OFFBEAT PLACES NEAR SRINAGAR
Yousmarg-The meadow of Jesus-Introduction to best offbeat destinations near srinagar
There are numerous best offbeat destinations near srinagar which I will document in this travel blog.
The phrase ‘Meadow of Jesus’ so rightly conveys the divinity of this virgin hill station – Yousmarg. Rested at an altitude of 7900 feet above sea level, Yousmarg bears the true spirit of tranquility in its every drop. It falls under the jurisdiction of Badgaum district of the newly formed Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
Around 50 kilometers west of Srinagar, Yousmarg is one of the best offbeat destinations near Srinagar. It offers scintillating views of the snowcaps, alpine meadows, untainted grasslands. Sparkling waters of Doodh Ganga tributary and herding cattle, all under a vast blue canvas.
The highway connecting Srinagar and Yousmarg cuts across Charar-e-Sharief, one of the most revered Islamic shrines of Kashmir valley. The wooden Ziarat is said to be constructed 600 years ago in memory of Sheikh Noor-ud-din-Wali. He was a great saint and poet from the 13th century AD with equal acceptance among the Hindus. Kashmiri pundits often refer him as Nund Rishi or Sahajanand.
Yousmarg trip :-
Altitude of the village would be around 6500 feet above sea level. But it was quite an eventful bazaar area with innumerable shops, vendors and local folks busy in negotiations. Parking our car near one of the shops, we visited the famous Ziarat of Alamdar-e-Kashmir. It is said that inside there is a rock named ‘Shah Kean’. (In Kashmiri language it means the King’s Stone) which bears the footprints of the great Sufi saint Sheikh Noor-ud-din-Wali.
Mythology says, it is due to his footfall, the place became sacred and devotees started flocking the village. Over the years, it attained the status of a Ziarat.
The green opus of mountain valleys, grazing horses, an ethnic view point, orchards, foaming river streams down the hills and mighty Himalayas in the background soothed our weariness in a whisker. Perhaps this is why Kashmir is compared with paradise. However, it is advisable to wear robust shoes as the soil texture is very muddy here and it turns too slimy after slightest of rain. The absolute natural splendour would make anyone fall in love with this piece of unexplored dreamland.
Treks in Yousmarg :-
We roamed around the place for hours, capturing spectacular glimpses of Sunset Peak and Tattakutti Peak of the Trans Himalayas. Distant groves, top view of the Doodh Ganga River, private residences of Gaddi tribe along the green slope and what not. (Gaddis are casteless nomadic shepherds of Rajasthan’s Barmer origin who settled in the higher Himalayan belts eras ago.)
Couple of downstream treks also originate from Yousmarg, especially to Nilnag Lake, Doodh Ganga and Sang-e-Safed. While running down the hills through big rocks and boulders, this Jhelum tributary creates milky white foam. It originated its name Doodh Ganga while the reflection of blue sky on the waters of the lake dots back to the etymological origin of Nilnag Lake.
Manasbal lake – The Deepest Lake of India-highlight of offbeat destinations near srinagar.
Within a distance of only 32 kilometers from the state capital Srinagar in jammu and Kashmir, there is another beautiful water body named Manasbal Lake. This is possibly the deepest lake of India and it is one of the best offbeat destinations near Srinagar. It derives its name from the holy Manasarovar in Tibet. Nothing could have stopped us from visiting it after knowing such an exciting information about the lake.
Perimeter of the lake will be approximately 11 kilometers. It is heightened by a concrete pavement which was beautifully decorated by flowering plants along the circular trail. However, the primary statistics of the lake is not its circumference but its vertical depth. Yes, the waterbed stands at a depth of more than 43 feet which marks its claim for the deepest lake of India.
Things to do in Manasbal lake:-
Shikara rides here are as popular as in Dal Lake. One can also see the ruins of Jarokabagh Palace and Mughal Gardens
Just as we entered the lake premises, we found lots of Kashmiri students playing at the waterside park. In fact it’s not just here, all the popular tourist spots we visited except Gulmar(A Hill Station), we came across numerous school students. Probably it’s part of their academic curriculum to take students for excursion during summer.
During our visit, ample lotus plantations were found at the eastern side of the lake . But it is said that during autumn months, they bloom to the maximum. Locales also cultivate the plants here as the edible portion of lotus stem, root and seeds are auctioned at steep rates during peak season.
Wular Lake– The Shrinking Lake-must visit in best offbeat destinations near srinagar
Wular Lake– The Shrinking Lake
The Shrinking Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes of Asia . Wular Lake is one of the best offbeat destinations near Srinagar. Sited in Bandipora, Wular lake is around 65 kilometers northwest from Srinagar. The Wular lake finds significant mentions in Hindu mythology where it is referred as ‘Mahapadmasar’.
No temple nearby as such, but this lake is considered a very sacred waterbody by the Kashmiri Pandits. Due to lack of awareness and encroaching shorelines, the Wular lake is shrinking in size every year. Nonetheless, the area is rich in biodiversity even today. Since 1990, Wular Lake is now conserved as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’ under Ramsar Convention.
There is a very interesting etymological history of this lake. Centuries ago, due to a tectonic fissure on the ground, this lake was formed. As a result, high waves were often seen in the waters due to hidden undercurrent (called ‘Ullol’ in Sanskrit) which eventually went on to become ‘Wular’ in the coming years.
History of Wular lake:-
Perched at an altitude of 5200 feet above mean sea level, the Wular lake is a natural reservoir of Jhelum . It is often silted by its downstream tributaries – Bohnar, Madamati, Ningal and Erin. There is a small island at the middle of the Wular lake which happened to be the romantic getaway of Kashmiri sultan Zain-ul-Abidin.
In 1444, he renamed it Zaina Lank in his honour. The road conditions were pretty good and it took us only two hours from Srinagar. It was a gentle uphill drive from the city center until a point where the milestone read 3 kilometers more to Wular. We had to keep asking at every single bend about the direction.
Since this is not a common tourist place, Fishing is the main livelihood of the villagers at Wular Lake. Carps and Barbs are among the most commonly found fishes. It is said, 60% of Kashmir’s fish yield is sourced from here. There is also a birding spot named Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary near the lake.
Thousands of migratory birds flock there during the winters. Two kilometers up the same hill, there was a beautiful viewpoint, in fact a well maintained garden managed by the Indian army. The bird’s eye view of Wular Lake from its top was simply breathtaking.
Taste of Elixir at Kheer Bhawani Temple of Srinagar- hindu temples as best offbeat destinations near srinagar
Geographically speaking, the Kheer Bhavani temple of Srinagar is only 25 kilometers away from state capital Srinagar . It is one of the best offbeat destinations near Srinagar. It took us only an hour’s drive to reach. The small village that houses this ancient temple is named Tulmulla (which in Sanskrit signifies ‘of great worth’).
The road was well maintained until Ganderbal town, however the lane inside the village was very narrow and muddy. Signage was prominent, did not require us to ask anyone for directions.
The precincts were surrounded by a large sacred lake (‘Kund’ in Kashmiri language), big and large stones on natural green carpets, sentinel by Mount Harmukh at the milieu. There was a small store just by the side selling sacred items like incense sticks, coconut, candles, garlands, sweet balls etc, arranged in different sizes of tray (‘puja samagri’ as they say in wholesome) priced differently as per item portions.
History behind the temple:-
The antiquity of this ancient temple offers a very exciting story which connects mythological as well as historic dots. Let’s begin with the mythical thread first. It is believed that way back during the Ramayana age, Ravana used to worship a rare form of Goddess Shakti named Maha Ragya Bhagwati (another name of Goddess Bhavani) who is considered as the embodiment of cosmic power and active energy.
As mentioned in the epic, Ravana had established a small temple of Goddess Ragya at his golden capital in Lanka. Owing to his misbehavior with Sita (who is also believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Ragya by a school of Kashmiri Pandits), the goddess ordered Rama to shift her from Lanka to this Kashmiri village named Tulmulla where Sita had spent couple of years during exile. Since then, Goddess Shakti is being worshiped at this ancient temple in the titular form of Devi Ragya.
