“If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here”, proclaimed Mughal emperor Jehangir, during his first visit to Kashmir. It is sentiment that’s widely shared by poets and authors, film makes and visitors alike. Having endured decades of strife, the hardy Kashmiris eagerly await the arrival of intrepid travellers to welcome them to paradise or ‘jannat’ in the local parlance.
The gateway to Kashmir is Srinagar, the capital city set alongside the Jhelum river, a tributary of the mighty Indus. Snowy mountain peaks - the Pir Panjal range to the west and the Himalayas to the east, surround the city. The old town has a distinct character of its own, with fascinating bazaars, soulful Sufi shrines, a fortress and many historic wooden mosques. Adorned with lakes Dal and Nagin, their gaily painted small and narrow shikharas (gondola styled boats) and charming Mughal gardens, the city exudes a sense of love and romance.
One such garden is Harwan, tucked into the north eastern corner of city, near Dachigam National Park. In its vicinity lies one of the most recent additions to the RARE portfolio: Nadis, a small boutique hotel that is understated, elegant, earthy with fabulous mountain views. It is the dream project of owner Yaser Shaw, described by his team as singer, storyteller and explorer but mainly a designer who blends age-old tradition with modern patterns to carefully craft handmade fabrics, appreciated the world over.
A two storeyed brick building holds all 18 rooms and sits at the edge of a big garden. The large and airy rooms are simple and elegant. Locally sourced cedar wood is widely used on the floors, carved ceilings, doors and beds. Most rooms have fabulous mountain views, spacious, well-appointed bathrooms with rain showers and only the finest linen. Nadis exudes a relaxing, homely atmosphere of a contemporary Kashmiri home; the living room serves as a lobby and the dining room is the restaurant.
The cuisine is quintessentially Kashmiri and showcases the best produce grown in this unfathomably fertile land. The chefs expertly combine walnuts, pistachios, almonds and cashews with fragrant saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and clove to create hearty lentil soups, delicate meat and aromatic rice dishes as well as grilled kebabs. Freshly baked local bread accompanies every meal. And for dessert there is an array of fresh fruit: cherries, apricots, plums and apples or a choice of creamy puddings.
At Nadis, responsibility and sustainability are at the core of every aspect of the experience. They harvest rain water, worm composite plants and use their waste to make manure for the inhouse vegetable patch.
This sense of conscious luxury extends to the curation of some special experiences as well like the Sufi trail in the heart of old town, the Great Lakes trek and guided visits into Dachigam National Park. A shikara ride on the languid Dal Lake surrounded by the mountains, is of course a signature experience of this city.
In the days of yore, Kashmir was seen as a cool retreat for the summer. But every season has its own charm and colour. For the nature lover, the city is an absolute delight: Mughal Gardens embellished with the most fragrant of flowers – roses, lotuses, tulips, irises, wisteria and pansies, fountains and cascading water features. Birds are aplenty too and one can see and hear warblers, kingfishers, ducks and nightingales. Pine, Birch, Deodar and Cedar trees are seen all around the city, but perhaps the most popular is Chinar that grows along the shores of lakes, the tops of which are known to have inspired the paisley design of Kashmiri shawls.
A visit to the bazaars is a rewarding experience. For the food enthusiasts there is an array of fragrant spices and nuts, especially saffron, apricots and walnuts. Products made from colourfully painted papier mâché and carved walnut wood are very popular. For textile lovers: shawls, tunics embellished with beautiful Kashmiri embroidery, head gear and woollen clothes. Kashmir is distinctively known for its carpets and an authentic, handmade one is a priceless addition to any space.
One can easily spend a week to absorb the many treasures of Srinagar, although 3-4 nights are essential to catch a glimpse. For part of a larger exploration of the region, Srinagar combines very well with the RARE properties in Ladakh: Stok Palace, Chulli Bagh, Nimmu House and Lchang Nang.
Nearest Airport : Srinagar Airport
Nearest Railway Station : Srinagar railway station