Five days before we set out for this trip, there was a curfew levied on Srinagar, which had been lifted just two days ago. Owing to that, there was strong military presence in the city. Military trucks, soldiers with guns and barbed wires formed our first images in this valley of flowers. The roads were relatively empty until we reached the waterfront, where we stuck in the traffic for over two hours as temperatures soared to an unbearably high degree.
Finally, we hopped onto a shikara and headed to our houseboat. It was spectacular! I’d seen images of shikaras on Dal Lake in dozens of old Hindi films and TV series, but to actually be there was quite unimaginable.
Rowing away, our hotshot oarsman—who by the way was wearing swanky sunglasses—represented the modernisation that has swept this city in the past decade. It dissolved our images of the caricature of ‘the sweet old man who would slowly row towards his destination whilst chatting with his customers, sharing old stories and anecdotes about his simple, content life’. He did however tell us that Dal Lake is spread over 23 square km and has over 5000 houseboats. Another feature of this lake is the Hydrilla plant that grows underwater. It has a high content of oxygen and is used as a fertiliser, we were told.
My room in the houseboat was cute and cosy with a double bed, wooden furniture and a bath tub in the bathroom, which also had hot water. The cost, as per the guide, was Rs. 800.
Here are a few interesting things about Dal Lake:
1) The lake has a floating market. Not only are there shops every few metres in the market, people sell wares sitting in shikaras as well. They row right up to you and showcase their wares. Bargaining is an obvious part of the transaction. The variety of products range from jewellery and metal/wooden/papier-mâché boxes to clicking pictures in traditional local garb; all this while you’re sitting in your shikara.
2) Aside from shops, you’ll also find restaurants, and stalls selling tea and eatables like magi and ice-cream in the midst of the lake.
3) I did find a place offering water-skiing, but I’m unsure of the level of safety precautions they follow. Try at your own risk.
4) I visited a little papier-mâché factory at the lake that sells the most beautiful papier-mâché products. You can choose from boxes, bangles, necklaces, wall-hangings, wind-chimes, bells and other home decor items. All handmade and hand-painted. The prices too are reasonable. Necklaces cost approx. Rs. 200 and bangles start from Rs. 50 a piece.
5) I also visited a store for readymade garments and fabrics adorned with local embroidery designs. You can pick up traditional salwar kameez, jackets, bags and more.
6) Our last stop before retiring for dinner was Best View Resort. With plush interiors with chandeliers and exquisite glassware covering the living room, and cushy rooms with elegant English bedcovers and fancy curtains and carpets, it truly is one of the more opulent accommodation options available. A 3-bedroom costs about Rs. 5,500. The resort also houses a mini flower garden and swings for people who enjoy the outdoors.
A quiet dinner back at our houseboat ended our day-long tryst with Srinagar. As morning came, we headed for the road to Kargil after gazing upon a crimson sunrise while sipping on local Kahwa (tea).
READ MORE ABOUT THIS LADAKH TRIP
The route taken was: Mumbai-Delhi-Srinagar-Kargil-Leh-Sarchu-Manali-Delhi-Mumbai (click on the names below to go to the blog post on that destination):