A visit to the Kashmir valley is incomplete without a stay in a House Boat and shopping for dry fruits, fresh Apples and Kashmiri Handicrafts. During our Eight day stay in the Valley, we spent four nights and Five days in a super deluxe house boat ?Kashmir Treat? owned by Ghulam Qadir Goosani and managed by him and his son Mustafa.
Life on Dal Lake on a House Boat:
Standard house boats have an open deck at the entrance with steps on the sides on in the front. Deluxe boats have a landing area where tables and chairs are set for relaxation and to enjoy morning and evening tea.
Speaking to , Ghulam Qadir Goosani owner of ?Kashmir Treat? Super Deluxe House Boat and ?Golden Hind? Budget Boat House explained that his father started the House Boat in 1947 and now he and his son Mustafa are running family business. The entire family is involved in attending to tourists. Ladies do the cooking while men attend to guests, take them around and even arrange trekking and skiing adventure. Many foreigners and retired Military officers have liked their hospitality and prefer to stay in their boat every year.
Kashmir Treat is a huge boat over 140feet in length and over 30Feet wide. It is perched in a serene atmosphere overlooking mountains on three sides, far from the madding crowd. Owner?s house is adjacent to the boat on reclaimed land with floating garden where they grow vegetables like cucumber, bottle gourd and pumpkin. They also grow lotus and lilies in the front. Lotus stem is edible and is widely used in Kashmiri Vegetarian cooking. They dry the lotus stem and other vegetables and store them for winter.
The house boat has well carpeted four deluxe double rooms with attached bath cum toilet, 24hours hot shower and bath tub facilities. Windows have sliding mosquito mesh shutters as well as glass shutters with double curtains, thick and thin to allow or control wind and daylight.
Locals collecting weeds for compost
Kashmir Treat and Golden Hind House Boats
Our Room Boy Aezaz
Char Chinar, Dal Lake
Water Skiing Facility, Dal Lake
Nehru Park, Dal Lake
House Boat Owner’s house
Rear view of Kashmir Treat
A platform amidst two House Boats to spend a lazy day
Front elevation of Kashmir Treat
A local woman collecting fodder for cattle
Golden Hind budget House Boat
With Mustafa, Our Boat House Guide
With Yassin, our Taxi Driver
The open deck has seating arrangement on three sides. One step below, as you enter the wide doorway into the living room, you?ll notice wall to wall expensive Kashmiri carpet, ceiling fan, carved walnut furniture, TV, DVD player and music system. There is a mini library with popular paperbacks by famous authors and also a writing table with reading lamp and matching chair to sit.
From the living room as you go inside, you will see a big dining room with two round glass top carved dining tables and matching chairs. There is a fridge in the corner stocked with soft drinks, soda and bottled water. You are at liberty to consume as much as you want and the room service boy maintains the stock and makes the bill at the end of your stay. One bottle of water is served with Breakfast and Dinner free of cost. Normally the tour package includes Breakfast and Dinner and all other meals are extra. Normally the breakfast menu includes any of the snacks like aloo parathas, poori sabji, pickles, curds, bread butter jam, sandwiches and egg omlette with pot tea with milk or Kashmiri Kahua, the green tea. Dinner consists of rice, rotis, daal, sabji and one nonveg dish like chicken curry, Mutton Rogan josh, Rista, Yakhni or Ghushtaba. Mutton is very tender and delicious in Kashmir. The adjoining pantry room has well stocked cutlery necessary for serving and dining. A long 3feet wide corridor leads to the four deluxe bed rooms.
The bed room has a massive double soft bed with blankets and soft pillows, stained glass ventilators, ceiling fan, chairs and tea poy for dining, a dressing room with closet, attached clean bathroom with expensive fittings and water heater. 24 hours water supply and power supply is supposed to be provided by the Municipal Corporation but power failures are frequent and garbage disposal is managed by private contractors who send workers with big drums and sacks to fill the garbage and dump that at the Municipal garbage recycling yard.
The floating market on way to the house boat has shops selling the daily needs of the house boat owners and the tourists. Their prices are on par with the overland shops. They remain open from early morning till late night. There are tea stalls and restaurants selling Kashmiri Wazwan and Punjabi dishes. There are fruit vendors, florists and handicraft dealers.
The House Boat owner?s entire family is involved in cooking and attending to tourists? needs. Two boys look after room service and cleaning. Of the two, Aezaz seemed more dedicated and active. He was available almost 12 hours a day at our service and he was very hospitable, soft natured and friendly. Aezaz resembled the Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar to a great extent with his looks and voice!
One may wonder how they drain the effluent from the boat to mainland. There is a drain pipeline with pumping stations at places to ensure hygiene. The lake has weeds and foliage that are collected by locals to use as manure for their vegetable gardens or for feeding horses and cattle.
Our tour package included Shikhara boat ride along the Dal Lake and on the last day of our tour, we had the joy of having the pleasure of watching the flora and fauna of Dal Lake, if not the beauty of Naubat Pahad, Char Chinar, Shankaracharya Hill Kabutar Khana(Then Dr Karan Singh?s property, now a Military Camp) and Nehru Park.
It was a touching moment when we left the Shikhara boat and our taxi driver Yassin came to pick and drop us at the airport.
?Come again Sir, make the best of your holidays in Kashmir while we ensure the best hospitality!? said Mustafa and I could see a glow of sincerity in his eyes!
Fruits, dry fruits and other exotic essentials:
It was Apple season in Kashmir when we visited. All along the way within the valley, orchards were overwhelmed with Apple and pears on trees. Kashmiri Apple is not as red and succulent as Himachal Apple but it tastes juicy and sweet when you consume it fresh. Other fruit we saw on trees was Walnut. Walnut fruit looks green and round, but once it ripens, they remove the outer carp and dry the nut. Walnut resembles human brain and is very good for health. The timber from the tree is soft and is useful for making carved furniture.
