Superlatives simply cannot do justice to the delicate beauty of this Indian city. Framed against jagged, snowy peaks and set like a jewel in the Kashmir Valley is Srinagar, capital of the newly constituted Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
Pitched to tourists with images of its famous Dal Lake, Mughal Gardens and Sufi shrines, Srinagar also has many historic gems hidden in plain sight. These are monuments of great beauty as well as historical importance that are sadly given a miss by most visitors. Here’s a glimpse of some of Srinagar’s most beautiful hidden wonders.
Pandrethan is about 6.5 km from Srinagar. It was originally an old capital of Kashmir and is believed to have been founded by King Pravarasena, sometime in the 6th century CE. The word ‘Pandrethan’ is derived from ‘Puranadishthana’ or 'old town. It is now a military cantonment, but is known for its small but exquisite Shiva temple, also known as the Meruvardhanaswami temple. What makes this temple unique is its stone roof, chiselled out of a single piece of stone and inventively carved.
The Pandrethan temple was built by Meru, a minister of King Partha, who ruled Kashmir from 921-931 CE. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is situated around 100 yards from the banks of river Jhelum. The city of Pandrethan was said to have been destroyed in a great fire around 960 CE. The only structure that is said to have survived is this temple.
‘Operation Rakshak’ Memorial
Right next to the Pandrethan Temple is the Martyrs’ Memorial, officially known as ‘Operation Rakshak Memorial’, in Badami Bagh Cantonment. It is a memorial dedicated to soldiers of the Indian Army who perished while fighting militancy in the Kashmir Valley.
The Ibadat-e-Shahadat Museum is located in the headquarters of the Indian Army's 15 Corps at Badami Bagh. This heritage building was built by erstwhile ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, between 1924 and 1930. The museum highlights Kashmiri culture, its heritage and the fight against terrorism. The museum also houses a selection of weapons and documents seized from militants and throws light on their atrocities.
Shergarhi Palace complex
The Shergarhi Palace complex is a series of buildings, on the banks of the Jhelum river and hidden away in the Old City. It was once the seat of the Afghan governors of Kashmir and then the seat of the Dogra rulers till 1947. Originally built in 1772, it was abandoned by Sheikh Abdullah due to its association with the Dogra regime. Today, it houses government offices and is in dire need of restoration.
The beautiful British Residency building, which originally dates back to 1885, was extensively rebuilt in 1998 after it burnt down due to an electric short-circuit. There’s a photograph in the hallway of the original building, which was then covered in creepers. Today, it houses a handicrafts emporium.
The western gateway is a rectangular, two-storey structure while the eastern one is a single-storey structure. The Gothic arches and khatamband ceiling (a wooden ceiling with geometric patterns) are still in good shape although they could do with some renovation. The eastern gateway is completely obscured by the Abdullah bridge.
Holy Family Catholic Church
Holy Family Catholic Church is the main church of the Christian community in Srinagar. Located on Maulana Azad Road, it was established in 1886.Interestingly, the spire of the belfry is strikingly similar to the gabled spires of the nearby Sufi shrines and mosques.
Apart from its idyllic natural beauty and top tourist draws, much of Srinagar’s magnetic charm comes from traditional homes and other buildings, whose delicate wooden architecture makes this city a living museum of sorts. It’s the perfect setting for a flaneur who is looking to find the extraordinary beyond the obvious. Our list of Srinagar’s hidden gems will add magic to any tourist itinerary as the city reveals a side most visitors never see.
– ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nilesh Korgaokar an ex-Army officer, retired as a Lt Col in 1998 and is currently working for the World Bank Group in New Delhi. He is a history enthusiast who likes to document his travels via story-telling pictures.