Shikara Ride on Dal Lake

Hello Ghumakkars

Thank you people for a wonderful response to the previous post. If you still haven’t read it then click here. It was our second day in Kashmir. We had covered Sonamarg and we back to our hotel by 4:00 PM. According to our itinerary, we had to go to Nishat Gardens. I have already written about the same here. After covering the scintillating Nishat Gardens, we now had to go for a Shikara/Gondola Ride on Dal Lake. The Dal is famous not only for its beauty, but for its vibrance, because it sustains within its periphery, a life that is unique anywhere in the world. The houseboat and shikara communities have lived for centuries on the Dal, and so complete is their infrastructure on the lake, that they never have to step on land! Doctors, tailors, and bakers – you’ll see them all in tiny wooden shops on the lake, near picturesque vegetable gardens and acres of lotus gardens.

Shikara

A shikara ride is one of the most soothing, relaxing aspects of a holiday in Kashmir. Shikaras are long boats, which crowd the Srinagar lakes. They are used for getting back and forth from the houseboats or for longer tours. It is worth to take a pleasure ride around the lake in shikara. Shikara is a Gondola type light rowing boat. The two-hour boat ride takes tourists on a relaxing sightseeing tour of interior parts of the calm and placid waters of Dal Lake, and is part of shopping- by-shikara expeditions. Because the Dal is so central to the landscape of Srinagar, many places of tourist interest have, over the ages, been built in its vicinity. Nishat and Shalimar gardens as well as Hazratbal mosque are directly accessible by shikara.

The ride began at around 5:10 PM. The rower told us that he’d be covering spots like floating post office, kabutar khana, chaar chinar etc. Meanwhile we people enjoyed some cookies. We then saw the Floating post office. It is India’s only floating post office cum museum (which was closed that particular day).

The floating Post Office

We then proceeded towards the Kabutar Khana. On the way you’ll get to find a Mobile Café. This cafe offers you tea, coffee, juice etc. We hardly found out any Shikaras on this stall (except 1 or 2). We then moved on and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

A Mobile Cafe

While riding on Shikara, I observed white-breasted Kingfishers (Halycon smyrnensis), large striking birds with robust bills perching on the branches of willow trees. These birds concentrate their efforts to hunting on the floating Gardens. These man made islands comprise of reeds, willow rods, aquatic vegetations and and held together with humus consisting of mud from the lake bottom. This is extremely fertile and provide rich source of food in the form of frogs, lizards, mice, grasshoppers and other insects to the Kingfisher. One gets to find variety of birds on Dal.

The very beautiful Dal Lake

The Gondolier told us that we are close to Kabutar Khana. It is a small island with a grand structure dating back to Maharaja’s period. This building was used as Maharani’s summer Palace. During summer, many beautiful floating lotus plants and flowers surround the water of this area. Kabutar Khana is quite close to Chaar Chinar and is almost in the Center of Dal Lake. I was busy taking pictures and my family was constantly gazing out the sights.

Kabutar Khana

Welcome to Kabutar Khana

Now this ancient palace is used as a home for Pigeons (Kabutars). We also saw Taj Hotel on the opposite side, which was built on a cliff. The most awaited sight was still to come.”Chaar Chinar”is an island in Dal Lake, Srinagar, India. It is called as Char-Chinar (Four Chinars) because of the presence of four beautiful Chinar trees in this region. Chinar trees characteristically grow in Eastern Himalayas. They have been an important part of Kashmiri tradition, in that, a Chinar tree is found in almost every village in Kashmir. These trees have survived for ages, because Chinar is basically a long-living tree. It spreads wide across a region of cool climate with sufficient water.

Chaar Chinar

The tree has several properties – leaves and bark are used as medicine, the wood, known as lace wood has been used for delicate furniture and the twigs and roots are used for making dyes. I had read a lot about it and wanted to see it closely. The shikara was moving very slowly and sometimes we could feel that it would turn around. I then realized that we never had life jackets, which scared me even more. Fortunately, it didn’t. LOL! After about 30 min., the shikara stopped next to the pier of Chaar Chinar Island.

The Pier

I jumped off the shikara and ran off to explore the small island. When I found nothing except those 4 old trees, I decided to take a few shots. We clicked some family pictures and those of the trees. The island was completely stranded and I couldn’t see a person/shikara on the lake. “Where did everyone disappear?” was what I spoke to myself. It was about to get dark and the sun had already set. For no reason, my mind remembered those episodes of Man V/s Wild. With some courage I overcame them and we then proceeded.

Me on the 'Stranded Island'

We had almost covered every spot, though Dal Lake has not much to offer, but it is actually the craze of a Shikara Ride. People from the cities which do not have any water-bodies around will definitely have a great time, as it’s an altogether different experience for them. It was dark and the shikara moved slowly. I couldn’t hear any other voice except that of the shikara moving. The rower told us that he’d be dropping us to the hotel via a route, which goes through the market. As soon as he said the word “MARKET”, the faces of my mom and sis. Glittered.

Glowing House Boats

Reflections of the House Boats

After around 20 mins. We entered the market and my mom requested the rower to please park the shikara on some dry fruit shop. My father immediately cut her words and commanded the rower to head directly to the hotel. As usual, the lady dominates and we had to stop over. Though we didn’t buy anything but the reason was to get a slight idea about the rates. Dry fruits are best available on the way to Pahalgam. It is advisable to get them from the shops next to saffron fields.

The Market

Anways, we then proceeded towards our hotel and in no time we reached back safely. We didn’t pay anything, as the ride was included in the package itself. Usually, these Shikara people charge 300/- rupees for a ride. Do check out the government approved rates before a ride.

That’s it for this part! Hope you all enjoyed reading the post as much I did, writing it. Stay tuned for the next part, where I’ll be taking you all to Pahalgam. Till then Keep Traveling…

-Naman

 

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