A brief history of Srinagar's houseboats

The history of Srinagar's houseboats have intrigued me for long, and if you have been there even once you will be curious to know more about them as well. These are beautiful wooden houses, but to me there is much more life in them...beyond what we can see and experience directly. There are multiple layers of personality in each of these houseboats. Their rather interesting names (I will write another short story on that soon) are an indication of their history, but that's just a part of their past, just the first layer of their personality.

srinagar houseboat kashmir dal lake india
A typical houseboat in Dal lake

From the time I saw the first houseboat in Srinagar eight years ago, I fell in love with them. I visited one that year (2006), however never got an opportunity to live in it. As a student it was over my little hotel budget!

I will soon write a post about the houseboat that I stayed in, but let me share here a little bit more about them in this post here. The houseboats first came into existence in the 19th Century when the Europeans expressed their interest in buying land in the valley and settling down here. A restriction which prevents an outside from purchasing land in Kashmir (this still remains in place) didn't allow them to do so. So came an ingenious idea to make a home in the valley without buying an land - use water to build floating homes! It was within the law and so was acceptable to all.

srinagar houseboat kashmir dal lake india
Most houseboats are interconnected by these pathways

Even before the English rulers moved away front the subcontinent after India's independence, another ingenious idea helped in the survival of these lovely floating homes - they were converted into much prized hotels for tourists in the valley. Dal Lake was already a symbol of Srinagar, and a chance to live within its beautiful waters was an opportunity no one wanted to miss out on. So they lived on happily and became a constant source of income for their owners.

1989 onwards the tourism industry virtually collapsed due to insurgency and many houseboats simply came on the verge of their death bed, most however, somehow survived. As violence dwindled, tourists returned and now the houseboats are popular again. They have other challenges though. A constant criticism is the pollution they cause to the Dal lake and how this burden is slowly killing the lake. The pollution not just makes the lake dirty, it also provides the food for the weed which then needs to be constantly removed at a very expense. You can see these mammoth machines doing just this in the Dal any given day.

srinagar shikara boat kashmir dal lake india
The regular shikaras (boats) used by the tourists

srinagar shikara boat kashmir dal lake india
And these are the shikaras used by the locals

Most people know of houseboats on Dal lake only, however there are many of these in Nageen Lake as well as Jhelum river.

srinagar houseboat kashmir dal lake india
A houseboat on river Jhelum

-- Siddhartha Joshi