Backwaters of Dal Lake, Kashmir

A waterborne rural way of life, the Venice of India.

Why visit?
Apart from the obvious charm of seeing life pass on and around the water, there is an immediate practical advantage: peace and quiet. All transport is water-based and man-powered: this must be the only community in India without honking auto rickshaws, screeching scooters, or loud rickety cars. 
Enjoy the beautiful green scenery while giving your ears some rest.

The outskirts of Dal Lake, Srinagar's principal body of water, fabled for its houseboats. (Between Nagin Lake and Dal Lake: Map.

The shores of Dal Lake are abuzz with tourists.
FOR MANY FOREIGNERS Kashmir still connotes disturbances, bombs and violent mobs determined to separate from India. 

These days, the mobs you encounter in Srinagar, the Valley's historical capital, are vacationing middle-class Indian families, determined to have a good time while staying on a houseboat on Dal Lake. Party time!

The shores of Dal Lake are lined with houseboats, many of them beautiful, and at certain hours the tourists all take their 'must-do' shikara ride which means the Lake is as busy (and noisy) as a Delhi roundabout at rush hour.

However, the houseboats are just one expression of a genuinely waterborne way of life that still survives in this part of Kashmir. By escaping into the rural hinterland of the lake, which is entirely connected by a network of small canals, you will see something entirely different: small communities, local artisans, floating markets, kids going to school by boat, and of course the inevitable pashmina shawl salesman (as they have boats too.)

The canoes and boats used don't use any engines- it's all run on manpower. This means it's a delightfully quiet journey with a 30 decibel drop compared to almost anywhere else in India, where even villages can be ear-splitting loud thanks to the joys of modern transport.  On the Dal Lake backwaters, you'll mostly be disturbed by the cries of waterbirds and kids playing, and all is muffled by lush greenery.

As a video can be worth more than a 1000 words or pictures, here is a brief impression of the backwaters:

Pleasant as it is for us visitors, for the people who live here the backwaters are just their homes and villages, and they go about their business much like everywhere else. 
Street scene. 
You will find children coming home from school, women doing their shopping, workshops for wood carving, embroidery and papier mâché (many of the souvenirs for the tourist industry and manufactured here and undoubtedly you'll be invited to have a look- and more!).
Family on their way home.

A typical 'street'. See where the notion of 'Venice of India' comes from?
Traditional crafts like embroidery (Special price for you, my friend!)
Srinagar is ground zero for woodcarving and you will see plenty of workshops around- and the results proudly displayed on the houseboats. 
Kashmiri traditional architecture is quite distinct. Made of brick and timber, and often with overhanging windows that seem reminiscent of Ottoman architecture. Even Kashmiri mosques are quite different, generally lacking minarets. 
Beautiful Kashmiri brick and timber house with overhanging windows. 
Getting there:
By boat, obviously. You will need to arrange a shikara (hand-peddled water taxi) to take you away from the busy areas of Dal Lake and into the network of waterways that connect a number of rural villages. Not all shikara owners may be familiar with this area (or understand why a tourist may want to venture there!) Ask a houseboat owner for help. 

Useful links:
Young Bombay Houseboats can help arranging a backwater trip and has reliable Shikara boatmen on call. 
Dal Lake on Wikipedia


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