My wife and I want to share about an unforgettable time we had on very special houseboat on enchanting Nagin (also spelled Nigeen) Lake in Kashmir, India. The name of the houseboat is the “New Peacock”.
We had arrived in Srinagar with no accommodation pre-booked and we first went to look at houseboats on Dal Lake. We found the lake to be congested. So we looked at the more peaceful and cleaner Nagin Lake. We visited some houseboats near the bridge, but they were noisy. So we took a shikara- a Kashmiri gondola, over to the other side of the lake across from the Nagin Club and there we were very fortunate to find the “New Peacock”, a beautiful houseboat hand carved from cedar with stylish furniture made of walnut. The boat had some lovely traditional Kashmiri wooden latticework. On the floors were lush Kashmiri carpets. But what made up our minds to stay was the owner, Bashir Ahmad, who was a trustworthy friendly host. He made us feel right at home. We ended up staying over a week and loved every minute.
Nagin Lake is like a mirror with the snowy covered mountains reflected in the lake. There were days when we just stayed on the comfortable boat and the houseboy served us steaming cups of tea (sometimes English tea and at other times Kashmiri Tea - flavored with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger) on the balcony. We watched exquisite sunsets and read entertaining novels and were served delicious meals in the elegant dining room. You could choose from a menu of western, Kashmiri or Indian cuisine. We could even see a view of the lake from bedroom. The beds were very comfortable.
His family invited us for dinner one evening at their house. They were so kind and hospitable, just like him. We learned so much about the Kashmiri culture from them, and enjoyed Kashmiri food, especially the Kabbab, Rogan Josh, Gustaba, Tabak Maaz, and the special Haak.
The “New Peacock” is moored on the banks of the lake, so we were able to take early morning walks in a lovely garden blanketed with almond trees behind the boat. Some mornings we'd get up early and watch the stunning sunrise.
On the evenings when we wanted company, Bashir would sit with us and share fascinating stories. He said to us, “It’s always a passion for me to meet people from around the world and to chat with them and to talk about their country and to share information of my majestic Kashmir.” He would tell us about his involvement assisting in the 1984 filming of the BBC series “The Jewell in the Crown”. You can recognize his houseboat in Episode 3.
After days of pure relaxation we spoke to Bashir about organizing some excursions. He told us he could arrange treks in Kashmir, trips to the hill stations of Sonamarg (The Meadow of Gold), Pahalgam (The Valley of the Shepherds), to Gulmarg (Meadow of Flowers)- which has the highest golf course in the world, at an altitude of 2,650 m., to Ladakh (The Little Tibet) or to various other interesting places. In fact, he is able to arrange tours anywhere in India.
In Srinagar he escorted us to the magnificent Mughal Gardens and took us on a shikara trip through the small back canals where we could see how the colorful Kashmiris live. We took some memorable photographs.
Bashir also took us a two-day pony trek up to the Thajiwas Glacier. We spent 2 nights in a tent. It was a fun adventure. We drove to Sonamarg through the lovely Sindh Valley. Situated at an altitude of 2730 m, Sonamarg has beautiful mountain views. The Sindh River curves through the valley and is teeming with fresh water trout. He organized for us to fish. We even caught some trout, which we later ate for dinner. If you love fishing look at this trailer for "Drift" where a lot of the film was shot in the rivers of Kashmir http://www.confluencefilms.tv/trailer.php One of Bashir’s cousins helped the film crew.
Bashir never tried to sell us anything. He didn't see us as customers but as friends. He is very genuine and professional. But one day we asked him to recommend some shops so we could buy some Kashmiri handicrafts like silk carpets, wool carpets, pashmina shawls, tribal carpets, bed covers, cashmere sweaters etc. We bought some really unique handicrafts.
Another recommendation- the Nagin Club has reopened after being closed for 20 years. You can have a drink or a cappuccino and sit at tables on the lawn and watch the sunset and gorgeous views of the lake. You can also go water-skiing on Nagin Lake. Bashir is an expert water-skier and can give instructions. If you’re interested in snow skiing inquire about Gulmarg, which is the country’s premier ski resort.
In addition to the “New Peacock” which is deluxe class and has two bedrooms, he has another boat called “The Peacock” which is smaller with one bedroom. They call it “The Honeymoon Suite” which is considered A class. If a larger group needs more rooms he can arrange it. There are many family boats moored side by side.
We felt very safe all the time we were in Kashmir, but before you go you should check the current situation.
It was one of the most relaxing vacations of our lives. We came away very refreshed. When it got time to leave, we realized we missed the friends we met as much as the magical Kashmir. If you go there please send our greetings to our friends in Kashmir.
We recommend not only "Peacock Houseboats", but our friend Bashir Ahmad who will treat you as his family's guests, not as customers.
Unique Quality: Staying on a Houseboat is a very unique experience. It all started when the British came to Kashmir for holiday during the colonial times of the British Raj.
"The New Peacock" is moored perpendicular to the shore, so you can see lake views from every room. Lake Nagin is less crowded than Dal Lake. It is so lovely to wake up in the morning, go out on the verandah, drink a cup of Kashmiri tea and watch the gorgeous sun rise over the mountains.
Directions: Peacock Houseboats are located on Nagin (also spelled Nigeen) Lake West - Opposite the Nagin Club.
Gupkar Road, Srinagar
Bishambar Nagar, Khayam near Dal Lake, Srinagar
Maulana Azad Rd., Srinagar
Nai Sadak,, Barbar Shah Road, Srinagar
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