We didn’t rush out this morning, breakfasting on the houseboats at 8am, and leaving at 9.30. We’d misunderstood where the cars would be waiting to take us to Shankaracharya – it turned out to be a two hour trip in the shikaras to the ghat on Boulevard road, this time taking a more direct route through the floating gardens but without the aid of the motor boat.
John and I took it in turns to help our shikara man paddling and some of the others did the same on the away back – an exhausting journey for them.
It was very relaxing for us, though, and interesting to get a closer look at the floating gardens and see how people manage the lake, collecting yellow water lilies and waterweed to feed livestock and help keep the waterways navigable.
Collecting water weed
Floating gardens – a raft is made by tying water lily stems together then compost is heaped on top
The only downside was being accosted by trade boats much of the way through the first part of the journey. We feel very sorry for people struggling without tourists here but it does get wearing and there is only so much one person can buy.
The top of the hill where Shankaracharya Temple stands is 300m above the plain and provides great views over much of the Kashmir valley, including the area on Nagin lake with our houseboat. Unfortunately the hill also houses a military installation so we weren’t allowed to take pictures but the drivers stopped on the way back down for us. Some of the temple is built of the Panjal Trapps volcanic rock on which it sits but the steps we climbed up to get there are made of a dark limestone with plenty of bivalve and crinoid fossils, so John had a chance to introduce some of the local geology.
The hill has been a sacred site since around 200 BC and local legend has Jesus spending time here before starting his ministry. The present Hindu temple was built in the 9th century and houses a large lingam and a resident priest keen to bless people and mark them with bindi in exchange for donations – unfortunately we had very little money on us as we’d had to leave our bags in the cars.
When we stopped on way down the hill for photos we were delighted to see black kites circling just below us.
Looking north towards Hari Parbat Hill and Nagin Lake from Shankaracharya Hill
From Shankaracharya we headed to Chashma Shahi (Royal Spring) gardens for a late lunch – a lovely picnic site. The drivers encouraged us to drink the cold clear water from the spring, said to be the only water which Nehru would drink!
Chashma Shahi garden, built by Shah Jahan in 1632
After lunch we had a rather brief visit to Pari Mahal garden (see Mughul gardens and markets), curtailed by the need for a two hour shikara ride back to the houseboat before dinner. It was nearly 7pm by the time we got back, as it was, and people were tired but happy.
Pari Mahal gardens, built by Dara Shikoh in the 17th century