#KashmirDiaries: Romancing the Dal

When you think of Srinagar, you think of the Dal Lake.

And I think of Shashi Kapoor romancing Sharmila Tagore in Kashmir ki Kali. {Yes, yes, complete cliché, but it is what it is.} So it should be no surprise that a shikara ride was right up there on my have-to-do list. I was so eager to experience the romance of the shikara that I dragged the husband to the Dal almost as soon as we had checked in to our hotel.

Dal lake srinagar kashmir sunset shikara ride mughal garden gate

Sailing into the sunset

I had heard that the Dal Lake is dotted with shikaras selling everything from trinkets to chips and Coke, and that they start hounding you almost the minute you get into a boat. That was not what I wanted at all, and I was prepared to tell the boatman that in no uncertain terms. But when we reached the lake, I didn’t see any other shikaras floating around – how lucky was that?

Turns out luck didn’t have anything to do with it. Location did.

You can hire shikaras from designated ghats all along the lake shore. Most tourists live around the Dal Gate area, which is where you’ll find all the pretty houseboats lined up, and is, of course, where the pesky shikara guys await, wanting to sell you all the things. We were staying further away, in Nishat, which is why it was just us, the lake, and the shikara. And, of course, the romance.

What struck me first was the silence. Unlike rowboats, the shikara glides on the water noiselessly. Even the boatman’s oars make hardly any noise.

People live on the Dal lake and grow vegetables in floating gardens

House on a little island in the middle of the Dal lake

As we pulled away from shore, all I could see was water stretching endlessly to the horizon. Up ahead was an old stone archway dated to the Mughal era. According to the boatman, it was one of the entry gates to the royal court complex. As we passed under it, he pointed out the Arabic writing on the side of the walls.

And then it was just the expanse of the lake. And the waterlilies, which bloom during the day, but had closed by the time we reached them, the birds, dragonflies, and the lake people.

Before the Srinagar floods in 2014, the lake was home to about 5,000 families. Now, there are less than 2,000 left. A lot of the families were resettled elsewhere after the floods, but some refused to leave their home. And I could see why.

dal lake boatman villager shikara

An old villager, according to our shikara guy, he lives in a small village on the Dal Lake

At our request, the boatman took us to a “village” on the Dal Lake, where the lake people live and farm on the Dal. Yes, on the lake! They have floating farms, where they grow vegetables and lotus flowers in the water – farm to table at its simplest best. They fish the lake, grow vegetables, and travel the waterways tending their fields. And the best part, they can actually take their farm with them if they choose to move to a different part of the lake! We saw a lot of them out in their small spoon-shaped boats, checking on their farms, returning with the day’s catch, or with their boats piled high with weeds.

I could see the charm of this life. It’s a hard life, to be sure, but a simple one. It touched a part of my soul, and I hope I don’t forget it…the all-pervading silence, unmoored from the cares of the land, a world unto its own.

I had climbed into the shikara with an image of Bollywood romance. I climbed out of it having experienced a soul-deep romance with the lake.


More in this series: The journey begins | Romancing the Dal  | Srinagar in a day | Pahalgam: Of fairy tale gardens and the majestic Lidder | Nara Nag: Where nature and history meet | Doodhpathri: Where the river turns into milk | Sonamarg: Heartbreak and healing


 

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33 Comments

  1. I like the idea of a floating farm. What an innovative idea. Thanks for sharing. I was 11 years old when I visited Srinagar many many many moons ago. We stayed in a houseboat and it was such an awesome experience. I can recall that in so much detail.

    • Ah we missed the houseboat this time. Next time, hopefully. That’s on my wish list for the next Srinagar trip for sure! 🙂

    • Thanks Sid! Hope things settle down there and you can visit soon. It’s beautiful, especially the areas that aren’t super touristy yet!

  2. I have kept the hour long ride hidden inside me..the peace which it gives is just amazing… the small houses, the farms, the deep lake ..the underwater plantation… did you visit the charminar island?

  3. Finally the long awaited Kashmir posts Jini! Now that has kindled a lot of hidden desires to visit Kashmir. And all about the floating farm want me there now! Very interesting place and a very descriptive post.

  4. I have only seen pictures and heard many wonderful things about Kashmir’s beauty that it always makes me realize that I have missed something that I shouldn’t have! Kashmir is indeed a paradise on earth! A place whose beauty is indescribable and unimaginable if not visited in person. I so regret that I haven’t visited it yet!
    Well, you have always been a great narrator and this is a lovely to the Kashmir series, Jini! Also, I loved the black and white picture! 🙂

    • It is indeed, I do hope you can visit soon Saumy! Thank you for your kind words 🙂

      And I’m glad you liked the b&w photograph!!

  5. Shikara ride was on our list too when we had visited Kashmir. The experience of getting up at 4 in the morning and visiting the floating market and having kahwa is still fresh in my mind. 🙂
    Lovely post that took me back to our visit!

  6. You created magic by your writing here. I have always wanted to visit but haven’t gone so far yet. And weirdly the thought of Srinagar reminds me of Kashmir Ki Kali. I hope to go one day and see the floating farms and enjoy the peace and serenity. 😊

    • You must visit Ramya! By the end of the ride, I almost wished I could live on the lake forever and didn’t have to return to reality!

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