Mahjong Group of Houseboats, Kashmir – Life on the Waters of the Dal Lake

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Dal Lake views and Shikaras

Photo of Mahjong Group of Houseboats, Kashmir – Life on the Waters of the Dal Lake by Sakie Ariyawansa

I have had many trips to Kashmir, to places that most people do not get a change to visit. But my experience living in a houseboat was yet to see daylight, until I planned a sudden, random trip to Srinagar. My uncountable number of friends and their warm homes had never allowed me to spend my nights elsewhere.

Houseboats are the most known or spoken-of authentic symbol about Kashmir. Every stall, poster, or movie about Kashmir would never miss adding a houseboat or Dal Lake into its glamour. Maybe I had seen too many houseboats, or maybe I knew that I will be making more trips in the future, so the houseboat life was always delayed.

It was in October; autumn had made its way in already. Leaves were turning golden and the air was crisp. Dal Lake was attracting more visitors daily. Over 15 km around, Dal Lake is Srinagar's jewel, a vast sheet of water reflecting the carved wooden balconies of the houseboats and the misty peaks of the Pir Panjal Mountains. The lake feeds the lives of those that live by it, all of them having smaller boats, known as ‘Shikaras’ that carry the children to school, adults to work and tourists around the floating market.

Photo of Shangloo Group of House Boats, Karan Nagar, Srinagar by Sakie Ariyawansa

My friend Mr. Shangloo has his own houseboats and resorts over Kashmir and invited me over to Shangloo Palace, a houseboat on Dal Lake, facing the modern-day Srinagar. The photos of the houseboat which were received in advance were very impressive but nothing next to seeing it myself, the moment I entered it. It was a truly a marvelous piece of authentic Kashmiri interior! Houseboats carved out of Walnut wood is something beyond affordable. This category of houseboats is generally ancestral and had been on the waters from decades. A small Shikara boat takes the guests to the houseboat from the Dal gate, where parking facilities are available. Abdul Hamid, our helper loaded our stuff into the Shikara, and off we went paddling to the boat house for the night.

A small balcony-like deck opens to the verandah of Shangloo Palace, offering the most mesmerizing views of the hills and rays of sun beaming through it, that embrace the waters of the lake. The sitting area is furnished with hand-carved furniture and the windows decorated with the famous Kashmiri hand-embroidered curtains. The colors of the floor carpets add to the vibrancy of the interior. The hall leads to the dining area, a small kitchen that offers steaming Kashmiri Kahwa, breads, and Nun Chai (salt tea) A long window-exit opens into a terrace garden; full of daisies, carnations and marigolds, a perfect seat to sun bathe at early mornings when the cold wind cuts in.

Photo of Shangloo Group of House Boats, Karan Nagar, Srinagar by Sakie Ariyawansa
Photo of Shangloo Group of House Boats, Karan Nagar, Srinagar by Sakie Ariyawansa

A narrow corridor connects to the bedrooms. It was one of those magical bedrooms that I had only heard in fairy tales. A large cozy bed, a separate dressing room, with floral carvings with a large mirror and silk curtained windows with a spacious bathroom was more than what I needed to compensate my tiring flight from Delhi. Being able to speak in Kashmiri might have helped me in getting along fine with Abdul Hamid, as he served the best tea that evening. He also told me that he lives in the houseboat and only comes to land in the summers to visit his family. He was well aware of the water levels, the exact time the wood needs to be re-polished, or the carpets to be changed. His entire life was spent attached to the Dal Lake with its boat-life. The cold that swept in by 7 PM (even though it was only autumn) gave signs to a rough winter that is around the corner. Abdul told me that the houseboat is centrally heated to survive the snow fall, where the tourists prefer the houseboats even more than the summers.

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Sakie Ariyawansa

Mutton delicacies are dishes that one should never miss in Kashmir, as it is famous for home-made mutton kebabs. Our dinner was a steaming pot of rice, with mutton kebabs, Rista (meat balls) and cooked cheese with turnip leaves. They also offer vegetarian dishes too, for the vegetarian guests. I went to bed early as I was supposed to board a Shikara at 5 AM the next day to visit the Floating market.

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Sakie Ariyawansa

Located within Srinagar's iconic Dal Lake, the Floating Market of Srinagar is a place where Kashmiris living within the lake buy their daily fruit and vegetable supplies. Of course, the lake is famous already for it's houseboats, but the floating market is essential for life to function within the lake. Floating market is also one of the best places in Srinagar for photography.

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Sakie Ariyawansa

At 5 AM, Ali arrived at my verandah, to pick me up. My hands were numb with the cold but my heart was filled with excitement. There was absolute silence, except for music of the soft waves against the paddle, and the distant voice of prayer of the mosque far away. I was only able to see the tip of Ali’s burning cigar and night lights of other houseboats as we drew close to them. It was such a peaceful healing to the mind, and I promised myself to come back for it again. By the time we reached the market, the sun was already out The Floating Market was a gathering of Shikaras in the middle of the lake, that move from one corner to the other, where the seller and buyer are both on boats. There was a huge selection ranging from vegetables, fruits, flowers and cloth, and even Kashmiri tea for the early morning customers! The people were also discussing and arguing about the daily issues. It was a perfect market on water! Abdul Hamid had recommended a shawl emporium, at the Floating Market, where I purchased a few Kashmiri shawls, more to my collection of souvenirs.

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Sakie Ariyawansa

The entire Shangloo houseboats are 5 in number and offer 22 bedrooms, (single, double and triple basis) equipped with halls, dining areas, kitchens, verandahs, and terrace gardens. The guests can enjoy the facilities such as the central heating during winter, electric blankets, air conditioning for the summers, Wi-Fi (your international SIM card/Indian domestic SIM card will not operate in Kashmir), 24 hours running hot water, food of your choice and Shikara transport. They even have doctors on call, if guests face medical emergencies. Shangloo Travels provides tour packages with their own hotels and resorts for the entire Kashmir along with Leh-Ladakh region. Most importantly the staff offers the homely feeling while you are miles away from your own.

Kashmir is breath-taking scenic during all seasons. It turns white in winter, and shines with vibrant colors of its flowers and fruits in the summers. It is a destination that is most likely to extend your holiday with its beautiful landscapes and warm hearts of it’s people.

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Sakie Ariyawansa
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