The Dal is famous not only for its beauty, but for its vibrance, because it sustains within its periphery, a life that is unique anywhere in the world. The houseboat and Shikara communities have lived for centuries on the Dal, and so complete is their infrastructure on the lake, that they never have to step on land! Doctors, tailors, bakers- one can see them all in tiny wooden shops on the lake, near picturesque vegetable gardens and acres of lotus gardens.
Nagin Lake, which is usually thought of as a separate lake, is also divided from Dal Lake only by a causeway. The causeways are mostly suitable for walkers and bicycles only so they make a very pleasant way of seeing the lake without having to worry about traffic or Shikaras. The main causeway across the lake carries the water pipeline for Srinagar's mains water supply.
There are three main islands in the lake, each poplar excursion points. Silver Island is at the northern end of Dal Lake and is also known as "Char Chinar" after the four-chinar trees, which grow on it. There's a small snack bar on the island as there is also on Gold Island at the south end of the lake. It is also known as "Char Chinar" for it too has four Chinar trees.
The third island is Nehru Park, at the end of the main stretch of the boulevard and only a short distance from the shore. It too has a restaurant although it's a very run down, miserable affair. The children's playground here has also seen better days. Often in summer there are evening shows, dances and festivals held at Nehru Park.
North of Nehru Island a long causeway leads out into the lake from the boulevard just off its end is "Kotar Khana", the 'house of pigeons', which was once a royal summer house.
From above Zero Bridge to below Badshah Bridge one can walk along the banks of the Jhelum River on the popular footpath known as the bund. It's a pleasant relaxing place to stroll along and many Doonga houseboats can be seen beside it. The GPO, the government handicrafts emporium and a string of handicraft shops are all close beside the Bund.
Shri Pratap Singh Museum
The Shri Pratap Singh museum is in Lal Mandi, just south of the river between zero bridge and Amira Kadal. It has an interesting collection of exhibits relevant to Kashmir including illustrated tiles excavated near Harwan.
The museum is open from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm except on Wednesdays when it is closed and admission is free.
Kashmir was a favourite of the Mughal emperors who visited it as often as they could. Cool and refreshing after the plains of North India where the business of governance kept them, they planted gardens with stepped terraces and flowing watercourses. When they rested in their gardens, they dreamt they were in paradise.
Cheshma Shahi is the first Mughal garden one will pass after Nehru Park. Built at a height above the city, its views are as stupendous as its layout. The smallest of Srinagar's Mughal gardens, Cheshma Shahi has only three terraces in addition to a natural spring of water enclosed in a stone pavilion.
The next garden along the road that encircles the Dal is the Nishat, built by empress Nur Jahan's brother Asaf Khan. The largest of the gardens, Nishat has several terraces, a central watercourse and a majestic site between the Dal and the Zabarwan hills.
The third Mughal garden - the Shalimar - was planted by Jehangir, the Mughal emperor, whose love for Kashmir was legendary. Shaded by magnificent Chinar trees, the Shalimar is a series of stone pavilions and flowing water with paint box bright flowerbeds.
The old Sufi college of Pari Mahal, the 'palace of the fairies', is only a short distance above the Chasma Shahi gardens. One can easily walk from the gardens up to the Pari Mahal then follow a footpath directly down the hill to the road that runs by the Oberoi Palace Hotel. The Pari Mahal consists of a series of arched terraces. Recently it has been turned into a very pleasant and well-kept garden with fine views over Dal Lake. It's attractively sited on a spur of the Zabarwan Mountains. The gardens are beautifully kept even today and a Son Et Lumiere show is put on here every evening during the May to October tourist season.
Only a short distance beyond the Hazratbal mosque, the Nasim gardens, the 'garden of tepid airs' or 'garden of the morning breeze', were built by the Mughal emperor Akbar after his conquest of Kashmir in 1586. He had 1,200 Chinar trees planted in the garden, which is the oldest of Kashmir's Mughal gardens.
Hari Parbat Fort
The 18th century fort tops the Sharika Hill, which is clearly visible, rising to the west of Dal Lake. The fort was constructed by Atta Mohammed Khan from 1776 but the surrounding wall is much older, it was built between 1592 and 1598 during the rule of Akbar. The wall stretches for 5-km and is 10 metres high and has two gates, the Kathi and Sangin Darwaza.
In the opposite direction from the Shalimar gardens about 5-km to the northwest, are the even older excavations of Burzahom. The archaeological dig here has provided evidence of people living in the vale up to 5,000 years ago. The oldest excavations have revealed implements, pots, animal skeletons, arrowheads and tools from the Neolithic age. Much of the material taken from this site is now in the museum in Srinagar.