A quick rewind to my first blog- Tarsar Marsar trek in Kashmir; we wanted to spend some time in Srinagar, but we only had a weekend before we resumed work; therefore, exploring all the poetic alleys of Dal Lake was an easy math. We completed the 7-day trek and finished approx. 6kms decent on our last day; made it to the base camp and quickly boarded a vehicle to drop us to the city.
Staying close to Dal lake would have been good enough, but staying on a houseboat sounds better, doesn’t it? Airbnb, my go to place when it comes to looking up stay options, and I found a sweet deal at Firdous Houseboat.
The host, Fayaz Bhai - a true Gentleman in every manner right from the time I enquired about booking till the time we reached the houseboat. As we approached the lake, the colourful Shikaras dotting the bank was the first thing that caught my attention. We reached the designated platform 6 as guided by our host; I had started negotiating with the drivers for a ride to our houseboat, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear one of the Shikara drivers calling out my name and looking for us; our host had arranged a pick up. The shikara driver introduced himself as Aashiq and briefed us a little bit about the Dal lake area. The Shikaras were intricately decorated with muslin cloth curtains, royal flushed cushions and beautifully crafted & engineered for easy mobility with suitable stability.
Shikara at Dal Lake
We were in awe when we arrived; it was an elaborate piece of art; and we had just seen the porch. We were welcomed by a small boy who was appointed to assist the house guests as the host functions remotely; however, Aashiq bhai was no less of a self-proclaimed host. He briefed us about the Kolu family’s legacy in Kashmir and the said that our houseboat is being carried forward by the 3rd generation of owner; it was approximately 70 feet in length, made of seasoned cedar wood and more than 60 years old. The interiors certainly took us back to another era, it was adorned with magnificent carvings made of walnut wood, palatial carpets, crewel curtains and embroidered runners and bed-sheets; even the doors and windows had the touch of walnut wood carvings; overall a very unique experience of living on water with all the convenience of a luxury hotel. Ashiq bhai took his leave after scheduling the plan for Shikara ride during sunset.
Porch on the Houseboat
Living room on the Houseboat
Intricate design on wood and Walkway on the houseboat
We are all considerably tanned and grubby after the 7-day trek and a long warm shower followed by a quick nap were yelping for attention.
Our ride had arrived on time for the 5PM Shikara ride; we quickly boarded and set sail. Aashiq bhai, a chatty person by nature and a bright smile on his face always ensured he imparted a generous doze of knowledge about the history and geography of the place. We were headed east-wards which gave us a beautiful canvas of the setting sun in the background and warm, golden light ensured some excellent portrait photography.
Sunset at Dal lake
Shikara ride at sunset
We visited in the month of August, so it was definitely no winters, but the fading mountains in the distance sync pleasingly with the sweet evening breeze and the mild yaw motion of boat.
Sunset at Dal lake
Our first halt was at a floating café. I was amazed to see that it was actually a book café; well-stocked with books highlighting the evolution of Jammu and Kashmir, some told stories on the present crisis of J&K while others took spoke about the Kashmiri Rajas. The café was loaded with sharply dressed Kashmiris, mostly contemplating on art and literature. We drank coffee alongside good food for thought!
We headed next to the urban floating bazar and the water-streets were attractively lit; that was my first visit to a floating market and I was quite stoked. The shops marketed a variety of commodities, ranging from fine silk merchandize to wholesale tea and condiments to local silver jewelry.
Evening market at Dal lake
We went into one such silk store and a beautifully embroidered baby pink scarf caught my eye; on inquiring about the price, he quoted a few thousand bucks; my expression spoke enough for him to quickly escort me towards the lower range counters. Sigh I have an expensive eye! Even though I did not purchase any, I can confidently vouch for the superior quality of the silks.
Kashmir is widely known for the walnuts for their superior taste and quality and are demanded worldwide. I had never heard of nuts being sold in carats; a very unique way of marketing, considering their range of production. Kehwa is a popular warm beverage (equivalent to tea) consumed up in this region and I absolutely got my hands on a jar and also on a tiny box of saffron.
You are bound to encounter a very open marketing of pine nuts; the shopkeeper showcased a pack with a straight face, “it’s not just tasty sir, they would keep us men healthy and viable too”. We giggled our way to the payment counter and burst out into laughter as we boarded the Shikara.
A delicious Kashmiri Wazwan was on our minds for dinner and Aashiq bhai suggested that we try the Kashmiri cuisine at Shamyana. We were joined by 2 of our fellow trek-mates and asked them to meet us at Shamyana. Once the wait was complete, we quickly got down to business and were stunned just reading the menu, we could not decide what not to order! With great difficulty we narrowed down our options and called for a full platter of Shamyana special barbeque, a generous portion of Yakhni Lamb Curry along with garlic naan and a small portion of Kashmiri pulao. The platter offered a kebab, stuffed with mildly spiced minced mutton stuffed inside well barbequed chicken pieces; totally melt in our mouth! The Yakhni curry and naan were top-notch too; I can feel my mouth-water even when I am peening this piece.
Yakhni Lamb Curry
We crawled ourselves to platform 6 where Aashiq bhai was waiting for us. The houseboat looked even more beautiful in the night as the chandeliers were lit. After a quick chat out on the porch, we called it a night.
I woke up early the next morning to catch the morning sun also to witness the calmness of Dal Lake.
Mornings at Dal lake
We were to catch an evening flight back to Bangalore and so, after bidding adieu to Dal lake and Aashiq bhai,
With Aashiq bhai at Firdous Houseboat
Last Shikara Ride
We headed out to explore the famous bakeries in Srinagar; Jan Bakers is one of the oldest and most recommended. They offered at least 8 different varieties of loaf cakes alone, along with a mind-babbling number of cookies and savouries. I skipped lunch that day as I had loaded up and packed bunch loads of their savouries.
We had a transit in Delhi on our way to Bangalore and I got an unexpected call; it was from Aashiq bhai; I answered, and he asked “Pahuch gaye beta?” (He asked me in Hindi if I had reached home safely). I was taken aback for a few seconds; I thanked him profusely for taking care of us and showing us around.
A great lesson learnt on hospitality and humanity; goodbye only to come back soon. I am definitely returning for my pink scarf.
Expense Summary Trip duration - 1 night stay, 2 days Flights - INR 18,500 return fare for 2 passengers Stay - INR 2250 for twin sharing rooms Food - INR 3,000 Basic expense total - INR 23,750 for 2 people**
Shikara ride - INR 2,000 for 4 people
Additional expense - Approx. IN 500 per head
** Please note - The above mentioned cost made sense as we had combined this with a 7-day Tarsar Marsar trek and stayed in Srinagar over the weekend.
Please do try the Kashmiri Wazwan at Shamyana.
A visit to Jan Bakers should be on your cards
Do bring home some Kashmiri Walnuts
Credit : https://www.amritanandi.com/post/dal-lake-the-urban-lake-of-kashmir