We went to Srinagar only as a stopover before flying out to Delhi but fell in love with the city with floating homes. The second row in the Dal lake is a completely different world in Srinagar, much quieter that the first row, with no traffic noises coming from the road that goes past the ghats on the Dal lake.
After reaching Srinagar bus stand a houseboat manager came up to us and quoted us Rs.2000 / night for a room in a houseboat . Thanks to Awshesh’s bargaining skills, that soon reduces to Rs.600 / night even before seeing the houseboat. We hired a shikara ( narrow boat) from ghat no.9 for Rs.50 and reached our houseboat in 10 mins. The journey to the houseboat was really interesting. We went past beautifully carved facades of many houseboats, many shops, Kashmiri jewelry sellers with their Shikara boat shops.
As we got to the second row of the houseboats, it got quieter. We could see more birds, weeds, water plants that locals were plucking to cook. We got glimpses of what life is like for locals on the lake.
My traditional Kashmiri room in the houseboat
We checked out our houseboat, it was awesome! Wooden floor, ornate carvings, nice dining room, sitting area at the front and best of all- the two bedroom/ dining/ external living room shikara was entirely ours for the day as there were no other tourists. We were told that the owner’s mom was not well so we had to arrange food from the mainland Srinagar. We got some traditional dishes like Gustaba, Rishta, kababs from Mughal durbar and based on the restaurant people’s recommendation took only half plate of their grand feast. Cost around Rs.800 and the food was enough for 2 people. We got some beers to go with it from a near-by shop.
We spent most of our time gazing at the water, seeing all the activities of daily life happening. We took a boat ride in the evening. One has to really experience it to get a full feel of this ride. The backdrop of the mountains with the lake and its unique eco-system, the willow trees drooping towards the water, the children coming back from school rowing their own shikaras, the kahwa( Kashmiri tea with saffron) shops are just a few of the unique things we saw. The shikara guy kept persuading us to go to certain shops to shop for handicraft items (he might have had a commission) but we politely declined. We stopped at a shop to drink tea and bought a box of kahwa- a blend of tea with saffron and other spices. It was delicious!
All in all, it was a different slice of Kashmir – a city with a beautiful flavor.
- Srinagar na be reached by flight, connectivity from Delhi is quite good. It can also be reached from Jammu by cab. Fare for shared cab in a comfortable sedan was about Rs.800 in 2017
- Stay- Many options are available in the city. Stayinhg in a houseboat is a unique experience. However, one should stay in the second row or beyond to avoid the noice from the city. Nagin lake is another good area to enjoy houseboat.
- Food- Traditional Kashmiri dishes are quite meat heavy. However vegetarian options are also available.
- Word of caution – Alcoholic drinks are not that common in Kashmir due to the dominant culture and can be frowned upon. We found it better to be discrete about it in the city. The houseboat guys didn’t have problem though. In fact, some houseboats could arrange it for you at an extra cost.