At present it is under the management of Dharmarth Trust of J&K. Referring to the historic past, which is comparatively recent than the mythological anecdote, in the year of 1912, Maharaja Pratap Singh built a temple of Goddess Bhavani at Tulmulla village. Devi Bhavani is held as the deity of creative energy and giver of life.
A white marble statue of the goddess can be seen inside the temple. On the auspicious eve of Shukla Paksha Ashtami, the king propitiated the presiding deity by offering his handmade rice pudding (an Indian dessert locally known as ‘Kheer’).
Since then, it has been a custom to serving milk products to the shrine and eventually with time it has got its name ‘Kheer Bhavani Temple’. Today, thousands of devotees flock the temple twice during the year, once during Shukla Paksha Ashtami and another during Jyaistha Ashtami.
Location of kheer Bhawani temple:-
The temple is located amidst lofty chinars, a personification of amity and tranquility. Just as we walked inside, the whole area was shining with white blooms of a special tree. They say it’s called ‘Aman-ka-Phool’ (flower of peace) as this is the flower which is exchanged every day at the international border while greeting our friends from the neighboring country.
Apart from its captivating legends, the architecture of the temple is also very eye catching. Though the entrance was not so well decorated, but it is constructed over a band of springs on a marshy land and one of the springs flow underneath the main shrine of Kheer Bhavani.
The water has been often observed to change its colors at different times of the year. During our visit, it was off-white. Going by an old belief of the locals, when the spring water takes up a blackish shade. It conveys an imminent inauspicious time heading towards the valley of Kashmir. Special yajnas (Hindu rituals involving fire) are arranged by the priests to combat the bad omen.
Paani Temple of Pandrethan near Srinagar- Hindu temples as best offbeat destinations near srinagar
We decided to utilize the day by visiting another excellence of ancient Hindu architecture in the Kashmir valley – the Meruvardhanaswami Temple of Pandrethan, commonly referred as Paani Temple . This temple is one of the best offbeat destinations near Srinagar. ‘Paani’ is Hindi or Kashmiri language means ‘water’.
Though originally Pandrethan was all dry, but centuries of weathering have created a pool around it, submerging more than half of the construction inside water which sources its exciting forename. Pandrethan is one of the legacy temples of India known for its subtle symmetrical architecture.
Pandrethan is located pretty close to Srinagar, hardly five kilometres by road towards Sonawar.The moment we reached there in Srinagar, an old man, dressed in traditional Kashmiri phiran and poots, welcomed us inside. He was not a formal guide, but must be a passionate warden for sure.
It was great to see such a precious archaeological site being maintained so well. No signs of littering observed during our visit. The main shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Surprisingly, the neither the temple nor the deity name was not mentioned anywhere around. There was only one blue board portraying it as ‘Ancient Temple’. Not sure why the original name was withheld.
History of paani temple:-
Kashmiris say that a royal minister named Meru Vardhan of the then Hindu King Pravarsena I originally founded the temple during early 6th century A.D. from where it derives its original name – Meruvardhanaswami Temple. He also beautified the place raising various palatial buildings (often called as Viharas in local language).
Pandrethan flourished as the royal capital until mid-10th century A.D., until shifted to Srinagar later. It also finds significant references in Kalhana’s epic account of Kashmir – Rajtarangini, where he mentioned about this place as Puranadishthana or ‘old city’. However, as per British accounts this temple was built by King Partha in somewhere between A.D. 913 to 921 A.D.
An uncanny fire devastated entire Pandrethan in 960 A.D. but surprisingly this temple survived the fire with no harm. Unfortunately, today nothing noteworthy exists at Pandrethan except the ruins of this classic temple.
In those days, Jhelum River (earlier name Vitasta) was hardly a mile away towards south-east. The groundwater level being shallow here, water percolates through the natural seepages and accumulates around the temple creating a freshwater pool.
Mythology behind Paani temple:-
However, through ages people believe that it’s Lord Shiva, who through his divine charm locked Vitasta around him. People consider the water is to be holy even today. Whatever be its mythological origin, but the architecture of this temple is truly the finest of all Kashmiri edifices.
An artistic stone temple of pyramidal structure, it has an ornate masonry ceiling divided into two segments – the upper one is surmounted on a carved pillar while the lower portion resembles a patterned lotus.
