Srinagar City is known for its unparalleled beauty, charm and rich heritage. The old city of Srinagar, in particular is the hub of most crafts of the valley. Popularly known as Shehr–e- Khaas, the old city is a labyrinth of arterial roads and bustling bazaars. Lending the area its vitality is the river Jhelum, which gently flows through it, refreshing the hearts and souls of the people who live around it. A total of nine bridges span the river, connecting one part of the city to another.
A tour of the old city reveals distinct sights, smells and sounds which have never failed to mesmerize its passersby. It is interesting to note that different areas of Shehr-e-Khaas are known for a specialized art, craft or produce of Kashmir as the demographics of the city are such that during the ancient times, people settled in different areas of Shehr –e- Khaas based on their occupations. Be it the Harissa of AaliKadal or the Khatamband of Safakadal, the Tilla Dozi in Khanqah or the Crewel embroidery of Nowhatta, the old city of Srinagar has something special for you at every step. Since this place is culturally and historically so rich, we thought of taking you through its streets and introduce you to its specialities step by step.
We will begin our Journey from an ancient Muslim Shrine of Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani, a pious Muslim saint located in Khanyar. This shrine is around 200 years old and every year thousands of people visit this place with full faith and belief. Before it caught fire in 2012, its interiors used to reflect the primitive lavish architecture of Kashmir. The intricate Paper Mache crafted over the traditional Khatamband would give a sense of royalty and beauty to the entire place.
Surrounding this shrine is a busy market where you can relish upon the flavors of Masala Roti, Nadir Monje and a variety of street food of Kashmir, watching artisans as they carefully carve your favorite pieces of Walnut Wood Décor with skill and precision.
A few kilometers away from Khanyar, is the Nowhatta Chowk, which is known for its specialized Crewel Embroidery. It is a delight to watch an artisan crafting the famous tea cozies, cushion covers, rugs and wall hangings, which you could only see in high end stores, with steady and experienced hands with the help of an awl or Aari.
Nearing this market is the famous Jamia Masjid, which was built by Sultan Sikander in the year 1400. The architectural style of this mosque is inspired by the magnificent Chinar. It is said that the whole Mosque is made up of 370 pillars, all of them logs of Chinar Trees. As you walk out of this serene and calm place, saturated with cultural knowledge and tranquility, there is so much more waiting to be explored. You will also come across silversmiths, making those epoch pieces of silver jewels which have been adorning women of all ages since times immemorial.
Our next stop would be Rajouri Kadal, a place where specialized coppersmiths dwell, their shops overflowing with an amazing profusion of Copperware.
A few arterial roads connect us to Zainakadal, a bustling market of Hokh Syun (dried foods), dry fruits and exotic spices, their aromatic fragrances filling up the air all around you. In earlier times, vegetables were dried during summers for consumption during the harsh winters, when the valley of Kashmir would be cut off from the rest of the world. Even today, we can find dried tomatoes, dried chilies, dried cockscomb flower, dried bottle guard among other common vegetables that are dried. And we can find them here, in this market.
Somewhere between Zainakadal and Maharajgunj, lies the famous, but abandoned Pathhar Masjid. There is an interesting story surrounding this particular Mosque. It is said that it was built by Empress Noor Jahan, who weighed her silver shoe and donated the equivalent money to build the structure. In doing so, she invoked the anger of Muslim Scholars, who felt insulted with her act of comparing their place of worship to a shoe and ordered the Muslim community to refrain from praying in this Mosque.
Moving on with our journey, we reach the Trade Center of Srinagar City – Maharajgunj. This is a hub of all wholesale markets. If you want to buy in bulk, be it textiles, dry fruits or utilities, you are bound to find it here.
And finally, we reach a place which is a food paradise for everyone – Aalikadal. It is known for the sizzling winter delicacy of Kashmir, Harissa. A typical winter breakfast relished with the local Kandar Chotte (bread). If you are visiting the Downtown of Kashmir and you haven’t tasted the Harissa of Aalikadal, you are surely missing out on something. It is a delight to hog up the Harissa while watching artisans of Tilla Dozi, carefully crafting the dream outfits for the Kashmiri brides.
And with this, we have reached our final stop of Downtown for the day. The sun has already set casting an orange yellow spell across the sky that is beautifully reflected off the water. We have more stops, more stories and traditionalities to explore. A little more of the beautiful Downtown awaits you in our next blog. Be sure to explore with us :)