Saturday, July 18, 2015

Beyond Dal Lake: The Other Srinagar

Srinagar conjures up images of Dal lake, breath-taking gardens and endless Shikara rides.

Shikara on Nigeen Lake
But there is another part of Srinagar, beyond the picture perfect postcards, waiting to be discovered.  We did just that!

Peacock Houseboat on Nigeen Lake
Easily bored of photographing flowers at the Chashme Shahi garden, we skipped the other revered gardens (Shalimar and Nishat garden) and instead chalked out an off-beat itinerary with the help of our driver.  We drove the periphery of Dal Lake to enter Old Sringar. 

Array of flowers at Chashme Shahi
Old Srinagar is built around Jhelum River.  Often overlooked by regular tourists, its narrow lanes, market squares and artisan areas make a stunning backdrop for the visually and spiritually appealing mosques to stand for centuries. 

It was the first week of month long Ramazan and our driver suggest that we visit two mosques/ prayer areas between prayer timings: Khanqah of Shah Hamdan and Jama Masjid.

Khanqah of Shah Hamdan

We arrived at Khanqah an hour before Zohar (noon prayer).  Located on the right bank of Jhelum river around 1400AD, this complex was built in honour Mir Sayed Ali Hamdani (a Sufi poet and famous muslim scholar).  I was under the misconception that Khanqah is a mosque; however, it is a very typical kind of a building complex (usually adjacent to mosques) designed to act as a spiritual retreat.  Today Khanqah is revered as an architectural masterpiece and epitome of Sufi brotherhood.

My first glimpse of the mosque was from the dusty road as I tried to admire the structure between numerous electricity wires.  As I walked closer, hordes of pigeons flew around the white dome on the gate and the gathering area outside the Khanqah.  

Built mostly in wood, the generous use of green colour trimmings at Khanqah lends a beautiful contrast to the deep brown of the wood.  The windows on the first level and pinnacle of Khanqah can be seen from far. 

However, what took my breath away were the ornate papier mache carvings on the Khanqah – intricate flowers, bells and holy inscriptions.  

Interestingly, Khanqah has been destroyed couple of times by fire and rebuilt each time.  This has led to minor modifications to the original building structure, however, I am certain than Khanqah is as beautiful today as it was back in 1400 AD. 


The square in front of Khanqah has a covered area where devotees can sit, reflect upon and pray.  I'd think this square serves as the perfect gathering place during sermons.

Khanqah is open only to muslims.  However, non-muslims are allowed to take a glimpse inside the Khanqah through lattice window.  


I literally oogled at the elaborate papier mache carvings, lit by huge chandeliers and fairy lights; and then oogled some more. 


Visitors at Khanqah are also allowed to tie threads to the windows on the front of Khanqah and make offerings/ ask for blessings, like believers do at shrines. 

We spent considerable time chatting with two-three Sufi saints/ devotees sitting in front of the Khanqah.   


The wrinkles on their faces and the humbled smile immediately warmed us.  Their words of wisdom, stories about Islam/ Sufi brotherhood kept us interested.  

On their suggestion, we even took a walk around the periphery of Khanqah.  We came across many devotees walking about and some, enjoying the shade Khanqah offered.

Jhelum runs right behind the Khanqah and offers pilgrims an alternative route, other than the road, to get here.  We stood by the banks of Jhelum, and looked out at Old Sringar from the Khanqah. 

Having spent considerable time here, we bid Khanqah adieu; but not before the pigeons flew one more time bringing Khanqah to life! 

Jama Masjid

Next up and just after Zohar, we visited Jama Masjid/ mosque.  I Know, I know, you’re thinking so many Indian cities have a Jama Masjid (Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabar, etc) – well, exactly my thoughts as well!

Now, Jama masjid is a classic example of Indo-Islamic architecture and was also built in 1400 AD.  Strangely, the road at the entrance of Jama masjid was quietist among the roads we drove through in Old Srinagar.  

