Srinagar is in the north-western corner of the Indian Kashmir and that special geography creates another kind of fortress city with check-points and armed troops everywhere. Srinagar is substantially larger that other cities in Jammu-Kashmir (clocking in at around one million) and is situated in a depression surrounded by Himalayan foothills. This, of course, creates a kind of pollution sink…which is very noticeable on the approach into the city.
Srinagar is known primarily for it’s Raj-era houseboats which were built as summer retreats for the British (who were not able to own land in India). Apparently there are over 1500 such boats in the lakes of Srinagar, many of which are close to a hundred years old. Many are used as guesthouses, many as family house and some are probably abandoned. Most on Lake Dal, with some on several adjacent lakes and connecting canals. They don’t move…they sit there…apparently they use a special kind of wood that strengthens with age.
I had arranged accommodation prior to leaving Leh because I didn’t want to have to face hundreds of touts early in the morning as I got out of a cramped 22 hour jeep ride. It’s always risky doing something like this as one may end up locking themselves into something that may be substandard or not too their liking. I was prepared to take that risk because I was getting rather tired of the constant price-battle one has to wage with everyone while in India.
True enough, the jeep dropped us off in the middle of a bunch of touts, but my guy was there waiting and took myself and several of my jeep companions to his waiting houseboat. His boat was particularly gorgeous, being about 70 years old and very colonial. Issue would appear later…one being that the lake we were on was about 7 km from the actual city which I soon discovered made ‘diversifying’ my money difficult and my traveling options limited. On the plus side, the lake was much quieter and had fantastic sunsets.
It was Ramadan when I was there and one of the coolest things was sitting back on the houseboat and listening to the loud prayer rumble emulating from the surrounding city as thousands paid their respects to Allah.
One the ‘shikaras’ used to ferry people from shore to the houseboats.
Early morning floating market.
Chatting away after a successful sale.
Inside on of the several Mugual-era gardens. Giant trees, colourful flowers
Srinagar urban fabric from above. Typically organic, unplanned orientations surrounded by bizarre odours.
Houseboat alley on Dal Lake (the main houseboat lake)
Houseboats…hundreds. How each makes a profit is beyond me.
Srinigar old town with wooden mosques and plenty of burqua clad women.
This is where your old cameras go to die.
My feelings on Srinagar are mixed. The scenery is nice, the boat quiet, the sunsets fantastic and I have never experienced anything so encompassing as the prayer rumbles (like the whole city was speaking). However, for all intents and purposes I was trapped on the houseboat. I could come and go to the shore as a liked via the Shikara but there wasn’t much around the lake I was staying at. The owner was well-experienced with foreign travelers and had the guilt-speak down perfectly. The meals were not that good and by the end of the three days myself and my jeep companions felt like we had been taken for quite a ride on the prices. We were not ‘ripped-off’ but we were paying substantially more than what we should have for what we were getting.
To make up for the somewhat boring nights trapped on the boat, my companions and I went hunting for beer one night in this very Muslim city…during Ramadan…yeah…say all you want…one can only play so many rounds of UNO without something to extend the fun. While it is Muslim, Srinagar is still in India and there is still, theoretically, booze to be found…just got to ask. Because of Ramadan, the one hotel that does supply alcohol had closed their shop, but word on the street was that a hotel called the “Dal-Top Hotel” or something like that, was open for business. We wandered around the main boardwalk along Dal Lake till about 8:30pm looking for this place (Srinagar closes very early, around 8pm). Finally, we found it…Dal-Top is actually an abandoned hotel sandwiched between two hotels taken over by the military. Black-marketers set up shop outside. They operate off their shikara boats and do brisk business with like minded travelers and locals. We ended up buying a bottle of “Green Label” whisky for about 1200 rupees (the retail price is 200 rupees) (strangely enough, this “green label” whisky is only for sale in Kashmir as indicated on the label.
I have never walked that far or that long for a taste. But it was a good UNO game.