SRINAGAR, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, is a city of lakes and waterways, gardens and picturesque wooden architecture. The old quarters of the city sprawl overt both sides of the Jhelum river, crossed by seven II idges. Although the bridges have their own names (such as Amira Kadal and Zaina Kadai), they are also known by their numbers; an Eighth Bridge, built more recently (in the 20th century) above First Bridge, is known with typical Kashmir wit as Zero Bridge. This serves the modern part of the city, built in the late 19th century. At the city’s edge are the idyllic Dal and Nagin Lakes, – linked by a network of backwaters. Srinagar’s mosques and shrines are among the city’s most attractive features.
Typically, these are built of wood intricately carved in geometric patterns, and instead of a dome they are surmounted by a pagoda-like steeple. The most striking examples are the Mosque of Shah Hamadan in the old city, and the Shah Makhdum Sahib Shrine on the slopes of Hari Parhat hill. Two conventional stone mosques, the Batthar Mosque and the Mosque of Akhund Mulla Shah, both beautifully proportioned structures, date from the 17th century. In an altogether different style is thee Hazratbal Mosque, with its dazzling white dome and single slender minaret. Rebuilt in the Saracenic style after a fire in the 1960s, it contains Kashmir’s most sacred relic, a hair from the beard of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Mughai emperors delighted in Kashmir’s beauty and further enhanced it by introducing the stately tre china (Platanous Orient)alis to the Kashmir Valley. They also created terraced hillside gardens designed around fountains and watercourses, which were formed by channeling water from natural springs or streams. Of the 777 Mughal gardens that reportedly once graced the Kashmir Valley, not many survive. There are three, however, within easy reach of Srinagar, on the eastern shore of the Dal Lake Chashmashahi , Nishat and Shalimar Gardens.
the pretty Chashmashahi Garden, and rising tier upon tier on the mountainside, are the ruins of a 17th-century religious college. Built by a Mughai prince for his teacher, it is somewhat incongruously known as Bari Mahal or “Palace of the Fairies”. From this vantage point, there are heart-stopping views of Dal Lake and the snowy ridge of the Pir Panjal Range.
ENVIRONS: Vestiges of Kashmir’s pre-Islamic past can be seen in the ruins of magnificent Hindu temples at Avantipora, 28 km (17 miles) southeast of Srinagar, and Martand, 60 km (37 miles) southeast of Srinagar. The Sun Temple at Martancl is believed to date from the 8th century AD, while the two Avantipora temples are probably from the 9th century AD. Built with great limestone blocks fitted together without mortar, these temples bear witness to the astonishing degree of technical expertise that prevailed in the early medieval period.