If you fancy a romantic staycation in ultimate luxury abodes exuding heritage vibes in silent waters with the Great Himalayas in sight, then Kashmir houseboats are your perfect dream destination. Kashmir is synonymous with intricately carved houseboats in the famous Dal lake. The Dal lake is epitomized as the Jewel in the crown of Kashmir and houseboats accentuate its glory, without any doubt. Kashmir houseboats are marooned at the periphery of Dal lake. Houseboats are perfect examples of medieval artwork adorned by antique furniture, traditional crewelwork curtains,fabulous ambience and chandeliers adding to its beauty.
History of houseboats –
Long back during the British rule,King Of Kashmir, Sri Gulab Singh, had put restrictions on sale of land or houses to the British and therefore, the Englishmen found a way out and constructed houseboats for their living. The first houseboat named “Kashmiri princess“ was built by a localite named Naraindas, who became locally famous as “Naav Narain“. Gradually the houseboats adorned the Dal lake, Nigeen lake and some parts of river sutlej.
Houseboat in general
Price of one houseboat is approximately one crore and above based on the complexity of the wooden carvings. Most of them have been built up 70-80 yrs back. The third generation of the families are found to manage the houseboats. Every houseboat has a front deck (some providing breathtaking sceneries), living area with opulent wooden sofas, library with Bukhari (for space heating purpose), dining room with extravagantly expensive dining table and furniture,guest rooms consisting of bedrooms attached with bathroom and toilet. In order to reach a houseboat, one has to opt for a shikara ride. Shikaras are small multipurpose wooden boats utilized for goods and people transportation as well as serve as floating shops.
My Travel story – A winter night spent in Kashmir houseboa
Excitement of shikara ride – I distinctly remember, it was our fourth day in srinagar,19th feb 2020, and after a morning visit to lavish Mughal Nishat gardens, Chasmeshahi,etc., we had a sumptuous lunch at Boulevard avenue and packed our bags as we were checking out of our hotel Dawar -e-Heevon and moving to spend our last night in the surreal houseboat as planned. Our excitement was increasing with every hour passing by.
Lifetime experience of shikara – Finally at 4 p,m, as scheduled , a beautiful shikara picked us up from gate no.16, opposite to our hotel. As there are en no.of shikaras and houseboats, they work according to the union policies and therefore have specific gates for pick up and drop. As we admired the beautiful shikara, we could recall the famous Shammi Kapoor song “Ye chand sa roshan chehra, zulfon ka rang sunehra“. The uncle who was rowing the shikara welcomed us into his boat with the most pleasant smile and warm hospitality. He helped us in getting in.Our heavy luggage was kept in the front part of the boat and we a group of four adults and one child were comfortably accomodated in the back portion of shikara. The shikara was well cushioned and adorned with vibrant color curtains. Those on one side of Shikara could sit, relax and stretch out legs and admire the beauty of the pristine lake and mighty snow clad mountains while those on other side could sit comfortably. And the shikara roved into the Dal lake.
Sight seeing – We were little scared initially as the shikara was dancing on the subtle waves of the Dal lake but as time passed we became more comfortable.The first thing we spotted was the highly acclaimed only floating post office of India, one of its kind. Truly, admirable. As we moved further the misty air,blue skies and snow white mountains created an unforgettable picturesque view. Unknowingly,we were drowned in the beauty and came to reality as some shikara owners approached us with their kashmir specialty products like Saffron,beautiful beads and necklaces, flowers seeds, etc. As advised by our hotelier, we refrained from indulging in shopping of local quality products with exorbitant prices. Moreover we had completed our shopping from the emporiums nearby our hotel. After their coercive efforts proved futile, we looked forward to our next stoppage, Nehru park. It is situated in the centre of the lake and has minimal entry fees with few eateries and an array of photographers offering instant pics in traditional Kashmiri attire. We spent some time there and steering through clear water with beautiful mountains in the backdrop of Hazrat Bal shrine and Char chinar island comprising of 4 chinar trees, we headed to the much hyped Meena Bazaar for window shopping. After almost 2 hrs, as the sun started its journey to the west, it started drizzling and our ride came to an end. Our mini palace like houseboat “Olympia” came into the horizon and we stepped onto the connecting bridge. The houseboat owner Mr. Shan (Mobile no -7780839824)was present at the porch to welcome us with his enthusiastic smile full of hidden surprises.
House boat “Olympias” Interiors -The front deck was beautifully carved in wood with spacious seating arrangements. The sliding glass door led to the living area. An adjacent corner of the living area was dedicated to a small library of English novels. The antique crockery was set on the glass centre table set on exquisite kashmiri carpets in the living room and as we settled on the wooden sofas, hot fragrant Kahwa, kashmir specialty tea, was served to us by the owner himself. His down to earth personality and his friendly approach mesmerized us. He lit the Bukhari to heat up the living room. As we sipped kahwa, we had some discussion with Mr. Shan regarding the houseboat and his rich lineage. He showed us the opulent dining area with antique silver crockery well mounted in glass cabinets, intricately crafted dining table worth lakhs, magnificent chandeliers and perfect lightings. A small kitchen with all the essentials was well maintained besides the dining area. He then ushered us into our guest rooms and we were the sole occupants of the royal majestic houseboat for one whole night. The bedroom comprised of poster beds with electric blankets, T.V, carved wooden cabinets,bukhari,attached toilet and bathroom having a private bath tub. After sometime,one of the relatives of Mr,Shan showed us some of his beautiful collection of precious and semi precious stones and in the meanwhile Mr,Shan set up the dining table for our dinner.
The night was spent well having authentic dinner, chitchating on varied topics related to Kashmir tourism and our experiences in the past few days taking our aquaintance to the level of friendship. Finally retiring to our bedrooms late in the night.
Morning on the Houseboat -Though we decided to relax in our cosy beds and get up late, our hearts were not in any mood to listen to it and without any alarm, we were up early in the morning. It had rained all night but the warm atmosphere of the houseboat kept us ignorant. But as soon as we stepped on to the deck, the chilly mist was encaptivating. Sipping Kahwa sitting on the deck as we stared at the iconic Himalayas was a dream come true. The spectacular view was enough to imbibe a wish even in an amateur.s heart to capture it forever in his lens. My kid had plenty of company i.e of ducks in the water and a friendly kashmiri cat with a thick fur getting cosy with him. Soon the time flew. Later we were served with a heavy breakfast with complimentary heart warming smile of Shan Bhaiyya. As we got ready to catch our flight, My kid was having fun bathing in the huge bath tub and was not ready to leave the houseboat at any cost. But our stay had come to an end in the preserved heritage of Kashmir.
The delicious food, extravagant ambience of the houseboat,tranquilizing nature on all sides and nevertheless warm hospitality of the friendly Kashmir natives in the scintillating freezing temperatures had won our hearts. With heavy heart and beautiful memories lingering forever , we bid good bye to Shan bhaiyya and took a shikara ride back to Gate no.16, where our vehicle was waiting for our pick up and drop to Srinagar airport.
“Shells sink, dreams float, life’s good on houseboat”