Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ladhak & Kashmir 2010 - Day 13 - Srinagar - Shikara Ride on Dal Lake

How many times - ten and hundreds - had we seen the Dal Lake on television! The iconic Hindi song ‘Ye Chand Sa Roshan Chehra’ featuring a very young Sharmila Tagore and Shammi Kapoor was shot on a Shikara on Dal lake. The song ends with Shammi Kapoor losing balance and falling into the lake with a splash.

Today, if someone were to fall into the Dal lake or even have its water splashed over them because of someone else falling into it, I would be extremely sorry for them.

‘Ek zamane mein hum iska pani peete the’ said our maajhi as we sat in our shikara gliding over the waters of Dal lake. Now you don’t want to touch the waters, because a thousand houseboats on the Dal lake let the wastes from their toilets into the lake.

So, at long last, here we were, on the iconic Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir! My father said he would like to take credit for it. He had been the one to suggest including Kashmir in the itinerary. Both of us had been to the nearby internet browsing center in Mysore and changed the return flight tickets to Srinagar-Delhi instead of Leh-Delhi.

But then, the disturbance in the valley had erupted again just when we had begun our tour and my dad had had daily visitations of second thoughts about Kashmir. It was I who had said, you may do as you like, come what may, I shall go to Srinagar.

So it was I who deserved the credit but as the shikara glided, we submitted to the pleasant ride and did not argue over the matter.

There was enough time for the sun to set, so the view of the waters around, the shikaras and the surrounding mountains was clear. The water itself was clouded. There seemed to be a swaying forest of miniature plants and trees submerged and in it.

A lone colourful shikara surrounded by blue waters having green mountains in the background was a beautiful picturesque sight. So also were houseboats. While most of the houseboats seemed anchored, some were moving.

Lucky Dawn, Neil Armstrong, Nanga Parbat, Happy Dawn, Mughal Palace, Queen Elizabeth, were the names of houseboats.

The shikara itself is a boat unlike any other. It has its own structure, shape, make, feel and experience that’s unique to it. The inside of it is a seat that’s more of a bed than a seat. You could stretch as much as you want to. the upholstery is colourful, and made of brocaded material of bright and dark colours in combination with gold. There is a roof so you are well covered from the sun and satiny curtains that are ornamental, serving no purpose.

There were vendors on Shikaras around selling all kinds of wares. Corn, Chai, jewelry… If you don’t shoo them away firmly, they will come to you one after the other and spoil your ride. The edge of the water at some places is covered with cup shaped thick looking shiny lotus leaves.

If you take your eyes off the water around you and the world that’s floating on it, you will see the dome of the Shankaracharya temple on the mountain, to the left of the tall tower, only slightly distinguishable from the trees around it.

The colour and character of the water changes with the changing sun.

Our maajhi plucked a flower, not sure if it was lotus or water lily, a yellow coloured flower. He bent the stem of it this way and that and then tore it into two parts showing us an interesting pattern that made it look like a string of corals. You could wear it around your neck, he said.

We cruised close to the houseboats now. They had beautiful, antique looking facades made of intricately carved wood. I would never want to live in one of them. When you visit Srinagar, you could check into a room in a hotel or you could check into a houseboat on Dal lake, more expensive than hotel rooms. Most people fancy this option but they do not imagine the houseboat in anchored in waters of their own waste and that of a thousand others’. Yuck!

Whether or not you ask for it, you are taken to water lanes flanked on both sides by shops selling typical Kashmiri wares - shawls, embroidered dress material, handicrafts, painted pots and jars made of metal or papier mache, and such. I hopped off the boat, stepped into a shop, took pictures and returned to the boat, much to the disappointment of our maajhi who would not earn any commission that evening. That’s one thing that plagues tourism in North India - all of them are out to earn their commissions through you - taking you to this shop or that without asking you if you want to buy. My mind is strongly conditioned to believe that this commission thing is an ignoble, deplorable, wretched business, thanks to the animated anger, disgust and indignation with which my father mentioned the subject whenever an opportunity surfaced.

Somewhere in the middle of the lake was a park on which stood a restaurant, surrounded by a manicured lawn with some flowering plants. The Shikara would stop there for a few minutes. Some more pictures and we were back to our shikara.