DAL LAKE, SRINAGAR, INDIA
A trip to Kashmir always makes you think about lofty chinar trees, glaciers at towering heights, freezing cold temperatures in the peak summer and of course the Dal lake. For me and many like me, being able to spend a few days at a secluded houseboat at Dal Lake is jannat itself. When you plan a trip to Kashmir, the first and foremost step is to plan your houseboat stay.
Dal Lake which is spread over 21 kms square is through and through a tourist stop. The lake itself has a boulevard of about 19 to 20 kms surrounding it which starts from the Lal Chowk side which is another tourist hub. You have the numbered gates where the shikaras are parked and gate numbers start logically and go up to about Gate No. 30 with the most active and touristy gates being from 4 to 12. As soon as you reach your gate, the shikara walla will coordinate with your booked houseboat owner and ensure that you reach your houseboat.
Our houseboat was named New Swift and the reasoning behind this naming defies logic since the house boat is always standing idle at one place and never moves on. Further observation showed more irreverent and absurd names like New Moon Light, Chicago, Wangnoo, and Dogstar. Dal Lake is one of those elusive places where you can hear the silence and are rocked and lulled into deep and stress free sleep with the gentle and comforting sound of the chappa chappa of a shikara passing by.
What wakes you up, Oh boy, it is the sound of the king fisher who swoops in elegantly and perches itself on the parapet of your houseboat. It then swings its wings, flies a few meters above the gently lapping water, makes a show of scanning the lake for its food, swoops down and within a few seconds comes up triumphantly with its prized possession and the next minute, it gulps it down.
Or, if you are lucky, you will have the common eagle perched somewhere nearby with its nest on one of the highest branches of the deodhar tree. Its young ones will be calling out for food and the mother eagle with her sharp eye sight who will be perched on the braches some 40 – 50 meters above the ground, suddenly flaps her wings, aims for a spot somewhere in the centre of the lake, skims the surface of the water for few meters and clumsily flaps into the sky with a fish firmly gripped in its claws to land smoothly in the nest so that it can feed its ever hungry and growing young ones.
The houseboat is a treat in itself; the one we had was in the deluxe category and consisted of two bedrooms, with a living room and a terrace at the entrance, giving us complete privacy. The bedrooms came with attached bathrooms and both bathrooms had tubs and 24/ 7 hot water. The rooms were fairly large with 4 coaster beds, fully carpeted and with intricate and delicately carved wood panelling on the walls and the roof of the rooms.
Both the rooms had wide French windows for the morning sun to pour into the room which allowed you to feel the warmth of the sun. The living room is set with a beautifully carved wooden dining table, a few sofas and divans to snooze in the afternoon or laze around with a kindle and kahwa tea which the cook/owner/consigner is ready to refill with hot rounds as and when needed.
The best part the house boat is the entrance terrace which is semi-covered and has a vast view of the Dal Lake, where you can sit and see the local gossip between the kashmiris on the one side and observe the tourists bargain for the saffron, dress materials, or beautifully carved wooden jewellery boxes on the other side.