No doubt the tranquillity would followed inside as well, my exact thoughts, as all of us girls covered our head with scarves, as per tradition at the mosque entrance.  

Then we entrusted a smiling man with our shoes and set-out to explore the mosque. 


The first attraction was the splendid prayer area.  With its floor covered in rich Kashmiri carpet and pillars after pillars in bright wood, this prayer area could easily accommodate over 300 devotees during festivities.  The dimly lit courtyard and the light filtering in from small windows all around the prayer hall lent it a mysterious aura. From the prayer hall, we walked on a green carpet that led us to the main courtyard. 

Standing at the start of the courtyard, I could see a fountain in the centre, surrounded by cemented walkways leading to the mosque structure on three sides.  Interesting, this mosque does not have any domes/ minarets but spires that lead one’s eyes to the sky above.  

From the mosque square, one can also see a fort in the distance.

A bunch of elderly devotees were sitting and chit-chatting around the fountain.  Other devotees were performing wudu before their prayers (ritual of washing hands and feet).  Clearly, the fountain in the centre was built not only to elevate the beauty of the mosque.

We walked around the courtyard, but mostly we just enjoyed the tranquillity the mosque offered.  We sat by the fountain while the sound of the water was a welcome music to our ears!

When the silence got too much to bear, we clicked away to glory! 

Makdoom Sahib Dargah

We wanted to look at Old Srinagar from an elevated spot.  Our drivers suggestion of visiting Makdoom Sahib Dargah gave us that opportunity. 

Built on a hillock, this shrine can be reached by road (followed by a 10 minute flight of stairs) or cable car.  We reached there by road, partly as the rope way did not look exciting, but mainly because it seemed shut.

This shrine commemorates Khwaja Makhdoom Sahib and overlooks Old Srinagar.  

Wishing well

The shrine complex also has a wishing well and a public library.

Also, the considerable pigeon population did not surprise me!  

I skipped the shrine and wandered about, looking at the view from the boundary wall. 


I’d be honest, the view isn’t stunning; from this vantage point we could haphazardly built Old Srinagar.  The jewels to the view were Hari Parbat, a gurudrawa in distance and walls of the fort adjacent to the shrine. I won’t really recommend a visit here if you are pressed for time.  

Nevertheless, it gave us a breather in the jam-packed day and our driver a chance to say his afternoon prayers.

Streets of Old Srinagar

Streets of Srinagar, better known as ‘mohollas’ are cramped and full of life.  


There are vendors in every corner and generally people go about their business peacefully. To me, Srinagar seemed much safer while I was there compared to when I watch the city on national news!


I had a chance to chat up with a shop-keeper - cum - artist.  He was embroidering a traditional Kashmiri dress called Pheran. The rich embroidery on deep colours of the velvet made for a lovely attire, though I did not see anyone wear this dress in person.

Oddly, most restaurants and food vendors seemed shut due to Ramazan. We ended out tour-de-Old-Sriinagar with lunch at Mughal Darbar (Lal baug area).  This place is supposed to serve authentic wazwan, but we gave that a skip and stuck to kebabs and curries.  The food disappointed us, but we were high on taste of Old Srinagar and looking forward to our stay on a houseboat – hence the spirits were still high!


Soumyendu said...

This reveals the true traveller in you, Preeti. Absolutely wonderful, the pictures and the commentary.
By the way, did you visit the dargah which is rumoured to be the final resting place of Jesus, the Rozabal dargah? It is also located in the old city.

Preeti Datar said...

Dear Soumyendu, Thank you for the kind words. I was in Srinagar just for a day. Perhaps, I shall visit Rozabal during my next trip :)

Cmde Harshad Datar said...

Ur writings r always good. With passing time and experience they have become even better. Enjoyed reading it.

Preeti Datar said...

Thank you! Keep reading!

Channelling Ether said...

was a nice read!


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