Shikara Ride in Dal Lake Kashmir the dreams
From Kashmir ki Kali with Sharmila Tagore wearing a traditional dress with Shammi Kapoor to Preity Zinta in Mission Kashmir, Dal lake is a symbol of love and romance. There would hardly be a few who would not have fallen in love with the concept of a leisure ride, soaking in the beautiful pristine nature all around and fresh air. The silent water body and the splash of the oar as it cuts into the water creates its own music. I am being told that the oars consist of a rare shovel which is not manufactured in India.
How much does it cost for a Shikara ride in Dal Lake Kashmir?
The journey starts from the beginning of Dal Lake and continues for an hour which can be extended on request and on payment of additional money. We had our designated guide/ tour operator fixing this up for us and it costed us 400 INR for 1 hour. The photographer in me wanted more time. So we negotiated and got an extra hour for additional INR 300.
It’s a new world after a Shikara ride in Dal Lake
After a while that we started our ride, I began to chat up with the boatman who appeared to be extremely reclusive to speak other wise. Mushtaq was born in the lake, his last 4 generations have been there in the lake but his sons will not come to this business for insufficient pay. There are about 10000 shikaras plying in Dal lake and about 5000 Houseboats. As the journey starts, after some point of time, there are small time vendors who sell various things will come near your Shikara to showcase and sell local items and artifacts. In Kashmir, a Kahwa (the local tea) is always welcome but when it comes to Saffron, wooden crafts work and other artifacts, it can get a little tricky to buy it from anywhere. It is better not to buy them at the lake. I was even warned that the saffron sold on the lake was mostly coloured grass. There are Kashmiri Shawls and woolen garments and as well as a Photo opportunity to get dressed up as a Kashmiri woman and get clicked.
The backwaters have got various shops including Kashmiri handicrafts, carpets and wooden artifacts, to even a mini restaurant in the middle of the lake. One of the islands of Rupa Lank or popularly known as ‘char chinar’, has four majestic Chinar trees standing tall at the four corners. It is nothing short of picturesque. Selling of vegetables in a Shikara on the lake or a little kid going to school with her mother or two old friends catching up over a smoke are some of the scenes which will be etched in the memory forever. Other than the Shikaras and the Shikara ride in Dal Lake, there are Houseboats for overnight stay or a longer duration stay and some beautiful pictures can be captured as the reflections of the colourful houseboats play on the water.
The best time to go for a Shikara ride in Dal Lake
I was hooked on to an image in Pinterest of a morning market which is near Nigin Lake. On inquiry, we were told that the market starts at 5 in the morning and only pre-booked Shikara could take us there. Although I had done several boat rides on my own at Pokhara, Nepal to get that perfect morning shot, this was not possible here. If you are travelling with family and children, then early morning with soft lights around will be a great time to take this leisurely ride. In case you are travelling alone or with friends, then dusk will do wonders. No, I didn’t get that shot and it just gives me another reason to plan a Kashmir trip once again. XX
Things you cannot miss while in a Shikara ride on Dal lake
Most of these places will be shown by the Boat man but for quick reference, Dal Lake is centrally located and as you cruise along the lake, you will come across many places of tourist interest. You will most definitely see some of these up close and some from far.
- The Floating post office – only one in India
- The only floating book shop in India – Gulshan Book Shop with a reading room near Nehru Park
- Shalimar Garden
- Nishat Garden
- Back waters
- Hazratbal Mosque
Shikara is a symbol of a civilisation and a key part of an ecosystem
As we cruised on Dal Lake in our cosy shikara, we realised that the Shikara is more than a mode of transport or tourist attraction. Water bodies have been the base of civilisation for long and no better way to realise that than spending time here in Dal Lake. There is a school, there are groceries, there are medical support. People earn their livelihood not only by tourism but by growing vegetables (Lotus root and stem in particular, popularly known as Nadru) as well as breeding fish and selling them later. Most often, Shikara ride in Dal Lake is being compared with the Gondola rides in Venice and who can forget the evergreen hit – Do Lafzon ki.
In the end
We were nearing the end. As I bid goodbye to Mushtaq, I left with lots of questions. Just like the carpet weavers, this was also a very rare cultural symbol of Kashmir and again, the new generation is not too keen to join the bandwagon. For any business and tourism in particular, Kashmir has an unpredictability which may not have the stability of a long term plan to enhance and improve the infrastructure but a lot needs to be done. Rapid urbanisation around the lake leads to flow of sewage to the water bodies. It’s said that the size of Dal Lake has shrunk half due to constructions around the Lake. I wondered some of the boatmen over here have seen generations of a family coming and going for a Shikara ride in Dal Lake but these shikaras have seen generations changing, be it the boatmen or the tourists.
There are few pictures which I could not help but present in Black and White and let me know how you like it?