Centuries ago when trigonometry and geometry were unknown theories, strength of materials a distant topic, cement and modern measurement tools were not invented, what led to the erection of such a perfect assembly is truly an epitome of architectural brilliance.
Temple inner wall reliefs depict many ancient mythological tales of Lord Shiva . The ceiling exhibits supreme scientific excellence made of nine stone blocks, four resting on a set of another four blocks supported by a couple of diagonal lintels, four intersecting tetragons and a pair of internally overhanging eaves – all coinciding to a central conical tower which from outside closely resembles an inverted lotus.
Structure of Paani temple:-
Sadly, due to water clogged on all sides, we could not witness the Kashmiri masterpiece in its full exhibit through our own eyes. Externally what we saw that the temple is built on a quadrangular podium. A natural spring-fed pool of increasing dimensions surrounds it. The depth of water would be at least three feet, if not more.
The cupola is multi-layered comprising of three bands supported one below the other, increasing the girth of pyramidal base to ensure increased strength. An array of semi-circular symmetric arches further embellishes the outer walls. But at present only the pyramidal roof and the main doorway are partially visible.
A small relief on the frontal entry porch could be seen. Probably it had been left partly excavated by the archaeological department to prevent any damage to its brittle walls, which got wedged inside the ground over years.
Spectacular Char Bagh of Srinagar tourism- best offbeat destinations near srinagar.
We all know about the four famous gardens of Persia, popularly known as Char Bagh of Srinagar tourism . This is one of the best offbeat destinations near Srinagar. Honestly speaking, I could never imagine there could be such spectacular gardens in our India too! Yes, you read it correct; Srinagar, the state capital of Jammu and Kashmir houses four stunning terraced gardens patronized by the mighty Mughals themselves.
They are open six days a week for tourists, except on Fridays from 9am to 6pm. Needless to say, the Persian gardens influenced the architectural patterns of all four. It offers splendid views of the Zabarwan Range and Dal Lake in one frame of srinagar tourism. They are namely – Chasm-e-Shahi, Pari Mahal, Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh, comprising of the Char Bagh of Srinagar tourism.
All the gardens have four things in common – terraced planting, natural source of water (stream or spring), wide view of Dal Lake from four geographic directions and located at the foothills of Zabarwan Range of srinagar tourism. Out first stopover was Chasm-e-Shahi, which means ‘Beautiful to Eyes’ in Persian.
History of Char bagh:-
In 1632, Emperor Shah Jahan built it for his eldest son Dara Sikoh. Ali Mardan Khan was The chief architect of this picturesque garden. He is also credited as the brain behind many other Mughal parks of srinagar tourism. The garden welcomes you with a lofty gate painted in brick-red colour, quite common depiction of Mughal architectural style.
We got down at the adjoining parking area and walked inside. Entry ticket per person was ten rupees only. It comprises of a three tiered terraced garden with a natural spring forming its spine. The spring water feeds the first level which further flows down until the lowermost compartment where it sprouts onto a manmade fountain.
On an autumn sunset, the garden wears its most beautiful attire. It is a local legend that the spring water of Chasm-e-Shahi of srinagar tourism bears therapeutic property which had also healed Mumtaz Mahal’s skin ailments. If this be the smallest garden of all four, how magnificent with be the rest! Just to the east of Chasm-e-Shahi, lies Pari Mahal, popularly known as ‘Fairy’s House’.
How to reach Char bagh of Srinagar:-
It was around fifteen minute’s uphill drive from there. On way we drooled with a bowl of Falooda, and I must say tasting ice-cream in that chilly weather was great fun. This is a must visit place of srinagar tourism. Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Sikoh envisioned Pari Mahal in 1650 to study astrology and astronomy. He strongly believed it to be a shelter of fairies.
It was perhaps a monastery earlier because the construction of this garden stands apart from the other three, closely resembling a Buddhist abode. A dome and a series of quarters follows the big arch at the entrance. Also, unlike the other gardens, Pari Mahal does not have any captive water source.
The earthen pipelines connecting straight unto Dal Lake waters the Gardens. Entry fees were same as Chasm-e-Shahi in srinagar tourism. Parking was available at owner’s risk by the side of the road. Ten steps inside and we discovered ourselves lost in a mysterious world.
