Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dal Lake Is No Dull Lake – Srinagar Revisited

Arriving Srinagar from Mumbai by air on 27th May 2012 in early afternoon, checking in at hotel, we had a late lunch and sauntered around the Dal Gate area and TRC. With no idea as to what we should do, a stroll on Boulevard road adjoining Dal lake was the easiest option. While walking, we were content in watching the stationed houseboats and cruising shikaras on a placid Dal lake. Some distance later we fell an easy prey to a smooth talking, English speaking young Kashmiri shikara-wallah named Samir, for one hour plus cruise on Dal lake for Rs. 500/-; we just stepped on the boat. Even before he started rowing, his blabbering mouth was working overtime, trying to make with us a 2/3 hour deal for extra bucks, which we managed to stave off!   

The shikara has a seating capacity for three in a reclining position and on opposite side a small seat to accommodate two more. We did not lose much time in taking our shoes off and let go our tired bodies on cushioned comfortable seats, savoring the cool breeze blowing across the lake as the boatman took little time to get his shikara out of the congregation of many. His brethren, who were on a similar mission for their evening catch, looked on! 
The first visual on right side was Boulevard road, considered to be one of the posh areas in Srinagar, with high end hotels and restaurants, tourist offices and clean footpath for pedestrians for taking their leisurely stroll.
Dal lake bifurcates as we reached a position parallel to middle of Boulevard road and our boat took a left hand turn and followed half a dozen of shikaras cruising lazily ahead. An ideally located hotel named Hotel Heaven Canal looked heavenly, just over the lake bank with beautiful rose garden in front, which any discerning tourist will fancy.
As we passed by another shikara along side, a photographer was photo shooting a lady in Kashmiri outfit a la Sharmila Tagore from yesteryear movie 'Kashmir Ki Kali'. These are special boats with ‘Digital Photoshop’ written across it, with a photographer at hand and some Kashmiri outfits in its stock. Tourists carry the memory of their Dal lake cruise back home by availing of such facilities being offered at a price. 
As we chat and watch around us, the boat man trifle bored with his rhythmic rowing, interrupts us to impart us with some info on the lake. In his words (spoken in Hindi), “Sir, this lake is around 33 km (perhaps he means periphery). In month of January the entire lake freeze and kids play cricket, football and hockey. In off-season, I do weaving of shawls and carpets and also do the selling on my own.”

Sudden excitement from boatman, “Dada, function boat, right hand side, ooribaba!” made us crane our neck hastily to see a gigantic blue and white function boat reserved for occasions like wedding and other social activities and capable of accommodating 150 – 200 invitees.

