ABUNDANCE – it’s the first word that strikes me when I step foot into Kashmir. It’s summer and the orchards are in full bloom. Hundreds of luscious red apples dangle precariously off trees. Juicy peaches are being harvested. Walnuts are beginning to ripen in a nearby field. Hyacinths, irises and amaranth flowers line roads that lead to snow-clad mountains. Elsewhere Kashmir’s iconic Chinar trees provide resplendent shade to passers-by.
Here in Kashmir nature has an identity all its own. It enthralls and seduces in equal measures. If you fly to Srinagar, you will notice that it is easy to find incredible panoramas and drives everywhere you go. We’ve included some of our favourite suggestions for things to do in Srinagar in this article. Whatever you choose, don’t forget to take the time to talk to the people and listen to their stories. Kashmiris are warm and hospitable and regale visitors with sumptuous stories by the dozen. Of course, there is an unavoidable subtext of political conflicts and violence that mars many a tale, but that is what makes interactions with locals in Kashmir so enlightening. In fact these interactions will definitely be the highlight of your trip to Srinagar.
Things to see and do in Srinagar
Srinagar offers a plethora of scenic and experiential excursions – pick and choose the ones you like. Here is a list of things to see and do in Srinagar:
A sunset shikara ride on Dal Lake
A shikara ride on Dal Lake is a no brainer. Kitschy boats, bedecked with colourful carpets and rugs, welcome visitors to Kashmir. We suggest going for a ride during the evening so you can start when the sky is still blue and spot reflections of surrounding mountains and plans in the water and stick around till the sun sets. We visited Srinagar with my mom and this was one of her favourite things to do in Srinagar.
Visit Pari Mahal
This charming monument is literally known as the abode of the fairies in local parlance. It’s easy to see why! The multi-tiered monument and its grounds boast of a spectacular view of the valley. You can see the entire city of Srinagar, its lakes, and surrounding meadows from this vantage point.
Tulips and Gardens
Srinagar is home to Asia’s largest Tulip Garden. The flowers are in full bloom only for a short time during the months of March and April, so time your visit accordingly. They make for some spectacular views. But there is no shortage of scenic botanical gardens at other times of the year either – pencil Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Garden, or Chashme Shahi Garden into your itinerary and you won’t be disappointed!
This dainty white shrine is located right by the shores of Dal Lake. Drop by on a weekday and you’ll be surprised at how peaceful it is! Girls – make sure you carry something to cover your head and wear something that covers your elbows and knees. Otherwise, you might be denied entry!
Floating Market on Dal Lake
If you do not mind setting up your alarm for an unearthly hour, then visit the floating vegetable and flower market at Dal Lake at sunrise. This bustling marketplace is truly unique because vendors set up shop in boats and customers arrive by boat as well. Since this is one of the most popular experiences for tourists, expect to shell out around INR 2000-2500 (£25-30) for this experience.
A shikara ride on Nigeen Lake
If you’re not an early riser, then head to Nigeen Lake later in the day. A number of flower vendors from the floating market drift to Nigeen Lake around 8 am. Pick up a bunch for your hotel room or just go on a boat ride in a colourful shikara as you watch miscellaneous vendors and boatsmen go about their day. Nigeen Lake provides the perfect opportunity to escape the omniscient touristy hordes at Dal Lake.
A gander in apple orchards
If you enjoy experiential holidays, then try visiting Kashmir during summer months. During the months of July & August, you will be able to witness orchards in full bloom. Expect hundreds of trees laden with apples. Book a cooking class conducted in the midst of apple orchards or just pack a picnic and spend a languorous day under the Kashmiri sun.
Day Trips From Srinagar
If you are in Srinagar for a city break, then make sure you pencil in a couple of day trips in your itinerary. There is no shortage of scenic drives in the area. You could literally drive in any direction and be spellbound by the nature beauty of Kashmir. Here are a couple of our favourite day trips from Srinagar – pick the ones that suit your tastes best:
Sonmarg literally translates to Meadow of Gold and it truly lives up to that name. A 2 hour drive, peppered with little villages and scenic waterfalls, leads to Sonmarg. The picturesque valley is popular with both locals and tourists, so expect a crowd during summer months. If you have a day or two to spare, then you could also hike to the gorgeous Vishansar Lake in Sonmarg.
If you have a soft spot for offbeat places that do not feature on most tourists’ itineraries, then head to Yousmarg. Hundreds of pine trees and striking pastures frame this quiet and picturesque meadow. Yousmarg is only 50 kilometres from Srinagar, so it makes for the perfect day trip from the city.
Gulmarg is one of Kashmir’s most iconic spots and it is 1.5 hours away from Srinagar. It boasts of an impressive gondola ride that offers panoramic views of the snow-clad Himalayas. If you’re there during winter months, don’t forget to sample the skiing slopes at Gulmarg. You can read more about our time in Gulmarg in our article: road trip to Leh Ladakh.
The bustling town offers several sightseeing opportunities. We love the idyllic Aru Valley in the area.
Dachigam National Park
Dachigam National Park is less than 25 kilometres away from Srinagar. It’s idyllic environs aren’t the only draw here. It’s possible to spot the elusive Kashmir Stag, Black Bears, and dozens of colourful birds. However tourists need a special permit to enter the area, so you need to plan ahead if you intend on venturing to Dachigam.
