I begin the Kashmir travelogue with one of the places that I absolutely adored over there – the Dal Lake.
Out of sheer luck, we found ourselves booked in a hotel at a walkable distance from the Dal Lake, one of the major tourist attractions in Srinagar, Kashmir. I was thrilled to see my first sight of the lake, with its hundreds of shikaras and houseboats, as we drove down to the hotel from the airport. Little did I know at that time that the lake was going to grow on me in the course of our stay in Kashmir, and was going to form a part of my best memories of the state.
‘Kashmir jannat hai, jannat,’ the people of the state kept telling us, and we were bound to agree as we saw one part of it after another. I would say that the Dal Lake itself is heavenly. When a lone shikara traverses the calm waters of the Dal, it forms a perfect picture against the backdrop of the misty mountains, and you don’t really want much more in life except to stay there for ever.
Our first evening in Kashmir was spent strolling alongside the Dal Lake, and we enjoyed the experience thoroughly. Several times over, we gazed at each other with such immense adoration for the lake in our eyes that it was clear we were mesmerized and there was no need to say a single word. Both of us knew we were insanely jealous of the people who could lay claim to such wondrous sights every single day, day after day after day.
Co-incidentally, both the OH’s and my love affair with Kashmir began with the bubbly Shammi Kapoor crooning ‘Yeh chand sa roshan chehra‘ to an extremely pretty Sharmila Tagore clad in the local costume. ‘Just like it is in the movies,’ we whispered to each other as we walked around the lake, enchanted.
We were charmed by the cutesy and somewhat filmi names of the houseboats and shikaras that we saw around us – like Aapus ki baat, Dilli Darbar, Bangkok, Tum bin, Cheerful Charlay, Dastaan, Mughal-e-azam, Pakhtoon Palace, Paristan, Nanga parbat and Roxana, to name a few.
That is the TV tower, presenting a magnificent view from across the Dal Lake, atop the mountains, barely visible underneath the thick foliage. All this green turns yellow in fall, and then white in winter from the snow, we were told. ‘Kashmir saal mein teen rang badalta hai – garmiyon mein hara, sardiyon mein safed, aur beech mein peela.’ We were charmed by this description, and made up our minds to visit a white Kashmir at least once in our lifetime.
That picture of the Dal Lake was taken when we went for a shikara ride, towards the end of our vacation. The boatman – Abdul Razzak, who has won the shikara race five times so far, we were told – took us to such a serene and beautiful part of the lake where there was no one around. The sound of the water lapping against the heart-shaped oar that Abdul was plunging into the lake and the cries of birds were the only sounds we could hear around us. We felt like we had entered some magical world, and were too tongue-tied to even speak. When we regained our senses, we decided not to talk, lest we disturb the tranquil surroundings.
It was while floating in this part of the lake that I understood why it was also called ‘Mirror Lake’. Everything – every single thing – above the waters of the Dal was mirrored on the waters of the Dal. Perfection!
Stretching out your feet on the cushioned seat of a shikara, taking in the serenity around you with your loved ones is the best kind of therapy that can ever be, take my word for it. It left us feeling soothed from within, thoroughly at peace.
Thanks to the Amarnath Yatra that began recently, we were met with tight security all over Kashmir. There is such a stark contrast between the serenity of the Dal and the guns that walk on the boulevard outside it, it is jarring.
We caught our first sunset in Kashmir at the Dal Lake, and, boy, was it a pretty sight?! The Dal becomes liquid gold when the sun sets, which is quite late actually. It was still light at 7.30 PM, and did not get completely dark till 8-8.15 PM.
Is it my fault that I couldn’t stop clicking pictures of the lake at sunset? Tell me!
These days, shikaras ply on the lake as late as 12 into the night. People are grateful that peace has returned to the state, and that they don’t have to shut shop by 4 PM, as they were forced to earlier. We were thankful for that, too.
Once it gets a bit dark, the shikaras start mooring near the bank, for a rest, till the tourists for the next day arrive.
The Dal is lovely even by night, when the lights from the houseboats cast yellow and green and blue shadows over its waters. See for yourself!
I know for sure that I can’t have enough of the Dal in this lifetime. I am hopelessly in love with it, and can go to it to soothe my ruffled feathers any number of times.