If you are headed to Srinagar, you are most likely going to head over to Dal Lake at some point. Here you shall find several remarkable islands, among them being the iconic Char Chinar. This is an island on which you shall find a quartet of trees (hence “char”, which means “four”). Chinar is actually the Iranian name for the Oriental Plane tree, one of the most common trees in river areas. This is among the older tree species in the world, and indeed, a good number of historians argue that the tree under which Hippocrates himself held forth on his knowledge was an oriental plane, although not necessarily the same tree as that called the Tree of Hippocrates in Cos. The Mughals and Hindus of the Kashmir region have long held it in high regard as well, which explains why it figures so prominently in many of the Srinagar gardens. It has also been associated with the goddess Bhawani.
The oriental plane can reach prodigious ages well beyond our own. Given its beauty and longevity, it is the case that many towns in Greece as well as in Kashmir have at least one of considerable age, usually held as something of a tourist attraction in most localities once the tree has reached a certain size. Some oriental planes are said to be capable of reaching unbelievable sizes: in fact, some accounts have it that certain personalities in Ancient Roman times even used the hollowed out interiors of centuries-old trees, fitting as many as 19 persons comfortably within the trunk.
The trees on Char Chinar island are not as huge as that, unfortunately, but they are large and remarkable in their own right. Even if you go around Srinagar and ask people exactly how long Char Chinar has been around, no one shall be certain, which indicates just how old the four trees are. An interesting bit of trivia about the trees, though, is that one is actually not “original” to the island: it is said that a lack of maintenance led to one of the oriental plane trees from the original quartet being lost, and so authorities planted the smallest specimen you see there now.
The island is actually something of a floating garden in itself, and it is not uncommon to see people getting into shikaras (the boats for which Dal Lake is known, often described as more decorated versions of the Venetial gondola) and asking the boatman to take them to Char Chinar. So what can you do on the island? Well, aside from spending some peace and quiet (it is generally quite calm and serene there) as you enjoy the gorgeous view of the lake around you and the mountains in the background, you could try the floating restaurant tethered to the island. Take note that probably the best time to visit Char Chinar is in the fall, around October. This is because the leaves of the four oriental planes turn a most vibrant red and make them look like huge pillars of flame, which makes for a superb photo opportunity.