Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dal Lake, An amazing city on water

After a very short flight from Jammu, witnessing some of the most amazing views of my life on board an aircraft, we finally arrived at Srinagar at around 4:00 PM. A 20 minutes drive took us to the Dal lake, and the first thing that will strike you is its enormity. It's not one of the largest lakes in India, but its the biggest in the middle of a city. The lake is adorned by the traditional Shikaras, a cultural symbol of Kashmir. 
It is also surrounded by an enormous number of gardens. Some of the most famous ones are of course the Shalimar and the Nishat gardens built during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, and also the gorgeous Centaur Hotel, where 'Wazir-e-Azam' Dr. Manmohan Singh was to stay on his trip to J&K 2 days later. This just makes the lake look so beautiful that it's rightfully nicknamed the jewel in the crown of Kashmir. 
We were to stay the night on a houseboat named the Peer Palace. Houseboats in the Dal lake were introduced in the early nineteenth century by the Britishers, and their grandeur is still completely intact. They are so luxurious and grand that they could be easily compared with a 5-star or a 7-star hotel. But I wouldn't do so. It's just a completely different experience! Following are some of the images that I took in the house boat that we were staying in, the Peer Palace and let them stand their own testimony.
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After a 15 minute Shikara ride on the cold and calm waters, we reached the houseboat. We were hungry, and the manager had a bad news for us. The houseboat's cook had gone out. He added that we could order from a hotel that would give home delivery. It was a little surprising as to why would a hotel come and give home delivery to a houseboat in the middle of nowhere? The manager then cleared it to us that it's a floating hotel, a hotel right in the middle of the lake that takes orders from the houseboats and delivers food to them. He also said that there is a market, a school, a police station, a post office and lots of other amenities within the lake. That's when it hit us that its not just a lake. its a complete city in itself. He then promised to take us around and show it to us. After having some delicious pakodas and the Kashmiri tea, we headed to experience the Dal lake. 
First we visited the usual tourist spots, the gardens, the water sports area and the Char Chinar, a small island in the middle of the lake which just has four Chinar trees (remember the leaf on the flag of Canada?). Then we headed for the Kabutar Khana, a small palace  on water which was built by the king of Kashmir to watch birds!  Imagine owning a piece of water, on which you have a palace built, which is then surrounded by lilies and lotuses... reminds me of the lyrics of the song from Mission Kashmir, Socho ke jhilon ka sheher ho, leheron pe apna ek ghar ho, hum jo dekhen, sapne pyare, sach ho saare, bas aur kyaaaaa..., which again was shot on one of houseboats here on the Dal lake. Now of course, the palace has been converted into a CRPF camp, surrounded by speed boats and high end rifles (a sight that is very common in J&K, but more on that in my next post). 
Then we were headed for the inner parts of the lake, the parts that are not affected by the tourists, a very calm and peaceful place, we set sail into the setting sun...
You must be wondering as to how could people built homes in the middle of a lake? Well nature has its own miracles. They are built on pieces of floating lands, yes, pieces of land that are absolutely floating on the top of water, and if the owner wants to move somewhere else in the water, all he/she needs to do is wade the piece of land through the water. The land is kept in place by the water plants that have been grown. These lands are also used for growing vegetables, which are then sold in the local markets in the lake!  Here's a pic of some of the houses and the vegetation around them, and their mode of transportation...
Soon we were at their school...
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Then we were headed for the market. Passing through complete wilderness, the quietness was just refreshing. It was like a completely different world out there, there were the birds, the plants and the trees, the still water and me with my family in a Shikara, wading through roads made of water...
We then reached the market. If you have visited any major melas in any major cities, you would have definitely come across Kashmir handlooms and emporiums. All their outlets are here. From clothes to vegetables to snacks, everything is available here. People residing in the lake actually prefer marketing here than going out anywhere else.
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In the winter of course, the markets stay closed, in fact the whole of Kashmir valley remains almost closed due to the heavy snow fall. By the end of December till late january, the Dal lake remains completely frozen, so much so that you could actually walk on it. In fact it turns into a playground for children during the winters, and people play football, cricket and hockey here as I was told (of course the ones who can bear the severe cold :P).
After an amazing night of sleep in the calm wilderness, the next day we were headed for the rest of our trip of J&K. More on that will be on my next post, but right now all I can say is reiterate what Mughal Emperor Jahangir had to say about Kashmir...
Agar firdaus bar rue zamin ast,
hamin asto hamin asto hamin ast!

(If there be paradise on earth, 
it is here, it is here, it is here!)
A lily from the Dal lake...
And the rest of the images from the Dal lake...

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