Thursday, May 11, 2017

Kashmir Tales - Dal, a way of life!

First view of Srinagar - after the flight obviously.

A placid lake, covering almost the entire stretch of Srinagar, known to tourists for the house boats that create a fence between the main land and the lake – yes this is the Dal Lake most of us know (or well – just Dal because Dal mean lake in Kashmiri Native Tongue), but there is so much more to this lake and what it is to Srinagar. Dal aka Srinagar’s Jewel is not the only lake of Srinagar but is certainly the most important one. Locals have been using the produce of Dal since the Mughal period (the period when the earliest records regarding Dal Lake have been found).
It is not just about touristy houseboats, people live on and around the lake!
Of late, my timeline and twitter feed has been filled with posts and pictures of Kashmir, which got me all nostalgic about my amazing trip to Kashmir. And made me realize, if I can do something to show the world the side of Kashmir I saw – I should do it and tell you guys more about the people and their lifestyle there! So here are my two pence – well 3-4 posts about the place that longs to be called heaven on earth again. First of which is all about the place we all know as Dal Lake!

Early morning shikaras and boats leaving for the floating market area
The earliest records of the lake mention agricultural activities the locals had developed on Rads – the floating gardens or landmasses on the lake. These Rads are the main source of Haak – a leaf or saag that is predominant in Kashmiri Cuisine. Apart from that these Rads are used for cultivating tomatoes and melons and numerous lovers like Daphne, daisy, water lilies and many more. But Rads are not just famous for cultivation, they create a system of wetlands that has become home to for knows how many species of birds and fish. And with wetlands on a shallow sweet lake you are bound to get lotus pads - which also influences the local cuisine tremendously.
A flower seller's boat
But all that was how Dal always influenced Srinagar. The major turn in the pattern came when the British decided to build Boathouses in the lake after Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir refrained from giving them permission to build new houses on land in the valley. The lavish boathouses built back then involved a lot of skilful carpentry on almond and teak wood and for this a lot of locals, proficient in walnut wood carving were employed. 

Since employment increased a lot of locals started settling around the lake and many of them built themselves smaller houseboats on the lave hence creating a whole new society on the lake. Now the lake is a flurry of activities throughout the day as the society then created has thrived and found its way of life on this lake.

Just another day for a dal dweller
The current dwellers of the lake are not only artisans or Hanjis (fishermen), but also many rich merchants have made this lake their home! From floating markets to official structures like the Post office – this lake has it all. 

Post office on a boat!
You sure see a lot of tourists enjoying a tour of the lake on bright coloured Shikaras but you can’t miss out the locals traveling on shikaras too – to and fro, from their lake bound settlements to the mainland Srinagar. While as tourists you float around the hustling bustling lake market, ducks of the lake roam freely in the same area unhinged by your presence, not bothered by the commotion.

Do you see me?
The lake has found its harmony with people and nature and so have the people who accepted the lake as their home. But sadly, due to the unplanned growth of population on the lake during the 20th century and the crazy footfall the houseboats get in Kashmir, Dal seems to be dying. 

Can you imagine this lake is dying?
Slowly, but still dying. Government has been trying to regularly clean the lake and save the wildlife there, but responsible tourism and local awareness is the need of the hour. If we fail to protect the lake in time, we would not just lose an amazing piece of nature, a lot of people would lose their way of life.

Dal is a way of life in Srinagar afterall!


  1. Very nice one Vee. My pictures from Dal Lake are yet to be posted. This will inspire me now. Great job

  2. Nice post :) Enjoyed Reading it :)

  3. I didn't know about Haak, though I have had nandroo ( lotus stem) dishes and I absolutely love them. Such beautiful captures from a beautiful paradise! Haven't ever been to Kashmir. Thanks for showing me a part of it through this lovely post Vish!

  4. Dal Lake is so beautiful. I love the boathouses. You can tell it took a skillful carpenter to build them. I really hope the government is able to protect and preserve this natural beauty.

  5. Really lovely commentary on the Dal and the way of life associated with it. Srinagar has that other-worldly feel about it, and I doubt if there is any other place in the world that is even remotely similar. Its uniqueness needs to be preserved for posterity.

  6. Nice pictures and lovely read. I always enjoy getting a glimps into the lives of the locals...seems like such a peaceful place =)

  7. Kashmir is in my dreams! I want to go there, sit on a boat in a Dal, and sip some hot Chai! I'm so glad that you managed to visit Kashmir. That post office in a boat on a Dal is just mind blowing, I'm speechless!

  8. So sad to hear that the ecosystem is in turmoil due to an unsustainable population. Nonetheless a beautiful place which I didn't know much about and am excited to research more in addition to your thoughts!

  9. I did not know about this place before but it seems like an interesting place to visit. I especially like the boathouse!

  10. Despite the tragedy all around, it still looks so beautiful!
    You have captured some intimate portraits that make the place look even more endearing.

  11. Interesting post! We remember visiting Srinagar and Dal lake for a short time on the way to Ladakh and we couldn't explore much. Your post and pictures have brought back those memories and we look forward to visiting it sometime soon again. The history of house boats was something very fascinating which we weren't aware of.. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  12. The stunning lake and its landscape can really take your breath away. Sad to know that it is dying. However, I do hope precautions taken lessen this threat. I loved seeing the pictures that you have captured of the life on Dal lake. It is that which makes the whole deal so much livelier.

  13. Kashmir is so beautiful and every time I come across a post on it, My urge to visit it increases. But my husband still doesn't agree travelling there. I want to take a Shikara ride and enjoy the landscapes there. Thanks for sharing this up.

  14. Kashmir...there are vibrations in this name itself..without Kashmir we cant imagine India..nice and beautiful collections

  15. The pictures are truly exceptional. Kashmir seems like the perfect destination!