Kashmir, an integral part of India and often referred as Paradise on Earth, is considered to be one of the favorite tourist destinations in the country and its tourism industry offers marvelous opportunities for visitors ranging from sight-seeing to entertainment to snow adventures. Pandemic hit last two years seemed to be more than a decade journey which forced tourism for sufreezing halt pan India but Kashmir was an exception to it. In the phase of darkness, detachment of the Kashmir valley as a most desirable destination for domestic tourists proved to be a blessing in disguise. The boon for the tourism industry was further capitalized by government’s decision to vaccinate tourism industry pillars as one of its priority tasks along with increasing numbers of direct flights to Srinagar. Keeping its fingers crossed and true to its character, Kashmiri tourism industry took a giant leap forward in highly volatile circumstances but soon their dreams became a fateful reality when it received more than four lakhs visitors in three months of peak winters which is otherwise considered to be a lean period for tourism in Kashmir.
Posted in the Valley after 14 years of service, one does not need a reason to explore it and I got lucky when my wife who is a Naval Officer and our son came for a visit all the way from Chennai. Evening of 17th of March 2022 was a similar to any other joyful evening on the paradise. It was spring here and dark clouds rushed in over the Zabarwan, the hills located East of Dal Lake famously known as The Jewel of Crown of Kashmir. The sun began to plunge in the wake of colossal Pir Panjal mountain ranges, overlooking Dal from its West. Soon a clear view of blue sky over the lake began to mesmerize into blood red. For the maiden visitors from my family to the valley, this was nothing less than a longing reminiscence that needs to be preserved for the life time.
Dal means lake in Kashmiri language. Standing at Shalimar Garden Top facing just opposite Dal, one can visualize resemblance of its shape to a three-dimensional English letter ‘A’. Having a shore length of approximately 16 kilometers and depth varying up to six metres, the main basin is a complex structure of five inter-connected basins having navigational and transportation links to all five. Salubrious clime of the valley amidst back drop of snow-clad Himalayan ranges has attracted many but the lake has remained as centre of attraction for numerous rulers of Kashmir over the years and among outsiders.
Enhancing natural beauty of the lake and considered to be a cultural symbol of Kashmir, one cannot afford to miss numerous shikaras moored along its shore. A shikara is a traditional rowing boat and is one of the most pleasant experiences about the surreal beauty of the lake. Apart from tourism & leisure purpose, shikaras are also utilised by locals for seaweed harvesting and fishing. Now a days many shikara owners have installed power motors for their own ease and to meet the growing demand from visitors. As the motor boats takes over, the amorousness of pushing paddles is becoming an old and fading away tradition.
The icing on the cake is a houseboat afloat Dal. The inception of houseboats in the lake is credited to British when they commissioned extravagant houseboats on the Dal often referred as little signature of England over Dal. Having relished the experience of houseboats both at Alleppey, a place in god’s own country, Kerala and at Dal lake, Kashmir, one can say with conviction that other than the structural differences, houseboats in Kashmir represent varying class from a modest boat to a stationary and luxurious hotel in water where one does not have to go out of hotel for amazing sight-seeing which get augmented by lights during night time.
Shikaras are the via media to reach houseboats in Dal which can be booked from a ferry terminal at Boulevard Road encircling the lake. These floating houses which are roped in a row along the lake have attracted millions of tourists for last so many decades now. More than thousands smaller boats mill around at the same time, pushing and inching forward to make their way towards final destination of tourists in Dal, a stationary but floating decked-up hotels waiting for a warm welcome for visitors.
Tourists have wide-ranging options for pre-booking a houseboat to suit their requirement and comfort through their website. We chose to stay at Mascot Houseboat for our memorable stay. Since 19th century, Mascot houseboats has been one of the pioneers and most reputed names in houseboats industry in Kashmir. Secured around most pleasant location inside the lake where one is certain to witness varied and abundant form of bird life around the houseboat. Holiday on Mascot houseboat was like a bliss, an experience one is unlikely to find easily anywhere else on the mother earth. Houseboat also caters for few activities for entertainment of its visitors in and around the lake.
Everything seemed to be perfect, in addition to facilities offered by the Mascot houseboat, the warmth, beauty and coziness exhibited both by the place and owner and its staff was of exceptional order, really one day at the jewel with family is a memorable trip, worth visiting more than once. We as a family, especially our seven years old son,who was a first timer on a houseboat was amazed to witness such an epitome of Kashmiri culture in short and sweet duration of our stay. We will cherish these memories in days to come and one can say with firm belief that an evening at the jewel is must for inclusion in a visitor’s itinerary keen to witness quintessence Kashmir valley.