Strange was the construction of those spacious rooms with pigeon holes and the interconnecting underground tunnels between the porches. The architecture resembled royal harem. There were also hundreds of intertwining corridors inside the main building, perhaps purposely created to confuse people.
Nishat Bagh in Persian means ‘Garden of Bliss’ – truly the most extravagant of Char Bagh srinagar tourism. Emperor Jahangir built it in 1633. Asaf Khan, alias Mirza Abul Hasan was the chief architect of this royal garden. Built in twelve tiers, each level represents a zodiac sign like Persian gardens.
The ‘Zenana’ was the uppermost part. It was a private section of any Persian palace where only royal maids were allowed. No other garden had such privacy provisions except Nishat Bagh of srinagar tourism.
Along the middle of the promenade, a natural stream runs down the Zabarwan peak which finally meets at Dal Lake of srinagar tourism. The lowermost level opens directly to the lake, exhibiting a very unique structural design.
At all the twelve levels, the terraced garden is beautifully decorated with aromatic grass, towering chinars, flowerbeds, water cascades and fountains. People believe that Jahangir himself planted one among those Chinar trees.
A historic bridge, popularly known as ‘Oont Kadal’, located on the Dal Lake offers the most scenic view of Nishat Bagh in srinagar tourism. People say the Mughals used to savour private shikara rides at this part of the lake with their Begums which inspired many Bollywood songs of modern times.
You can also visit an ancient fortification (locals call it Hari Parbat fort) on a small island, now in complete ruins. It was used to be their lovemaking abode.
People believe it to be the oldest of all the Mughal gardens. Jahangir built in 1620 and divided it into two major sections. Kashmir is the summer capital of the Mughals. Therefore, he built the garden in such a way that it could house both public (Diwan-i-aam) as well as royal (Diwan-i-khaas) durbar halls.
Shalimar Bagh is the only garden in Srinagar to house both the courts. Strategically separated, today they are decked with herbaceous decors, fragrant grasses, green fields and water cascades.
The four turrets (‘burj’ as they say in Persian) were manned in those days. This was done to prevent any forceful entry to the private section of the garden. Bricks of this section were specially made for greater strength; however, the walls were hidden behind colourful stone paintings from outside.
During early 4th century BC, the area used to be the residence (tapovan) of a Hindu ascetic, who had named it as Shalimar Vatika. He planted innumerable fruit and flower trees and his disciples decorated the place. With the passage of time, it gave rise to a beautiful ecosystem full of flora and fauna.
Slowly people from other places also started walking in, turning the orchard into a small village. Centuries later, a devastating famine struck Shalimar and everyone died, except the old saint. Later during 6th century BC, Hindu ruler Pravarassena II rediscovered Shalimar and constructed a temple.
Over the years, with the change in royal seats, Shalimar also lost its glory. Surprisingly the name survived in the minds of local people. Much later in the 16th century when Muslims invaded Kashmir, they constructed an embankment near the sacred Hindu temple and named it Shalimar Bund.
Structure of Shalimar bagh:-
Surrounding it, trees started growing, slowly giving rise to a landscaped garden. In 1620, Emperor Jahangir fashioned the garden to a royal courtyard. He named it Shalimar Bagh of Srinagar tourism. That’s the history of this piece of Mughal extravaganza. Way back to our hotel, we also visited the famous Hazratbal Mosque of Srinagar tourism.
The gorgeous white marble beauty is another edifice of Islamic daintiness. People believe the relic inside the shrine (Moi-e-Muqqadas) belonged to Prophet Muhammad’s hair, hence the name Hazratbal Masjid. Situated on the northern side of Dal Lake, it is one of the most sacred tombs of Kashmir.
The area around the mosque is full of local shops selling dry fruits, woodworks, woolen garments, saffron etc. There was an old man standing in front of a woodcraft shop. While passing by, he warmly invited us inside. Later we came to know he is the artisan of all the fabulous craftworks on display. We too ended up purchasing authentic Kashmiri handicrafts worth thousands.
I hope readers enjoy reading this blog about best offbeat destinations near Srinagar.