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The Splendour Of A Kashmiri Houseboat

Last updated on: July 27, 2023 19:23 IST
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On a trip to Kashmir Ashish Narsale/ was fascinated by the houseboats he saw on Dal Lake.

Using his trusted OnePlus 11R, he shot glimpses of houseboats and their interiors.

Houseboats have been on the Dal and Nageen Lake, Srinagar, since at least the 1800s and maybe earlier. The Dal and Nageen and Kerala Kuttanad, or backwaters, are two of the places in India where houseboats exist in multitudes (Sundarban has some), but unlike the Kerala kettuvallams, Kashmiri houseboats don't move and are anchored.

The Kashmiri boatmen ethnic group, the Hanjis were credited with building the first houseboat masterpieces, from cedar, with carved panelling, exquisite walnut wood furniture and Kashmiri carpets for British officers, East India Company officials and foreign visitors to stay in, as a kind of jugaad, since Ranbir Singh, the then maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, who belonged to the Dogra royal family, did not permit the British to buy land in his kingdom.

Houseboats were featured in Hindi films over and over again, sometimes just in the background. Think Kashmir Ki Kali of the 1960s and Mission Kashmir this century. And remember the iconic shots in Jab Jab Phool Khile.

Dal Lake houseboats -- there are around 1,000 of them, on both lakes, although many faced severe damage during the Kashmir floods of 2014 -- are also famous for their intriguing names.

Chicago, Mughal Palace, New Jaquiline, Akbar Heritage, New Buckingham Palace, Argunet, Woodcock (which became rubble in the floods), Gulfam, Geneva, Young Snow View, New Suzan, Hardy Palace, Young Bombay, Young Manhattan, SnowGoose, King of Kings, Soul Kiss.

Come tour an authentic Kashmiri houseboat with Ashish and his cellphone:


IMAGE: This houseboat -- houseboats are referred to as an HB by the locals -- was 28 years old and still stood, erm, floated firm on the Dal Lake. Some houseboats were far older, touching some said 90 years. All photographs shot on a OnePlus 11R: Ashish Narsale/


IMAGE: These floating mahals had as many as five or six bedrooms; some even have/had fireplaces.
They all provided an open seating area, or balcony, from where you could enjoy the scenic Dal Lake. And wifi, power backup.
The boats are stationed all along the lake's edge and shikaras from the ghats on Foreshore road will take you to the houseboat; some can be accessed by road.


IMAGE: When we entered the living room, reminiscent of some earlier time, we were greeted with beautifully carved walnut wood furniture and a room decked out in the best of Kashmiri fabrics and handicrafts, with only a television that reminded us it was the Internet age.
The cost of staying on a houseboat varies widely, depending on the quality of the vessel, facilities, the season and many more factors, but one bedroom can set you back Rs 3,500 per night without food.


IMAGE: Another view of the room. The old television was just for show. Who would like to watch it anyway when you could watch the dreamy lake?


IMAGE: The dining area where one was fed the best of the famous Kashmiri cuisine.


IMAGE: This was a small kitchen, more like a pantry. The 'HB' owners usually cooked the food in their homes, on the shore, near the boat and brought it to the wee kitchen to be served.
And during the day all kinds of shikaras might draw up selling fruit, kebabs and stuff to buy.
The restaurants and malls literally come to your doorstep, in an old-fashioned Swiggy way.


IMAGE: A small corridor connecting the three bedrooms on the boat. Houseboats were even 100 feet long and 14 feet wide.


IMAGE: One of the three plush bedrooms. Blankets are a must in most seasons.


IMAGE: Dressing up like a maharani was possible in this tiny boudoir area.


IMAGE: A washroom with toilet and a tub, no less. We were warned to be careful to not spill water on the floor.

Lead Image: Kind courtesy Basharat Shah/Wikimedia Commons.


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