Houseboats and Srinagar are completely inseparable, and a visit to the city is rather incomplete without actually staying in one, even if it's just for one night. But did you know that the history of these houseboats is fairly recent and they introduced on the Dal lake of Srinagar only in the 19th century? Actually when the Europeans wanted to settle down in the state but local laws prevented them from buying land. So an ingenious guy decided to build these boats instead and it became homes for Europeans back then :)
So when I was in Srinagar staying in a houseboat was high on my agenda. Here is a story of about my experience of staying in a houseboat on the iconic Dal lake :)
Since I have been to Srinagar a few times, many have asked me about whether I would recommend living in a houseboat in Dal Lake, Srinagar. So I am starting a two story series on Houseboats on Dal Lake – living inside and living outside.
So let me start with the story that we all want to see and enjoy. Living within the luxurious beautiful houseboats. These houseboats are basically hotels within the lake, albeit more personal and homely in nature.
While I was in Srinagar, I stayed in two different houseboats. Since I stayed for longer in the second one, let me share stories from there. Lets start with the very interesting name of the houseboat – Apollo Eleven! Well most houseboats have amazingly innovative names and this one was no different – it was named after NASA’s moon mission in 1969. I have no idea why the owners decided to derive their inspiration from this, but it certainly makes a very catchy name!
The place is run by local guy, who came here as a young boy when he was just fifteen from a village near Gulmarg. At 24 now, he is the sole caretaker and has a young apprentice from his own village. The owner is a rich guy who lives in the city and we never really saw him.
Each houseboat usually has one to five rooms, and almost all of them are identical with an attached bathroom. The rooms are actually very plush and you can spend hours just sitting inside, reading a book or listening to music. Or you can also sip umpteen cups of Kashmiri Kehwa, though be prepared to miss it like hell when you go back home :)
Another fun activity to do is to sit on the front porch and do some shopping. There are many floating shops selling anything from fruits & vegetables, to Kashmiri pashmina and local exotic jewellery. If they sense your interest, they will come inside and show you there complete collection. I am not at all the shopping types, but was really curious to see the number of things that they can carry in a tiny shikara and the kind of negotiations that take place if you want to buy something.
Visit to the vegetable markets
If you are a bit more adventurous and enjoy early mornings, I would very strongly recommend a visit to the fantabulous floating vegetable market of Dal lake which takes place every morning within the lake itself. The market is for the locals and actually starts before sunrise, so if you want to actually go there leave sometime after 4am (it would be very cold then even in summers).
Here is my personal favourite tip - don't drink any tea of kehwa before you leave because finding a loo at a floating market is not easy. I had this problem and had to knock on the house of a local Kashmiri home and use their toilets. The women of the house had a hearty laugh at my condition but to me they were angles front the sky.
Now this is something which will happen by default as the only way to reach the houseboats is using another boat - the shikara. But you can do a shikara ride anytime during the day, and trust me it can be a very romantic as well. You can ask your shikara driver (they are very discreet) to take you a bit away from the crowd and he will do that for a small tip. Laze around in the sun, hold hands (try not to kiss in open though), and do all the love talk :)