“Reflections on Dal Lake” – A Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir

Read the travel blog on Dal Lake and learn about Dal Lake’s surroundings, environment, markets, and things to do in Srinagar, Kashmir for travellers.

Reflections on dal lake srinagar jammu kashmir travel blog

“A jewel in the crown of Kashmir” – ‘Dal’ is a spellbinding lake in the territory of ‘Kashmir’ in the northernmost part of India – a dream destination to be visited at least once in a lifetime.

As it is, being nestled between the majestic Himalayan mountain belts, the region of Kashmir which is predominantly categorized geographically as a valley; is blessed with natural beauty in sheer abundance. At an average altitude of about 1600 meters above sea level, the valley prides itself on oozing charms of (i) snow-festooned peaks, (ii) breathtaking vegetation consisting of deciduous evergreen, pine and alpine forests, (iii) sparkling blue rivers fed by glaciers, (iv) wild mountain broods, (v) sweet-scented and bright-coloured blooms, (vi) pristine natural lakes, (vii) luscious fruit orchards, (viii) Earthy fragrant spice fields, and (ix) lavish verdant pastures.

Dal is also famously known as “Srinagar’s Jewel” for its idyllic location in the city of Srinagar, which is the capital of Kashmir. Life on the waterways of Dal is in stark contrast to the urban tempo of Srinagar city. The postglacial shallow lake which is part of a natural wetland totally covers an area of 21 square kilometres. It is a delicate ecosystem that while facing its own threat of environmental collapse continues to generously support the livelihoods of a thriving community of people who have built a unique symbiotic relationship with the biodiversity of the lake, over the last century.

Houseboat and Shikara

dal lake srinagar travel guide

Standing at ‘chinar ghat’ on Dal Lake’s boulevard road [ghat is the passage with a flight of steps leading down to a river/lake; chinar is the name of the deciduous tree Platanus orientalis whose finger-like lobed leaves look green in summer and turn into beautiful shades of red/ orange/ yellow in autumn]; so named owing to the innumerable chinar trees found in almost every part of Kashmir valley; anyone is bound to feel awestruck and gasp at the wide vista before them.

Bound by the ‘Zabarwan’ mountain range on one side whose gorgeous reflections on the placid waters render a touch of magic, Dal seems quite amusing with a good deal of canoe-shaped wooden ‘shikara’ row-boats friskily plying about. The shikara has a sofa kind of seating at the centre of the boat, wrapped in soft and colourful fabrics; and covered by a canopy supported on 4 pillars. The boats glide gently across the water body as the boatmen sit steadily near the pointed edge of the boat and propel it forward with ease. Shikaras have become so symbolic of Dal Lake because this is the only means of transportation all around the huge waterscape.

The jaw-dropping ornate ‘Houseboats’ were admirably lined up on the other side of the lake. Houseboats on Dal Lake are one of a kind in the country, and are a major draw for tourists who want a surreal experience of true Kashmiri hospitality. These houseboats or ‘floating marvels’, made up of cedar wood, are stationed or anchored near the lakebeds. The elongated structures are an indisputable part of Kashmir’s heritage which usually comprise of multiple rooms, a kitchenette with a dining table, a plush drawing room, and a sit-out overlooking the prepossessing lake. The entire wooden houseboat (including walls and ceilings) is intricately carved with distinctive motifs and designed with traditional Kashmiri furniture that presents a ‘royal’ feel to the inmates. Therewithal, the floors are carpeted end-to-end and windows are decked up with pleasing upholstery bearing eye-catchy Kashmiri embroidery.

The first thing served inside the houseboat is the hot ‘kahwa’. Kahwa is a special Kashmiri green tea infused with exquisite flavours of a mix of spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and most importantly ‘saffron’. Sometimes other ingredients like almonds, honey, and dried rose petals are also added. At other times, the dining table has a tempting spread of Kashmiri delicacies. Especially to be mentioned is the ‘nadru’ or the ‘lotus stem’. Lotuses grow plentifully in the interiors of Dal Lake and hence have become an indispensable part of their diet.

Local musicians and craftsmen visit the houseboats on request to entertain and sell their wares like silver jewelry and clothes. On top of that, one is allowed to rent a bright-coloured ‘pheran’ which is the local Kashmiri dress, and strike a pose in it against the stunning backdrop – memories for a lifetime!

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A Mystical Paradise

shikara kashmir dal lake travel blog

Sailing deep into the mystical paradise called Dal Lake, that’s generally not visible from the boulevard, passes through narrow channels with patches of lush greenery. Native Kashmiri houses are built on banks further away from the houseboats. All people living in these homes know how to row a shikara for that is the only way they can commute to schools, to the post office, to the main city, to gardens, to the market, to go fishing or even to floating farms which some of them have privately cultivated on the water surface!

kashmiri shawl clothes

Then comes the popular ‘Meena Bazaar’ or the ‘floating market’ where umpteen numbers of shops selling pashmina (handloom) shawls, Kashmiri handicrafts, and dry-fruits, stand confidently on the lake.

Although this neighbourhood is clustered with houses, buzzling with stalls, and cacophonous with boatmen shouting at each other to make way for one another, there is still a picturesque quality about Dal Lake that surely cannot go amiss. The reflections that formed on the lake look so perfect as though it were a mirror!

It is a pleasure to watch and absorb ‘life’ on the waters while relaxing on the sofa in the shikara; pacing observations in tune with the rhythmic and soothing sound of oars against the water. Dal Lake is a world of its own; undeniably dreamy, romantic, fantastic, and fascinating to any traveller. Generations after generations of people lived, live, and shall live here. They substantially depend on tourism to make ends meet. They are also striving to save their habitat from further degradation {a result of excessive human activities and constructions taking place on the lake} with adequate bio-remedial measures in suit.

kashmir dal lake market srinagar travel guide

Dawn is the best hour of the day to witness how vegetables and flowers are being sold on other similar shikaras in the neighbourhood – essentially a lake market with mobile vegetable/flower vendors on boats!

In the evenings, the sky shows off brilliant hues of the twilight hour. Dal Lake falls asleep very late in the night during heavy tourist seasons; determined to make the most of profits during the warmer summers to make up for the poor show of tourism during winters when the lake gets frozen, due to which cutting through the ice and navigating through the gaps becomes a Herculean task. Nevertheless, the ‘icy’ scenes of Dal Lake during the winter months look all the more picture-perfect!

Night scenes on Dal are a different ball game altogether. The reflections of the elegantly lit houseboats are scintillating, stunning, and arresting!!!

The idea of lake tourism and houseboat services in Kashmir is astonishing! Further, the government has made plans to enhance tourism in the area by developing tourist ‘hamlets’ (floating villages) in the interiors of Dal Lake, which are to be equipped with homestays and all other amenities for visitors.