Fresh juicy Kasmir Apple
Apple almost ready for harvest at an orchard
Unripened Walnut fruit on tree
Symbol of purity, Almonds, Walnut kernels and Apricots
Walnut stacked on racks
Saffron Merchants of Kashmir
Almond trees were barren, for it was off season for the fruit yield. Even saffron fields posed a barren look and they cultivate the saplings sometime in October and collect the saffron just before winter. Kashmiri Apricots are orange in colour and very succulent as against their cousins from Arab countries which are grayish brown in colour.
Kashmir valley also has abundant yield of fig and Red Kidney Beans (Rajma). Kashmiri Rajma has a light red colour and different shape and flavor than its darker Punjabi cousin which we find in local markets.
On way to Pahalgam off Srinagar Jammu Highway we reach Pampore which is famous for Saffron cultivation. There are many shops run by the growers with genuine Saffron, dry fruits and honey. We visited a shop owned by Noor Mohammed Bhat where we purchased pure saffron for Rs.200/- a gram. He also had a good stock of high quality almonds, Walnut, Apricot, Fig and Honey. A gram of pure Saffron in Srinagar may cost Rs. 250/- to 350/- depending on the place.
Top quality shelled Almonds cost Rs. 450/- per Kilo, Walnut kernels cost Rs.900/- and whole dried Kashmiri Apricots cost Rs.600/- per kilo. Fresh juicy apple at the floating market on Dal Lake cost us Rs.60/- per Kilo. Bananas are not grown in Kashmir and are mostly indented from Bengal and Maharashtra.
Kahua or Kashmiri Green Tea leaves are available at Rs.400/- per 500Gms along with calculated quantity of Cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods packed within. These dried leaves are mostly indented from Darjeeling or Himachal Pradesh. The process of making Kahua is very meticulous. Water is boiled, cinnamon and cardamom are crushed and added to boiling water and heat is turned off. Then tea leaves are added and the vessel is covered for 5 mins. Light decoction is decanted and very less sugar is added to it. In Kashmir, they have a special utensil to prepare Tea called Samovar. Kahua invigorates the mood and keeps the body warm on cold winter days. We got good quality Tea leaves through Mustafa.
Handicrafts and Cricket Bats:
Kashmiri handicrafts vary from synthetic and woolen shawls, sarees, dresses, Papier Machie(Paper Mash) artifacts, art jewelry and wood carvings. We found ?New Kashmir Arts Emporium? in Pahalgam run by two brothers. The elder one asked us about our orientation and immediately exclaimed, ?Oh! I?ve seen Mangalore. It?s a lovely place, good people and nice weather. My daughter did her Physiotherapy Graduation at Laxmi Memorial Institute?
We got good discount and purchased quite a few artifacts to gift our friends and relatives. Shawls vary from Rs. 450/- for the synthetic one to Rs.9000/- for pure Pashmina Wool Shawl. Sarees started from Rs.400/-. Pashmina shawls are very soft, light and have a self contained design, though they look ordinary. Papier Machie items have a wide range from Sindhoor box, Key chains, Candle stand to Jewel Box. Wood Craft has Shikhara Boats, Hookahs, Ash Trays and Cigarette Cases. Art jewelry has a wide range too. Brass and other metal articles are not made in Kashmir, mostly indented from Moradabad in UP.
Kashmir Willow tree is found all along the Jammu Srinagar Highway and Cricket Bat industries are found all along the way at Bijbehra. Our taxi driver Yassin stopped at a factory ?Good Luck Sports Industries? run by a friendly Kashmiri. We saw the process of making cricket bats from Raw Kahmiri Willow and the different stages of making them. Cricket bats range from Rs.250-/ to Rs.2500/- which are targeted at low and middle income youngsters. They ship these bats all over India, the owner said. Even in Kerala down South they have a good market, he added. The process of making the cricket bats can be seen in the pictures stage by stage.
Ethnic jewellery on display
Walnut wood artifacts
A section of Papier Machie articles
Glittering Papier Machie gift items
Fine Kashmiri Shawls on display
Another fine example of Kashmiri Shawl
Variety of Bats on display
Traditional way of sealing the cellophane cover
Hard workers shape the bats
Fine Polishing with machine buffers
Typical bazar view, Pahalgam
We didn?t buy any for we had the problem carrying the bat on flight. Rather we?ll find it in the local market and ask for the manufacturer, I assured the owner who was all smiles and nodded!
All said and done, each moment of our tour of Kashmir was memorable, be it the stay at the Boat House, trip to the glacier in Sonamarg, the Gondola ride to Affarwat, visit to Aru and Betaab valley, stroll in the Mughal Gardens, Shikhara ride on Dal Lake, living by the side of babbling brooks of Pahalgam, Nathu?s Rasoi, Mustafa?s guidance, Ghulam Qadir Goosani?s hospitality with Kashmiri Wazwan and Kahua tea, Aezaz?s personalized service or Yassin?s safe driving and prompt pick up and drop! A holiday well spent indeed!
It all went on so well that we hardly had time to look back and realize when we reached back home! Only reminisces remain and linger on for years to come before we revisit the Heaven on Earth, Kashmir!
Dal Lake Kashmir Part 1 –
Dal Lake Kashmir Part 2 –
Dal Lake Kashmir Part 3 –
Dal Lake Kashmir Part 4 –
Dal Lake Kashmir Part 5 –
Dal Lake Kashmir Part 6 –
Dal Lake Kashmir Part 7 –
Dal Lake Kashmir Part 8 –
Author: Rajanikanth Shenoy- Kudpi