Srinagar, India, at an altitude of 5,800 ft/1,800 m, is the capital of the troubled region of Kashmir. Located 400 mi/645 km northeast of Delhi, it was once a favored vacation spot, but Srinagar today suffers frequent attacks by militants that have badly crippled businesses, public institutions and the daily lives of the local residents. In less difficult times, Srinagar has been known for its houseboat vacations on Dal Lake and Nagin Lake, which arose after the local maharajah forbade foreigners to own land. The British, who went there to escape the summer heat, built floating castles instead.
Those accommodations range from dark, moldy, claustrophobic quarters to masterpieces of carved wood, Oriental carpeting and fine furnishings. Most boats contain two or three bedrooms, a shared dining room, living room, porch and sunroof. Some, particularly those on Nagin Lake (which is farther from town), have magnificent views of the mountains. Sellers paddle from boat to boat, peddling everything you could want, and plenty you don't want: cold drinks, fruit, nuts, fresh flowers, film, baked goods, papier-mache boxes, woolen shawls, silk carpets, leather goods, money-changing services and on and on. Some boat owners will protect guests from the scurrilous peddlers, but other owners won't—they get a cut from any sale.
If the Kashmir situation improves enough to allow a visit to Srinagar, be sure to take a nighttime ride through the floating community in one of the gaudy shikara gondolas, and visit the local market and Mughal gardens (Chashma Shahi, the Nishat Naseem and especially Shalimar, which has a nightly sound-and-light show). For exercise, climb 1,000-ft/300-m Sankaracharya Hill to see the ancient Shiva temple and beautiful views (it's within city limits).
If the floating salespeople have whetted your appetite for Kashmiri handicrafts, you may want to visit a papier-mache, carpet or wood-carving factory in town. Day trips to other lakes can also be made. Nearby Manasbal Lake is especially pretty, and the large Wular Lake takes about a day to see. A half-day trip can be taken to the Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wall Muslim shrine at Cherar-i-Sharif. If rest is all that you desire, two weeks in Srinagar can fly by. If you're just going to see what's there, one or two nights will do.
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