Srinagar is a city of unparalleled beauty and heritage, and the best way to explore it is by walking though its street and lanes. Almost every street corner will surprise you with something new and wonderful. If you have a few days to spend in Srinagar, I would recommend walking through these streets by yourself with a little bit of homework. However, if you are around for a short time, you should absolutely sign up for the street walks organised by the J&K tourism department and conducted by a spirited group of youngsters who know the history of their city well, and are passionate about sharing it with the world :)
There are a total of four Heritage Walks of Srinagar that are on the platter and I did the Sheher-e-Khas Walk. The walk is also the most popular amongst the visitors who visit the city and give a great overview of it's past and evolution. The other three Heritage Walks are:
1. Mughal Walk
2. Lal Chowk Walk
3. Pilgrim's Walk
If you have more time and crafts interest you, you should do the one week long Craft walk - this takes place along the Jhelum and requires visits to multiple villages and families who are involved in this work.
I will cover the walk in two parts, one would be too long to read in one go :)
The walk essentially starts at Coffee Arabica where your host will meet you and take to the old city. We (Mayank and I) met Gulzar there and took an auto to Jamia Masjid in the old city. However, I believe the walk can start from other points as well.
The mosque is located in Nowhatta and was built in the 1400 by Sultan Sikandar. The architecture style is very Kashmiri in nature, inspired by the Chinar (Maple) tree structure - cascading roof which will immediately remind you of the tree of the Chinese temples. Most mosques from this era followed this style till domes reached the region and replaced the local style. Look out for the point of the mosque and you will see lines of lotus petals carved in stone. Our host attributed that to the ruins of the Buddhist viraha that used to stand here before the mouse was built. The viraha was NOT destroyed to build the mosque!
The mosque is also famously build with 370 pillars - all of them logs of Chinar tree. The carving is minimal and the overall style of the mosque is very understated and soothing.
As you walk around the mosques you will have multiple questions and most can be answered very well by the host himself. In our case, a group of learned Kashmiri men also joined in and gave us some interesting perspectives on waves of migration into the valley from Persia.
By the time you walk out of the mosque you are already saturated with beauty and knowledge, but there is no stopping as you are led into the narrow lanes of the old city, through the spices, threads and dry fruits markets.
As always, this was my most favourite part - you can see so much life walking around! Most people on the streets are very friendly and smile at you and your camera. A simple salaam chacha can help break the ice and conversations can flow from there.
Surprisingly I were not frowned upon as I sat down, climbed up or sneaked around on the streets to take some pictures. Of course, people get curious but they are generally very warm and friendly. I will, however, suggest restraint with camera. Its best to ask permission before taking people shots. A greeting and smile go a long way in this :)
After a while, dwarfing the market and the old apartments, we could see the ruined domes of Mazhar-e-Salateen. Curiously it reminded me of the mausoleums from Central Asia. But that's another story for the next blog post :)
The walks were originally conceived by Renuka Savasere, who is also my senior from National Institute of Design, and Abeer Gupta, who is an anthropologist and filmmaker. Our walk was conducted by their team member Gulzar.
More details about the walks below in the attached brochure. It was in my notebook for a few days, so the fold lines are visible. My apologies for that!