coralie. The plan was one night in Srinagar before taking a jeep to Leh, via Kargill. To cut a long story short, we ended up flying back to Delhi the next morning for medical reasons. As we had suspected, everything turned out to be fine, but it was important to get all the wheels and cogs checked. As we’ve learnt, when you’re traveling, a change of plans can seem like a huge disappointment, but if you’re open, it will lead you down a new path and everything will fall into place.
Harsh arranged some amazing accommodation at Tree of Life in Delhi. (More about that later) Our host Ashwani recommended Zaffer House Boats in Srinagar. This was on Nigeen lake, next to the better known Dal lake. For many tourists, houseboats are one of the main attractions of visiting Srinagar. What could be more enchanting than spending the night on a peaceful, glassy blue lake, with a mountain backdrop, in a luxurious boat. Unlike houseboats in South India, these boats are stationary and are built to remain so. People actually began building houseboats in Kashmir in the 19th century. A law that is still in place today prevented Europeans who wanted to settle in Kashmir from buying land, so in order to get round this, people started to build their homes on the water. After the English rulers left, the homes were preserved as hotels and became a huge pull for the tourism industry.
The boats themselves are truly beautiful. Every inch of ours was adorned with every possible example of the intricate handicraft that Kashmir is so famous for. Beautiful wood carvings covered the front of the boat as well as the chairs and tables, while luxurious and vibrant fabrics lined every other surface. Huge papier-mâché vases covered in tiny detailed floral designs were in every corner. It was like living in an art gallery. Oh and the views were just otherworldly.
After a tiring morning of travel, being able to lie on the front of the boat looking at the woodwork, mountains and lake was tough.
Srinagar is actually really easy to get to. The one and a half hour flight from Delhi was around £120 return, so if these photos are tempting you, it’s really not that difficult to add to your bucket list.
After a napping session, multiple cups of Kashmiri kahwa, which is the yummiest tea we’ve ever tried, we took a shikara ride towards the mainland via Dal lake. Shikaras are wooden paddle boats found around Kashmir. Like everything else in the area, they tend to be beautifully decorated and are used for transporting goods and passengers. They are also used for fishing and water farming. Some people even live in them. Several times throughout our stay on the houseboat and while we were out on the lake, sellers would bob along next to us, attempting to sell everything from flowers, to jewellery to snacks.
Our journey across the lake took us about 2 hours. Bliss.
On the surface of Dal lake is a floating garden. The algae that grows in the lake provides the perfect foundation for a flowerbed. This provides locals with a unique area to grow their vegetables and because the area is susceptible to flooding (there was great devastation in the area in 2014) the floating gardens are a perfect solution, as they rise when the water does.
We met this man when he sailed alongside us and tried to sell us jewellery. Biscuit bribery was unsuccessful.
Although lots of them were destroyed in the floods, lotus flowers can been seen all over the place. Apparently there is a map of who owns which areas of the lotus garden. A kilo of lotus stems will fetch around 250INR at market (£2.50).
This bridge was originally connected to the road which separated Dal like and Ningeen lake. When the road was destroyed, it seems they couldn’t bring themselves to get rid of this beautiful arch.
Over on the mainland, we took a walk around Nishat Bagh, a huge Mughal garden. The place was absolutely pristine and bursting with colour, both from the array of flowers as well as all of the beautiful saris the women were wearing.
As the sun started to set we arrived back at our boat. Dinner was served in the form of a buffet. Afterwards were offered the opportunity to go and look at (purchase) some local Kashmiri craftwork by the owner of our boat.
We don’t tend to spend money on anything other than food, transport, art or accommodation as several months ago we parted with our home and many of the things we had been keeping inside it. However, it was undeniable that the items for sale in this store were some of the most delicate and stunning pieces of artwork we’d ever seen. So we bought a tray, a little box and an incense holder.
In a parallel universe, we then headed onto Ladakh with our friends, but in this one, we took a flight back to Delhi the following morning…