Saturday, May 2, 2015

Dal Lake's Floating Market

The first destination for any tourist visiting Kashmir is the "Dal Lake".  This stems from two reasons; its importance among the places of interest in Kashmir and easy accessibility. Tourists arrive in Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar either by road or by air and the visit to tourist destinations starts from Srinagar.  Dal Lake being located in the city itself naturally makes it the first place to visit.  While tourists proceed to other centers like Pahalgam and Gulmarg later on, the first day's plan is always in and around the Dal Lake.  Devoting the first evening for the Dal Lake with a "Shikara" ride followed by a night's stay in the "Houseboats" has become an unwritten rule for the visitors to Kashmir. 

Dal Lake is the second biggest lake in Kashmir.  (Wular Lake which is about 60 Kilometers north of Srinagar is even bigger than Dal lake).  It is called as "Srinagar's Jewel" and occupies a pride of place among the tourist destinations. Its shoreline is nearly 10 miles long (16 Kilometers) and provides the background for the beauty of the city of Srinagar. It occupies an area of 18 square kilometers and is fed by the inflows from Jhelum river.  Fishing and Water Plant harvesting are the important activities in the lake besides tourism related movements.  The famous Shalimar and Nishat Gardens created during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir are along its perimeter.  The lake gives different views depending on the seasons. In spring, there are many flowering water plants.  In July and August, Lotus flowers bloom adding to the beauty of the lake.  The lake freezes in winter and becomes a huge mass of ice. Ice is broken during this time to provide paths for the Shikaras and boats to move in the lake.

Dal Lake finds reference in various ancient Sanskrit texts and is mentioned in them as "Mahasarit" (महासरित्).  As per ancient history of Kashmir, there was a village to the east of Dal Lake by name "Isabar", fed by a spring "Shatadhara" (शतधारा).  A temple of Godess Durga who was popularly called as "Sureshwari" graced this village. There is a hill overlooking the Dal Lake with a temple referred to as "Shankaracharya Temple", with a cave in which Acharya Adi Shankara is said to have sat in penance during his visit to kashmir.  It may also be recalled that Shankaracharya named his famous and scholarly disciple Mandana Mishra as "Sureshvaracharya" after giving sanyas to him and made him the first pontiff of the "Dakshinamnaya Peetham" in Sringeri of Karnataka.      

Houseboats are one of the main attractions in the Dal Lake. There are hundreds of house boats in the lake that provide lodging facilities to the tourists. The boats are constructed using the "Devadaru" (Himalayan Cedar) tree material.  Devadaru in sanskrit means "The tree of the Gods". This is considered as the ideal material due to its water resistant quality and capacity to withstand standing in water for long periods of time. Unlike houseboats in Kerala which move around in the backwaters, house boats in Dal Lake are mostly stationary and fixed to the ground. But they do provide some amount of vibrations and give a feeling of movement. The houseboats have seating space to enjoy the beauty of the lake and scenery as well as other conveniences available in hotel rooms.  The walls and ceilings are made from panels with intricate wood carvings.  They are furnished with thick carpets and other handicrafts reflecting the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir.  The rents are to be negotiated if the tourist is not on an arranged tour by a tour operator.  The boat owners provide breakfast and dinner on request and the food is cooked in their houses that are just behind the houseboats.

Shikara is a beautifully and colorfully decorated boat that provides transportation on the lake and is used for both movement to the houseboats from the shore as well as pleasure ride on the big lake. Hundreds of Shikaras can be seen lined along the Dal Lake and a trip to Kashmir is incomplete without a joy ride on the lake in a Shikara for at least one hour. Any time of the day or night is fine, but most prefer an early morning ride or late evening ride just before sunset.  The shikaras have been made immortal by the famous song "Ye chand sa roshan chehra" in the 1964 film "Kashmir ki Kali", starring Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore.  Shammi Kappoor was so much fascinated by Dal Lake that he spent lots of time visiting the lake and staying in the houseboats there.  As per Shammi Kapoor's wish, after his death in 2011, his ashes were immersed in the Dal Lake.  A galaxy of Bollywood stars including Sharmila Tagore were present during the immersion.

A very important attraction on the Dal lake is its floating market.  As one sets out on the lake in a Shikara, the tourist is swarmed by a number of boats around him offering various items for sale.  The items include routine things from bread to toothpaste as well as items of jewelry, handicrafts, saffron, flowers and vegetables. It is called as a floating market since the buyer as well as seller are in boats floating on the Dal Lake waters.  The tourist has the option of getting his shikara parked outside houseboats of bigger shops selling handicrafts, shawls and other items as well. Once the purchase is concluded, the shikara again takes off and proceeds to the next shop on another houseboat!  The continuous chase by the traders often puts off a tourist, but that is the beauty of the floating market on the Dal Lake.  Of course, there are innumerable tourists who enjoy shopping on the waters and hard bargaining that goes on.  An item initially quoted at Two Thousand Rupees is sold finally for as low as Three Hundred at times.  There are boats with Kashmiri dresses for taking photos of tourists in the local costumes as well.  Cash is the King here and cards are not that favored even in big shops.

"Save Dal Lake" boards can be seen in many places in and around the Lake.  Lake water is not to be touched and swarms of mosquitos are to be seen around.  The Lake overflows during the rainy season and entering the houseboats also poses problems.  Cleaning the waters and improving the facilities for tourists is the requirement of the day.

Pictures taken in our camera do not do justice to the beautiful lake and the activities.  Hence photos from the internet have been used in this post.  Our visit last week to Dal Lake, Shikara rides, shopping on the floating market and stay in Houseboat will be treasured for ever.   


  1. Very interesting piece of article. I never knew these information before about kashmir

  2. Dear Keshava murthy is as if you have written a travelogue!..............much before a visit to Kashmir!! Thank you for linking Kashmir to Indian history and Puranas. I am sure you will give we readers a bigger treat after your proposed tour to Kashmir! Regards...Lakshminarayana K, your colleague.

  3. Narrated so well the beautiful Dal Lake, a treasure house for the tourists to keep in their memories and the importance of experiencing it. Thank you for this.

  4. Nostalgic for me, personally. This brings back memories of picnics on shikaras. Full day outings , going from one Mughal garden to another. Cooking fish and rice on the boat and eating it on clean lotus leaves. No plates needed. Gone are those days.

  5. In the map of India, Kashmir is literally and figuratively the crown . Dal lake is the beautiful Jewel in the crown. The floating market is probably one of its kind and a great tourist attraction for all the goodies it offers on a unique platform. Thanks for beautifully summarizing the attractions in a nutshell.

  6. Sir,Beauty of dal lake well quantified by you.