Shikaras (boats) on Dal Lake at sunset, Srinagar, Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir State; India.

I visited Kashmir as a child. We lived on a house boat in the Dal lake throughout the trip. It was decorated beautifully (I remember the owner claiming one of the tables on the boat to be worth lakhs)

Dal Lake. Serene. Beautiful. Vibrant. A world that brims with life and activity. Dal lake sustains within its periphery a unique life. The communities that live on the lake have developed their life on water to an extent, that now, they hardly ever have to step on land! Doctors, tailors, and bakers – you’ll see them all in tiny wooden shops on the lake. It is a new life altogether. They have a full-fledged market, which is called floating market. Floating vegetable gardens are even more amazing. The biggest vegetable market of the valley is set up in the interiors of the Dal Lake early morning.

One of the heavenly offerings of this paradise on Earth is the Shikhara or the wooden house boat used for ferrying across the lakes and rivers. It is generally made of Deodar (which does not decompose in water) and is of varied sizes. It is painted in bright, vibrant colors ensuring the palette captures the essence of the valley. They are flat bottomed boat with a cloth canopy. The print of the cloth represents the artistic culture of Kashmir.

I remember people selling beautiful artworks made using Papier-mâché on these boats. It was amazing to discover the rich art of this paradise while actually voyaging on one. The boat took us to the interiors of the lake (the thin structure of the boat allowed fine turns and movement) where we were introduced to the opulent yet homely accommodation of the local community.

I believe,  Shikara is an ever dynamic cultural identity of Kashmir. A simple glide over pristine waters when coupled with some other fascinating things, delivers a magical experience. An experience I remember till date and shall value for life.

-Shubhangi Gupta

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