Choosing Accommodation in Srinagar
Srinagar has a range of accommodation to cater to all budgets. As you probably know, we love luxurious and experiential holidays, so we chose to stay at The Lalit Grand Palace. As the name suggests, the hotel offers visitors a chance to stay at a refurbished palace – expect ornate furnishings, decadent chandeliers, and ornate staircases. If you’re not one for traditional tapestries and old-world charm, you can also choose a room in the modern wing. Expect contemporary furnishing and stunning views of the surrounding mountains here. We chose the latter and found ourselves lounging in our patio on the daily.
The Lalit Grand Palace is less than a 5 minute walk from Dal Lake, so it’s easy to head to the lake every evening at sunset or sunrise. But that isn’t even the highlight of a stay here. The rooms are positioned amidst 37 acres of private orchards and gardens. It is easy to spend entire days wondering through orchards laden with apples during summer months or bare boned trees, covered with powdery snow, during winter months. If you want to work up an appetite, go for a walk in their sprawling gardens or check out their fitness centre.
Dining was a definite highlight of our stay at The Lalit Grand Palace. The menus offer a variety of culinary options ranging from Oriental specialities to Kashmiri delights. We tried everything but as you probably know – we’re fruit eaters! So we loved the farm-to-fork concept the hotel promotes. Most of the food that is served at the hotel grows right there. Cue the most sumptuous fresh produce we’ve had in months – fruit juices squeezed fresh in front of our eyes, salads made from iceberg lettuce and herbs grown at the hotel, soups made from tomatoes grown on the property, and desserts garnished with walnuts from trees we picnicked under. And all this in an alfresco-setting that would put some of the world’s best restaurants to shame.
You can compare rates and book a room at The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar here. Check out this video to get a better idea of our stay at hotel and whether it’s right for you:
Things to eat in Srinagar
Sampling local food is an important part of experiencing Kashmiri culture because a lot of ingredients used in Kashmiri cuisine are native to the area and secrete tales about the people and the culture. Take, for instance, nadru (lotus stem) found in abundance in the lakes of the region or haaq – unique leafy greens found only in Kashmir.
Here’s a list of foods and culinary experiences you must sample when you are in Srinagar. Expect a generous serving of white rice with everything! Let’s go:
- Wazwan : No mention of Kashmiri food would be complete without Wazwan. Traditionally, it refers to an elaborate feast, featuring choicest delicacies, prepared specially for weddings and special occasions. But you will spot Wazwan tasting platters on most restaurant menus. Think of it as an introduction to Kashmiri food, a rustic dégustation menu curated by the head chef if you may. This is the perfect way to sample a series of local delicacies, ending with the indulgent gustaba, meatballs in a creamy yogurt-based sauce.
- Rogan josh: If you’re going the à la carte route, start with Rogan Josh. Flavourful curried lamb, which can be found all over India but tastes very different in Kashmir. It comes packed with flavour and with the slightest bit of gravy.
- Tuji – Tuji isn’t just a dish, it’s an entire experience in itself. Moreish morsels of BBQ’d meats are served with steaming hot sheer chai (a novel pink coloured flavourful tea) and traditional breads by the shores of the iconic Dal Lake. Friends and families congregate to partake in the ritual of snacking and gossip and laughter inevitably ensues.
- Haaq saag: A staple at ceremonies and occasions, this is a simple dish made with Kashmiri leafy greens, mustard oil, and salt.
- Nadru Palak: Another staple at dinner tables in the region, this is spinach cooked with lotus stem and a couple of Indian spices such as chilli and asafoetida . If you don’t enjoy greens, you could also try Nadru Yakni (lotus stem in a yogurt sauce)
- Tabak maaz: Kashmiri-style lamb ribs, marinated with local spices and milk, and fried. This indulgent delicacy is extremely popular with locals.
- Phirni: If you have a sweet tooth, do not leave the area without trying a bowl (or two) of phirni. This indulgent dessert is made from ground rice, cream, milk, sugar, cardamon, and a variety of nuts including almonds and pistachios. It is delicately flavoured with rose essence which lends it an inimitable flavour.
- Shufta: This is truly as indulgent as it gets. Shufta is a creamy dessert made with generous amounts of sugar, dried fruits, and nuts alongside a dash of pepper and cardamon. It is said to induce warmth on the coldest of days!
- Kahwa: Whether you opt for Wazwan or go the à la carte route, one thing is for sure. Kashmiri food will leave you feeling satiated but drowsy. It’s perfect to wash it all down with a cup of Kahwa – this flavourful concoction is made with green tea, saffron, and spices and serves with a generous sprinkling of slices almonds. It has dozens of health benefits and is said to be excellent for digestion, weight loss, and building immunity. It can also help warm you up on the coldest of days!
- On the subject of tea, there are a few quirky cafés in Srinagar, which are perfect for a cuppa with friends or family. Check out Chai Jaai, Books and Bricks, or the Game of Thrones themed Winterfell Cafe by the shores of Dal Lake.
That’s it – our favourite things to see, do, and eat in Srinagar. If you’ve been to this beautiful part of India and have some suggestions, please leave a comment below 😀