Srinagar, located in predominantly Muslim Kashmir in far north India, is one of the top 10 hill station in India.
A place of splendid natural beauty, it's often referred to as the "Land of Lakes and Gardens". The gardens have a distinctly Mughal influence, as many of them were cultivated by Mughal emperors. Although civil unrest has been a concern
in the area, harming tourism in the past, calm has been restored and visitors are flocking to the area. Nevertheless, be prepared to see army personnel and police everywhere. Find out important information and travel tips in this Srinagar travel guide.
Getting to Srinagar:
Srinagar has a new airport (completed in 2009) and can be reached most easily by flight from Delhi. There are also daily flights from Mumbai and Jammu. The state bus company offers an inexpensive bus service from the airport to the Tourist Reception Center in Srinagar. If you're traveling on a budget, you may prefer to take an Indian Railways train to Jammu (these trains start from Delhi or pass through Delhi from other cities in India), and then travel by shared jeep/taxi to Srinagar (traveling time around 8 hours). Buses also run but they are much slower, taking around 11-12 hours for the journey.
A rail project is currently underway to link the Kashmir Valley with the rest of India, but it's not expected to be completed until at least 2017. Tunnels are also being built to cut the travel time from Jammu to Srinagar by around five hours, although they're not expected to be finished until 2016.
When to Visit Srinagar:
The kind of experience you want to have in Srinagar will determine the best time of year to visit. It gets very cold and snows in Sringar from December to February, and it's possible to go snow skiing in surrounding areas. If you want to enjoy the lakes and gardens, visiting between April to October is recommended. April to June is the high season. The monsoon usually arrives in Srinagar by mid July. September-October is also a good time to visit, and is not so busy. Foliage turns lovely deep, warm colors during October, as the weather becomes colder. Temperatures get quite hot during the day during summer, but are chilly at night. Make sure you bring a jacket!
Srinagar is most well known for its houseboats, which first appeared in colonial times as the British weren't allowed to own land. There are more than 1,200 of them, and they float upon Dal Lake, as well as quieter and cleaner Nigin Lake (adjoining Dal Lake). The houseboats are stationary but it's still a once in a lifetime experience to spend a night or two on one. A reader recommends Peacock houseboats
, on Nagin Lake. If you want to splurge on a deluxe houseboat, Chicago houseboats
have an excellent reputation. The Old City lies northwest of Dal Lake and is resplendent with mosques and Sufi shrines. Shalimar Bagh is the most famous garden in Srinagar, although you may be more impressed by Nishat Bagh, with its lake facing outlook. Shankaracharya Hill and the temple that sits on it also offer outstanding views of Dal Lake and Srinagar. The Boulevard is full of shops (and hotels), selling a range of Kashmiri handicrafts
. Go on a Jhelum River Cruise
to gain a fascinating insight into the city's heritage. You can also start the day by hiring a shikara (small boat) and exploring life on Dal Lake.
The annual Tulip Festival
takes place in Srinagar during the first couple of weeks of April. It's the highlight of the year there. In addition to being able to see millions of blooming tulips in the biggest tulip garden in Asia, cultural events are also held.
Srinagar Side Trips:
Indian tourists usually prefer to conduct their trip on an auspicious note, with a visit to Vaishno Devi shrine. It's best reached by helicopter from Katra, around 50 kilometers from Jammu. Gulmarg, India's version of a ski resort, is another popular destination. Day trips by jeep and bus are possible from Srinagar (it's around 2 hours, one way). There, a gondola will whisk you almost 3,800 meters up the mountain for outstanding views. It's the world's second highest cable car! Skiing is possible from mid Dec to mid March, depending on snowfall. It's also possible to go golfing, trout fishing, and river rafting in Pahalgam, around 3-4 hours from Srinagar. In addition, a spectacular mountain glacier is up for viewing at Sonamarg, less than 3 hours drive from Srinagar. The state bus company offers day trips to these destinations, leaving at around 8.30 a.m. A return trip costs around 310-350 rupees, depending on the destination. Tickets can be booked from the Tourist Reception Center.
Srinagar Travel Tips:
Avoid booking houseboats from tour operators in Delhi. There are plenty of scams and you never know what kind of boat you'll end up with! Reputable houseboats can be booked at Srinagar Airport. When choosing a houseboat, keep in mind that houseboats are categorized from deluxe to Category D -- so there's a boat for all budgets. The deluxe ones are palatial and typically have chandeliers, while the Category D ones often barely remain afloat. If you are on a budget, travel guides often recommend hiring a shikara and touring the lake until you find a houseboat you like. However, the shikaras are commonly affiliated with certain houseboat owners, and will take you towards the ones where they get commissions. Rates drop substantially (by over 70%) during the low season, so bargain hard. Make sure you pay particular attention to what's included in the rate. It usually includes meals and shikara rides back to the shore. Other things you have to consider are hot water, menu choice, and even if there will be other guests sharing the boat with you!
Expect to fend off plenty of touts, everywhere! Note that being a Muslim area, alcohol isn't served in restaurants in Srinagar, and most businesses shut for prayer at lunchtime on Friday. Bars can be found in select upmarket hotels. If you're flying out of Srinagar airport, do get there with plenty of time to spare (at least 3 hours before departure), as there are lengthy and multiple security checks. Also note that hand luggage, other than laptop and digital camera, is not permitted at Srinagar airport.
If you go to Gulmarg, you can save yourself a lot of time and hassle by booking gondola tickets online or in advance at the Tourist Reception Center in Srinagar. You'll face huge lines at the gondola otherwise. In addition, avoid visiting Pahalgam during July as it will be extremely busy with pilgrims going on the Amarnath Yatra.
You'll find plenty of budget hotels to choose from along the Boulevard. Otherwise, if money is no object, the best luxury hotels in Srinagar are the Lalit Grand Palace
and the Taj Dal View
. Hotel Dar-Es-Salam
is a popular boutique hotel that overlooks the lake. If you're on a budget but would still like to stay somewhere a bit special, take a look at Hotel JH Bazaz (Happy Cottage)
in the Dal Gate area. Hotel Swiss
, located just off the Boulevard, is a popular budget choice -- and here's a pleasant surprise, foreigners pay reduced rates (usually, foreigners are charged more in India)! The J&K Tourism Development Authority also offers reasonably priced hotels on their website.