We started back from Pahalgam for Srinagar. Again beautiful views on the way, saw many houses with apple trees in their backyard, apart from the traditional larger orchards.
Apple Orchard Stopover
On the way, stopped over at Apple orchards again, where the owners sell fresh-cut fruits as well as freshly squeezed juices, cartons of apples of both varieties- Golden & regular red apples. The former can stay fresh for 3 months, but Red variety gets spoiled sooner. We tasted the apples and also had the freshly squeezed juice(made by hand-operated machine). It tasted heavenly, and unlike anything, I have had before. Naturally chilled in the fresh Winter air and seemed to embody the beauty of Kashmir in its flavors. Bought a carton of apples(Golden- 5 kg).
The Golden variety doesn’t look much appealing to the eye(pale green, turns yellow on ripening), and as we are traditionally inclined towards equating redness of apples with a sweet taste, one tends to prefer the Red variety at first. Our driver recommended that we pick the Golden ones as they taste better, have a longer shelf life, crisp, juicy and thick almost like a dessert in itself. We were happy with this decision as the flavor stayed good for another week and we enjoyed this sweet memory of Kashmir a little longer.
On the way at Pampore, we saw Saffron fields on either side of the road. The saffron saplings had just come out, so it wasn’t the beautiful purple color, that you would see in the season.
Got our first taste of kahwa, freshly brewed in Samovar(traditional kettle) and served with almond shavings.
Onward, on reaching Srinagar, we had lunch at Krishna Vaishno Dhaba (on the Srinagar-Leh highway, 10 km before Dal Lake) famous for pure vegetarian dishes like Rajma Chawal and Kadhi Chawal. The shops had opened and there was usual activity on the streets as elections were over. The place was quite crowded due to it being peak lunch hour.
An aside on Dal Lake. Apart from being a major tourist attraction, and being synonymous with Srinagar, it is a major aquatic ecosystem with thriving marine and botanical life forms. Nigeen Lake is its tributary, which also is quite a popular site for houseboats. While the former is crowded most times, Nigeen offers a comparatively peaceful setting due to lesser houseboats. Nevertheless, there is beauty and scenery all around to be enjoyed, no matter which one you pick.
To reach the houseboats, you typically get on a shikara, a typical wooden hand-rowed boat made from Deodar wood. Generally, one to and fro shikara ride is covered within the houseboat booking. For other rides, they can be hired from any of the ghats leading to the lake.
Reached Dal Lake and booked a Shikara ride. Dal Lake is quite huge and we spent around 2 hours in the shikara to explore the scenery of mountains, floating markets, a floating post office, and the wide array of houseboats. Quite a relaxing ride. We stopped for a much-awaited cup of Kahwa. Our boatman, Kareem Chacha, kept us entertained with interesting tidbits throughout the ride. Saw a lot of movie shooting spots from famous Bollywood films like Kashmir Ki Kali, Mission Kashmir etc.
Visited Shankaracharya Temple located on top of Shankaracharya Hill dedicated to Lord Shiva. The hilltop had a beautiful view of the Srinagar city. There are around 250 steps leading to the temple which we covered in half an hour. Phones are not allowed in the temple, so you must deposit them at the entrance below.
Garden Hopping in Dal Lake
There are quite a few options for garden hopping. You can choose between Botanical garden, Nishat Bagh Garden and Mughal Garden. Personally, I found botanical garden quite ordinary, with a lot of usual park activities that can be found in any city. So we decided to give a skip to the other two.
On the western shore of the Dal, opposite Nishat Bagh, stands Hazratbal, a monument which houses a holy relic of the Prophet.
The street market here(Hazratbal Dargah Market) is quite buzzing especially on Fridays with vendors, locals, and tourists, and is quite famous for local street food. Being a foodie, this was a must on my list. Though not a Friday, we still enjoyed some of the local fares.
- Masale: Boiled black beans sprinkled with a chilly and salt mixture.
- Paratha and halwa: Enormous fried paratha and suji ka halwa. You can buy small portions of this paratha.
- Masale Tchot: Lavasa, a type of Kashmiri flatbread, stuffed with a boiled chickpea paste and topped with some spicy radish chutney and curd. Though we had this at evening time, this dish is typically had in the mornings.
It was quite dark by the time we got dropped at Nigeen Lake pickup point. They showed us the rooms, four in all. The interiors had intricate craftwork. Complementary Kahwa was served to us, and was comforting in the chilly night air.
Waking up to a serene morning on the lake, admiring the first daylight on Nigeen, we concluded our Day Two.