Dal Lake ~ Sikhara Ride
Dal Lake ~ Sikhara Ride
~ Floating through Paradise ~
The city of Srinagar is centered round the beautiful Dal Lake, no wonder Dal Lake is Srinagar’s prime attraction. The lake has a circumference of 15.5 km and covers an area of 21 sq. km. along with a 3 sq. km. are of wetland.
The Dal Lake actually consists of four lakes namely Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin. Nagin the smallest and the most beautiful of the four is often considered as an independent lake.
The major attraction of Srinagar are also located around the Dal Lake. Hazarat Bal Mosque, Shamkaracharya Temple and the Mughal Gardens (Shalimar, Chashmashahi and Nishat) are alll located around the Dal Lake.
The best way to explore the Dal is the sikhara, the beautifully decorated boat, the once iconic symbol of many Bollywood hits and also the logo of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Tourism Department.
As you enter the lake you will be surrounded by floating salesman selling anything from Kashmiri shawl to wood work and from saffron to the magical stone of Silajit.
But soon they will leave and you will be left all alone to enjoy the pristine beauty of the lake. Your boat man will row you past the bathing boats, two large boats providing swimming and water skiing facilities. So if you are brave enough to plunge at the ice cold water do give this a try.
Soon you will pass the Kabutar Khana (Place of the pigeon) and head deep into the lake. Soon the island of Char Chinar (Rupa Lank) will appear as a dot in the horizon only to be transferred into a tiny square island housing four towering chinar trees at its four corners. The leave less trees with its intricate networks of branches can create a gloomy but stunning spectacle with the overcast sky as the backdrop.
Incidentally the Dal Lake houses two such Char Chinar Island, the second one is known a Sona Lank and is located in front of the sacred site of Hazarat Bal.
The Rupa Lank island houses a Resturant boat, which serves excellent Kashmiri breakfast in its beautiful wood carved balcony, with a majectic view of the lake.
After a heavy breakfast at the island I headed for the floating gardens and the floating markets, probably the most interesting part of the Dal Lake.
The best selling author and Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipal puts it as “…inspite of its unkempt lushness, its tottering buildings and the makeshift instincts of its inhabitants, the lake was charted and regulated; that there were divisions of labour as on land; and the division of water space were to be recognized even if marked by no more than a bent and sagging length of wire….. And such regulation was necessary because the lake was full of people and the lake was rich.”
Floating gardens, labeled the ‘Rad’ in Kashmiri language are a special feature of the lake. They basically constitute of matted vegetation and earth, but are floating. These are detached from the bottom of the lake and drawn to a suitable place (generally to the north west of the houseboats’ location) and anchored. Given its rich nutrient properties, tomatoes, cucumbers and melons are grown with noteworthy results.
As you enter the floating vegetable garden do look out for the posts and sagging wires separating one territory from the other. The Dal Lake actually consists of several lakes connected by an intricate maze of canals. The sikhara floates through the amazing maze of canals past the vegetable gardens, which finally merged with the floating market.
The floating market not only has shops selling Kashmiri carpets and artifacts to tourist but also has grocery shops selling articles of day to day use to the locals. It also houses a dispensary, providing doctors on call, who moves around on a red cross marked sikhara.
Suddenly you will find yourself out of the floating market and into the open part of the lake. The sikhara tour ends with a small stop at the Nehuru Island of Dal Lake which houses several makeshift stalls selling Kashmirti artifacts. Finally the two hours shikara ride comes to an end.