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Celebrating 100 magnificent years of houseboats in Kashmir

May 10, 2016 08:41 IST

Houseboats, the magnificent floating hotels, have been synonymous with Kashmir tourism for decades. On May 7 this year, they celebrated their 100-year milestone. Mukhtar Ahmad reports

IMAGE: A boatman rides past houseboats at the Nigeen Lake in Srinagar. Photograph: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com

The pull of spending time by tourists, both domestic and foreign, in houseboats has only grown stronger with time and has spawned growth in the number of these artistically-built wooden floating hotels too.

The upward graph of the houseboats on the placid waters of the Dal and NigeenLakes became so alarming at a point that the government had to ban induction of new houseboats and no fresh registrations have been allowed since 1982.

IMAGE: So many houseboats came up around the lakes in the 70s and early 80s, the government finally put an ban on induction of new ones. Photograph: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

The current level of houseboats in the two lakes is around 900, providing year-round services to tourists.

The houseboats have been graded by the state tourism department as super deluxe, deluxe and dormitory, according to the level of luxury and facilities available in each class.

Some owners of houseboats run exclusive chain of houseboats in the two lakes and offer five-star facilities to the guests.

These houseboats boast of having played host to celebrities in the field of politics, business, media and Bollywood and have meticulously maintained their visitor’s books to flaunt their celebrity clientele.

IMAGE: The Dunoo-owned ‘New Golden Flower’ – 100 years ago, and now. Photograph courtesy: Dunoo family/Umar Ganie. Photograph: text here.

One such high-end houseboat chain is owned by the Dunoo family which celebrated 100 years of their being in the business on May 8.

The family owns three houseboats, ‘New Golden flower’; ‘Golden Flower’ and ‘Floating Heaven’, all anchored in the serene waters of Nageen which has been a major attraction for foreigners.

IMAGE: A file photo of a houseboat owner with his family outside his houseboat at the Nigeen Lake. Photograph courtesy: Dunoo family/Umar Ganie

The family’s book flaunts personalities such as Shammi Kapoor and his wife, Lata Mangeshkar, Zubin Mehta and family, the late Rajender Kumar, the late Nutan, the late Madav Rao Scindia, spiritual leader of the Bora Muslim community, the late Syed Burhan-Ud-Din and many top foreign diplomats.

The interiors of the houseboats, the services they offer and the idyllic location of the lake in the foothills of Hariparbat make the houseboats a dream destination for the tourists.

IMAGE: A file photo of a houseboat owner with his family outside his houseboat at the Nigeen Lake. Photograph courtesy: Dunoo family/Umar Ganie

The Dunoos made their century in the business by organising a commemorative event on the banks of the Nageen. It was not only a celebration for the Dunoos, but also served as an advertisement for Kashmir tourism and its integral component, the houseboat chapter.

“The event showcased the famed multi-course meal Wazwan (a meat-based dish consisting chicken or lamb), an inalienable part of the Kashmir’s age-old tourism industry,” says Yaqub Dunoo, the owner of the houseboat.

IMAGE: An inside view of a typical luxury houseboat. Photograph: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com

He tells rediff.com that the first Dunoo houseboat ‘Henely’ was started in 1816 by his late great grandfather, Muhammad Subhan Dunoo.

IMAGE: A file photo of a tourist couple after getting married in a boathouse. Photograph courtesy: Dunoo family/Umar Ganie

The Dunoos are celebrating the event with lot of fanfare having issued invitations for participation in the celebrations.

The Dunoo brothers have come a long way in leaving a mark in hospitality, as well in tourism sector and have set new trends and standards for the fellow entrepreneurs.

Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar