Tuesday, November 05, 2013

India: Houseboat accommodation in Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
We've all experienced different kinds of accommodation from luxury resorts and hotels to inns and hostels. They're all available in Srinagar in Kashmir, India as well. But if you want a more authentic experience in Srinagar, you have to stay at a houseboat.

Previous entry: Jamia Masjid & the Nishat Bagh Mughal garden in Srinagar, Kashmir

Houseboats are part of the history and cultural landscape of Srinagar. There are hundreds of them, moored by the shores of Dal Lake and Nigeen Lake. Some historical accounts say these houseboats date back to English colonial rule in India since foreigners were not allowed to own land in Kashmir. And therefore they circumvented this rule by building floating houses on the lakes of Srinagar.

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
And just like hotels, the quality also varies from budget to the luxurious. I had no idea what to expect.

Srinagar houseboat accommodation shikara
Our van parked at a small dock on one side of Dal Lake where shikaras (traditional boats) were waiting to take us and our luggage to the houseboats where we would be checking-in. We slowly made our way through the floating community complete with shops, specialty stores and services. The front of most of the houseboats had intricately-carved designs.

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
The shikara docked beside a cluster of houseboats which I would later learn belonged to a single family. This allows them to welcome large groups, since a houseboat usually has four rooms each.

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
I was floored when I entered our houseboat. The living room was a showcase of Kashmiri carpets and embroidery, with large chandeliers and massive wooden furniture. Beside it is a dining room where you are served your meals, usually part of the package since you can't find your own food here unless you hire a shikara and explore the lake.

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
Srinagar houseboat accommodation
A carpeted hallway connects the four rooms, each with fabulous Kashmiri carpets, intricately-carved wooden beds, cabinets, wall details and ceilings, colorful embroidered curtains and linens (another Kashmiri tradition), chandeliers, and a bathroom with amenities one would expect from a hotel. No air-conditioning, but the cool weather and fans will ensure you sleep in complete comfort.

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
We were served a sumptuous Kashmiri dinner shortly after we arrived.

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
And since it's difficult to shop without a shikara, the vendors usually visit the houseboats at night, with large bags containing really good quality cashmere shawls, pashmina and silk scarves, leather clothing and accessories, and Kashmiri gems and jewelry among many others.

Srinagar houseboat accommodation Dal Lake
Srinagar houseboat accommodation
In the morning, you can catch the sunrise and watch locals begin their day as they move about in their boats. I'll talk about the vibrant floating community of Dal Lake in another post. The houseboat experience was definitely a pleasant surprise!

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
P.S. Each houseboat has a name, they can be anything under the sun from local names and foreign cities or countries to imitations and spoofs. Yes, they've got the Holiday Inn, the Kashmir Hilton, and even H.B. Manila and New Manila!

Srinagar houseboat accommodation
Jet Airways flies daily to Srinagar!
Jet Airways has twice daily flights from Delhi (DEL) to Srinagar (SXR). Jet Airways also connects to Delhi from Manila via Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong at least twice daily!
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