Lay back and admire the beauty of the distant mountains as your boatman takes you through a ride across the lake. Away from the hustle bustle of the polluted city life, a shikara ride ranks on the top of the list of the best things to do in Kashmir. No smoke or sound of the vehicles, no high-pitched angry crowd, nothing. Just the soft sound of the boatman’s oar breaking the surface of the water and the touch of the cold water as you trail your hand on the surface of the lake.
Known as the Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir and Srinagar’s Jewel, Dal Lake is the most important landmark of Srinagar. It figures high on tourist itineraries and every tourist to the Kashmir valley makes it a point to visit the water body. There are two theories for the origin of the lake – one states that it is a post-glacial lake that has undergone a lot of changes in size over the years. The other theory of the origin of the lake states that the Dal Lake was formed due to flood spillage from the Jhelum River.
Kashmir Tours With Shikara Ride
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Dal Lake has an average depth of almost 5 ft and a maximum depth of 20 ft. Covering an area of 18 sq km, the Dal Lake is part of a natural wetland that covers an area of about 21 sq km which includes floating gardens. The floating gardens are known as ‘Rad’ in Kashmiri language. The floating gardens are known for the lotus flowers that blossom during the months of July and August. The Dal Lake is divided into four basins, Bod Dal, Nagin (also a separate lake), Gagribal and Lokut Dal. There is an island in the middle of Bod Dal known as Sona Lank. Lokut Dal is also known as Rup Lank and Char Chinari.
Dal Lake is lined by gardens built in the Mughal era and many parks. Mughals, who were smitten by the beauty of Kashmir, laid extensive gardens to heighten its beauty. The best views of the lake can be seen from the Shalimar Garden and Nishat Garden that were built during the reign of Mughal Emperor, Jehangir.
The beauty of Dal Lake has attracted filmmakers and over 20 films have been shot in and around the famous water body. Mainstream Hindi films like, Junglee, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Kashmir Ki Kali, Jaanwar, Lamhaa, Yahaan, Mission Kashmir, Dil Se, Kabhi Kabhi, Rockstar and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani were shot or have scenes in which Dal Lake forms the backdrop. The sight of actor Shammi Kapoor gamboling on a shikhara in Kashmir Ki Kali or Shashi Kapoor lamenting about failed love in Jab Jab Phool Khile have helped popularize and romanticize the Dal Lake in the popular imagination.
Shikaras are a cultural symbol of the lake and seen mostly in lakes of Srinagar. It is often called the Gondola of Kashmir and has achieved iconic status. While the boats are a part of daily life on the lake and used for a slew of purposes including transporting people and goods, it has become very popular with tourists. A ride on the lake is a must for tourists visiting Kashmir.
Unlike the houseboats of Kerala, houseboats on the Dal Lake are usually stationary. Made of wood and with intricately carved wood paneling, the houseboats are of different sizes, some even have three bedrooms, living room and kitchen. Staying on a houseboat provides a unique experience. Houseboats vary in degree of luxury and have been accordingly graded by the Department of Tourism. Often the owner and his family offer personalized service.
Where to try: Dal Lake in Srinagar and Manasbal Lake near Sonamarg
Timings: 6:00 am – 5:00 pm; all days of the week
Cost per person: INR 150 – INR 250