Back in the seventeenth century when Mughal Emperor Jahangir came to Kashmir, it was him who after witnessing the beauty of Kashmir said,
“Gar Firdaus Bar Rue Zamin Ast
Hami Asto , Hami Asto, Hami Ast”
(“If there is a paradise on the face of the earth,
it is here, it is here, it is here!!”)
We all have seen how beautiful Kashmir is; some of us have seen it through the pictures and others who are lucky enough have seen it in person. Most of the people who travel to Kashmir visit the most famous and sought after places like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, the Dal and Sonmarg etc which one should. However, there is much more to Kashmir than just that.
The old city of Srinagar is a virtual open air museum of architecture and material culture. The lanes and markets of the old city are filled with copper smiths, spice dealers, embroiders. The old city is situated on the banks of river Jhelum with a large number of sufi shrines, temples, tombs situated throughout its periphery.
The best way to visit the old city is by taking a walk through the lanes starting from Khankah. One can reach Khankah by taking an auto rickshaw from Dalgate or anywhere in the city. Khankah is a locality near Zaina Kadal named after the mosque of Shah-i-Hamdan Mir Syed Ali Hamdani who was an Islamic preacher, a sufi who came to Kashmir from Hamdan, Iran. The mosque was built in 1394 and is perhaps the most famous mosque in Kashmir. It is a beautiful building made by blending woodwork and papier mache. After visiting Khankah, one can walk through the new Zaina Kadal bridge towards Pathar Masjid, which is approximately 500 mts walk from Khankah.
Pathar Masjid is one of its kind mosque made entirely of stones. This mosque was constructed by Empress Nur Jahan in 1600’s. The mosque is located on the banks of the Jhelum opposite the Shah-i-Hamdan mosque. The mosque is built entirely of limestone and according to an old belief the walls of this place could cure smallpox.
From Pathar masjid, one can walk cross Old Zaina Kadal bridge Maharaj Ganj market which is one of the oldest markets in the valley. The streets of Maharaj Gunj are filled with smell of spices, There are a number of copper smiths at work, spice dealers, old temples, magnificent houses of mud and wood. You will also see the tomb of Bud Shah (King Zainul Abideen). The tomb is a beautiful example of Mughal architecture.
Take the way back towards the main road. Once you reach the main road at Bohri Kadal, take the narrow market street infront of it that leads to Jamia Masjid. The distance is approximately 1 KM. Jamia Masjid is located in Nowhatta which is the heart of the old city. It is the largest mosque in Kashmir which was built for the first time in 1400 by Sultan Sikander. The mosque stands on 333 large wooden pillars. On entering the mosque you are immediately filled with calm and peace.
The old city always seems like some vintage era. In winter, it looks like an intense, loving and thoughtful painting. While in summer, everything just brightens up. This is the same place where often protests erupt, where brutality takes place, where peace is ruined and where clashes happen. Yet this is the same place where life blossoms in the old corners. There is simplicity which makes these old houses and buildings look more spectacular. The chipped paint and the old wooden windows play their own part in making this place warmer.