Pigeons and Birds
Somehow, there are lots of pigeons and other birds when I was at Srinagar during Dec 2007. I think this is probably because the people are feeding the pigeons and birds as they tend to hang out around the mosques and other tourist attractions.
Srinagar-The Heart of Kashmir
"Srinagar-The city of Sun"
Srinagar, the winter capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been given many appellations such as The City of Sun, The Venice of the Himalayas, Eden of East, The City of Gardens, etc.
Located in the heart of the Kashmir valley at an altitude of 1,730 m above sea level, the city lies on the both sides of the river Jhelum and stretches eastwards up to the Dal and Nagin Lakes. Bridges cross the Jhelum within the city borders enhancing its picturesque setting
Recorded history suggests the origin of Srinagar in the 3rd century B.C. under the domain of Emperor Ashok. The present city was founded by King Pravarasen II around A.D. 150. In the past it was also known as Hemavat, Praverpora and Praversenpur.
Actually, Srinagar is a blend of Switzerland, Venice, England and other European countries. Its chalet-like houses and mountainous background are reminiscent of a large Swiss village. The shikaras gliding on Dal Lake are first cousins of Gondolas of Venice; the warmth in summer reminds of South Italy and Tulip gardens makes you feel you are in Holland. Describing Srinagar in words is a difficult task. It is a city straight out of a fairy tale book. Some urban places in Srinagar present a contemporary look proving that it has moved ahead with modern times, while some places still retain the old world charm as if the time has stood still.
The best way to explore the city of Srinagar is to get on a Shikara and follow its route through the heart of the city, past willow-shaded channels and canals and under the seven old bridges of the Jhelum. At first sight, the core of the city has an ethereal air; with the old mud, brick and wood houses swarming along the water's edge. People live along the waterside as well as on the water in Srinagar. Lines of dungas, the dwellings of the boat people are anchored along the banks of Jhelum River.
Dal Lake is the most precious jewel of Srinagar. It’s an enticing silver sheet with a tinge of blue sprinkled with flamboyantly colored shikaras and stylish house boats. The hues of lake change from dawn to dusk. As soon as evening turns into night the reflections of twinkling lights of houseboats in the water seem like grand necklaces of multicolored gems. Whenever a shikara glides along causing ripples in the water the reflections present a sight as if the gems have been strewn loose from the string of necklace.
‘Dal’ is a Tibetan word which means ‘Still’. It is believed that in ancient times, there was no lake here and instead a large meadow known as Watalanmarg existed at the place. Later due to a massive earthquake, water gushed into the meadow and took the shape of a lake.
Dal Lake is not just any other lake, the uniqueness lies in the fact that it contains a small dynamic world within its boundaries, full of vitality and enthusiasm. There is a feeling of joie de vivre everywhere.
It is like a mini township with complete infrastructure. It has floating markets with tiny wooden shops selling anything from handicrafts for tourists to groceries and household items for inhabitants of Dal. There are around 1200 houseboats or floating hotels offering luxurious stay. A cyber café, a salon, even a post office exists within the lake. There is a regular traffic of mobile shops in boats selling eatables like barbecued kebabs, ice creams, and variety of snacks, fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts and virtually every utility item.
A unique and fascinating feature of the Dal Lake consists in a series of floating farms. Stacks of weeds are entwined into a mass in which soil is placed and melons, tomatoes, egg plants, tomatoes and other vegetables are planted. The roots of these plants touch water so no extra watering is needed and they grow quite well. According to a leading newspaper in the valley, the vegetables grown in such floating farms are supplied not just to valley but the surplus is exported to other states too. The turnover of this business is over Rupees 35 crores. These floating farms can move from one place to another.
Nehru Park, a vibrant spot in the middle of the lake, has a restaurant, hordes of photographers clicking away photos of tourists in traditional Kashmiri attire and is a favorite haunt of water sports enthusiasts as it is the preliminary point for water skiing, surfing and swimming.
Houseboats are owned by Boat people or Hanjis; who claim to be descendants of Noah. Built of seasoned cedar, the early houseboats were small and highly mobile. They would escape the heat of mid-summer Srinagar by being towed down river to the Wular Lake. Today’s houseboats are too large to permit such ease of movement. Anchored in a long line along the fringes of the Dal and Nagin lakes, their appearance ranges from palatial to tattered, even though the basic design remains the same.
A Dogra ruler passed a rule that no outsider could buy immovable property in Kashmir. Britishers decided to build houses on water instead. The houseboats which existed during that period were transported by Britishers according to their choice. They turned ordinary houseboats into luxurious floating houses containing all amenities. After British rulers left, these houseboats were converted into hotels and soon they became icons of Kashmir. A houseboat now contains well furnished living room, filled with walnut-wood furniture, curios, and crewelwork upholstery, exquisitely carved ceilings, embroidered wall hangings and carpets. Beyond that are the dining room, and still further, a corridor leading to the bedrooms with attached toilets, with cold and warm water. At a distance is the cook boat, source of all meals.
The tourists get personal attention from the houseboat owners and the attendants. The houseboat owners are the best hosts. With their hospitality they make you feel that you are part of their family and are staying in their home, not any impersonal hotel. Most of them speak English and other languages fluently and also serve continental food. Apart from that they arrange for local sightseeing in Srinagar, shikara rides, organize your trips (including transport and stay) to Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg or any other tourist destination. They also accompany you for expeditions and treks arranging everything from tents to equipment and cooks, etc. By making all the arrangements perfectly they really let you enjoy your well-deserved holiday without any stress. At least four generations of the houseboat owners have been in this business so they know how to take good care of their guests.
The magic of staying in the houseboat lies in the sheer fact of being on water and the unobstructed views it offers of the lake and mountains. The deck is the best place to enjoy the crimson glow of dawn and dusk and watching birds leap and glide along the water surface. Shopping comes to the houseboat in the shape of shikaras loaded with flowers, boxes of apples, peaches and apricots, handicrafts, shawls, silks, carpets, walnut wood, jewellery and gleaming Papier Mache boxes.
Once if you stay in a houseboat, you just can’t have enough of this experience and wish to come back again and again.
“No wonder Sir Walter Lawrence wrote in his will “Bury me in a houseboat.”