We pass through a place on lake which prides in having Masjid, hospital, medicine shop and doctor’s services.
We sight a bird gliding on the water surface near dense growth of aquatic bushes. On query the boatman replies, “This one is Jalmurgi” and cautions, “Hold securely your cameras. If it falls in the lake, it will not come back.” Again when queried whether cameras fall into the lake, pat came the reply, “They fall in thousands.” Meanwhile we pass by a guy in a small boat with fishing rod in a quiet corner, patiently waiting for a catch. 
As we were having an exciting cruise, the boatman sensed an opportunity and once again took his chances of pushing through a deal for two hours of boat ride. We deftly avoided the proposal and had a sudden view of an aquatic bird similar to crane or heron perched up on a wooden stump in backdrop of a houseboat named ironically as ‘King Of Sea’, from a very close proximity.
We pass by beautiful Nehru Garden not to be confused with Nehru Park at the foothill of Shankaracharya hill. This portion of Dal lake is known as Golden lake. The houseboats rentals on both sides of this waterway are anything between Rs. 5,000/- to Rs. 15,000/- per day. 
Dal lake is by all means a floating town with houseboat for staying and floating market for purchasing any types of commodities.  We caught a boat selling biscuits snacks, soft drinks and much more. 
In June / July day temperature at Srinagar goes thirty degree plus during day time and ice cream is a welcome commodity and of course any time is tea time. The boat serving ice creams and tea and snacks was stationed with a few guys buying their cup of tea. But, we did not want to lose our precious floating time.
We pass by a large green area partly submerged in water. The boatman resumes, “This is called floating land. Local people spread seeds of Lauki, Khira and Tomato on it. The vegetable grows easily in this land without much fuss with water and nutrition from lake. The whole land is tied to wooden stumps embedded in the lake subsoil and can be shifted from one place to another location.
Some more advice came from Boatman for not buying Kesar (Saffron) from Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam where it may be cheaper but will not be of original quality. Even he requests us not to buy the same product offered by floating boat-shops on the lake. He claims all the products like Kesar, shawls are supplied from lake side shops even to the Srinagar markets.  The intention of the boatman was became more clear as he interjects, “The commodities at shops lining the lake cost less as they do not have to give taxes unlike the shops at Srinagar market.” We reached a few shops alongside the lake, where one can hop from the boat and step on to a platform and enter the shop; in short hop-step-shop.
We had some shopping done at Royal Kashmir of dry fruits and Kesar. Kesar was priced at the rate of Rs. 300/- per gram. On our trip towards Pahalgam at Pampore a few days later, we got the same product at Rs.200/- per gram. My shopping of some stone jewelry from Farooq and Sons proved to be good as I did not get that kind of product in other regions of Kashmir. We came across more gorgeous looking shops but refrained from wasting our time. 
Some distance later it was interesting to read the names of some of the finest looking houseboats with fancy names – Goona Palace, Lake Palace, Alps, Chicago, Beauty Star, New Zealand Deluxe, Almost Heaven Deluxe, New Lucky Flower and so many other phoren sounding names! Surely the idea is to lure the overseas tourists to houseboats made with walnut wood having delicate designs, intricately carved, showcasing the artistry of Kashmiri craftsmen. 
We were back to our starting place, immensely happy. But the Dal lake story does not end here. Next day in morning we travelled in our rented car by Boulevard road and had another look at the Dal lake activities. Near the floating post office we had a few minutes break.
The second halt was at the base of Shankaracharya hill facing Dal lake. From here one sees the most important island and happening place in Dal lake known as Nehru Park. Bollywood film shootings of blockbuster of yester year like 'Kashmir Ki Kali' and not so old films like 'Gul Gule Gulfam' and 'Mission Kashmir' were shot here. 

Driving up on tree-lined hill road on way to Shankaracharya temple with occasional view of Dal lake as seen from elevation appeared to be more enticing. A place with a large opening amidst the trees, has been created and named as ‘view point’ for tourists. What an awesome view from there! The enormity of the lake is very much apparent. Many islands and land mass around the lake is clearly visible. A large number of houseboats on water body make a picturesque scene. Major portion of Nehru park is visible from here and definitely looks pretty. The distant hill with Zorawar Fort on top is faintly visible through early morning haze.

The shikaras moving in slow fluid motion is worth watching for hours but our tight schedule did not permit us this luxury. 

After having our darshan at the Shankaracharya temple, where photography is prohibited, I picked up my camera after coming to the view point once again while going downhill, to catch up some action on the water body of Dal lake. Morning time looked to be ideal for speed boats carrying tourists for a cruise. Some adventurous tourists took part in water surfing, latching on to the rope hooked on to the speed boats. We bade goodbye to Srinagar after a short sweet overnight stay to drive to Gulamarg.

* Many photos are of low resolution as they have been created from video clips. I have tried to make up for that shortcoming by my words. However, viewers wishing to have more fun and nine minutes of patience may see the video created for our shikara ride full of interesting scenes in Dal lake and equally interesting interaction with boatman. The video link is as follows:



  1. Thank you for reviving memories!

  2. Dal lake is the main attraction of Kashmir . Its beautiful Shikara and house boat definitely make you surprise . Travel Goa Tour Packages

  3. It was lovely reading about your trip to Mcleodganj and Srinagar. The mesmerising valley of Srinagar is engulfed in sky-scraping mountains and refreshing greenery will leave you absolutely enchanted. Head here to experience warm hospitality of the people and the great food. Click here to know more about Srinagar tourism.