Try and tick as many as you can off this list
This is, hands down, the most prominent natural attraction of Srinagar. Six kilometres long and three kilometres wide, the lakeside is lined with luxuriant chinars and poplars. Small, willow-covered islands give an ethereal ambience to the lake on misty mornings. Lending the lake some of its charm are the Mihrbahri people, who sell fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables from shikharas—elongated gondolas that also take tourists on a leisurely cruise.
The Mansabal Lake is located in the Jhelum valley, and at 13 metres, is considered to be the deepest of all lakes in the region. The deep blue surface of the lake has a carpet of lotuses. Overlooking the lake is the Mughal garden, built by Empress Noor Jahan. Mansabal Lake is one of the largest natural breeding grounds of aquatic birds in Kashmir, and has earned the title of ‘the supreme gem of all Kashmir lakes’.
The structure was built by the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan, Prince Dara Shikoh, in 1640 AD, for his tutor, the Sufi saint, Peer Mullah Shah. The name Pari Mahal, meaning Fairy Palace, is probably a distortion of ‘Peer Mahal’. This beautifully-terraced garden located at the base of Zabarvan Hills once used to be the Royal Observatory, overlooking the Dal Lake and Srinagar. The Palace, when lit up at night, is a captivating sight.
This ancient hilltop shrine, towering 335 feet over Srinagar, is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is said to have been built in 371 BC. The temple has been renovated and reconstructed by several rulers since. It is a great archaeological specimen, and also offers a stunning vista of the city. Before Saint Adi Shankaracharya came to this area, Buddhism was rampant in this region and the temple marks the beginning of Shiva worship in Srinagar and all of Kashmir.
This mosque is not as large, perhaps, as its namesake in Delhi, but it is a magnificent example of the glorious Indo-Saracenic architecture. Built by Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD, it has a magnificent courtyard and 370 wooden pillars, each made of an entire deodar tree. This Jama Masjid of Kashmir has seen a great deal of destruction. It was ruined thrice by fire and was resurrected every time, the latest such repair was done by the Hindu king Maharaja Pratap Singh.
On the northwestern bank of Dal Lake, against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, stands one of Islam’s holiest shrines. Originally intended as a pleasure palace back in 1623, today it stands in its latest avatar as a prayer hall. The shrine is believed to contain a strand of Prophet Mohammed's hair. The name comes from the Arabic word ‘hazrat’, meaning holy or majestic, and the Kashmiri word ‘bal’, meaning place.
Next to the Dal Lake is the Nishat Bagh, immaculately laid out against the backdrop of the Zabarvan Hills. Built in 1633 by Asaf Khan, brother of Empress Noor Jahan, the garden boasts of beautiful terraced layers that have water channels flowing down through them. Enter the garden, and it hits you with everything it has. Layered on steps, you see the entire garden all at once, with a backdrop of mountains and gorgeous chinar trees.
This was Emperor Jahangir’s gift to his favourite wife Noor Jahan; in typical Mughal-garden style, this too is terraced, with a water-feature flowing through the middle. The black marble pillars on the uppermost terrace, with tiny shelves cut into them, are not to be missed; they sported flowers by day and oil-lamps by night. Some argue that this is a more beautiful testament to love than the Taj Mahal built by Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan.
Gulmarg is one of the highest lift-served ski-resorts in the world. The last section of the lift takes you to a height of approximately 4,000 metres, giving the skier a downhill run of 5 km. Gulmarg is perfect for the advanced adrenaline-junkie and the gauche beginner equally, with a variety of slopes to choose from. Good quality equipment is available on hire on the spot from the state-owned ski shop. Tourists can also hire instructors for skiing lessons.
Sonamarg, the Meadow of Gold
The main trekking areas in Kashmir are the Sind and Lidder valleys, both resplendent with high altitude meadows. All trekking excursions in these parts start from the townships of Sonamarg and Pahalgam. Head to Sonamarg, 95 km from Srinagar; literally meaning 'meadow of gold', this is, geographically, a key town in all of the fertile valley of Sind. For trekking, hire trained guides who will take you over the most stunning landscape you have seen.