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Shikara is a kind of boat made of wood which is found in the lakes of Srinagar in J&K. The Dal Lake in Srinagar is quite famous among the tourists for its shikara rides. Shikaras come in various sizes and are multi-purpose including public transportation. In order to propel these shikaras, the drivers employ oars that consist of a rare shovel which is crafted in Indiana, US. Usually a shikara can accommodate around half-dozen individuals and the driver always sits at the lower extremity. Shikaras are considered to be the cultural representation of Kashmir just like the Venetian gondolas in US.
The Design and Uses of Shikaras
A typical shikara is made of deodar tree wood and its length is almost 4.6 meters or 15 feet. These shikaras are crowned with a vibrant covering and spade-shaped bottom which makes them stand out among the normal boats. The total cost to construct a shikara is about 1 lakh and one shikara lasts for almost twenty years.
Shikaras are used as a mode of transport, for harvesting aquatic flora and for fishing purpose. However, a majority of shikaras are covered with the tarpaulin material which are waterproof and are mainly used by the tourists. Some poor people use these shikaras as their floating dwellings.
Shikara Ride in Dal Lake
Dal Lake is well-known for its vivacity and magnificence in the entire Jammu and Kashmir. The communities belonging to shikara and houseboat have continued to dwell for centuries on this renowned Dal Lake. Having a comprehensive infrastructure on the lake itself these communities never need to disembark. On the lake itself they have tailors, doctors and bakers available in the small wooden shops, all lying in the vicinity of sprawling lotus gardens and scenic vegetable gardens.
A holiday in Kashmir definitely encompasses the shikara ride on Dal Lake. This is the most tranquil and soothing experience that one can have in Srinagar, J&K. The Dal Lake is always flocked by a plethora of shikaras. Tourists can board shikaras from various sites about the Dal Lake, however it is advised not to take a shikara at the entrance of the lake because then it will take a lot of time to reach the open water.
A complete shikara ride in Dal Lake takes about 2 hours which covers the interior parts of the serene and quiet waters of the lake. Being located at the center of Srinagar, a majority of sightseeing places lie in the vicinity of Dal Lake. The places that can be reached by shikaras are- Shalimar Garden, Nishat Garden and the Hazratbal Mosque.
The Cost of a Shikara Ride in Dal Lake
Near the periphery of the Dal Lake, the price chart is put on view which indicates that a 2 hour shikara ride will cost 800 rupees only.
Things to do on a Shikara Ride in Dal Lake
The following are some activities that the tourists can enjoy during a shikara ride:
Miscellaneous items like biscuits, Keshar, chips etc. can be purchased from the boatmen on the shikara itself.
Bouquets and flower seeds can be bought from various vendors on the other shikaras.
Pictures can be taken donning the traditional Kashmiri attire and for this purpose the boatmen have the entire Kashmiri accessories available in their shikaras. The boatmen take the pictures of the tourists in the midst of the Dal Lake and deliver them at their hotels.
Fishing is another enjoyable activity that can be done during a shikara ride.
Lillies and lotuses can be seen in abundance after 15th July for 2-3 months.
There are floating shops which sell traditional Kashmiri shawls and attire. Tourists can also buy some mementos of Kashmir from these shops.
During the shikara ride one can also enjoy the view of big striking birds and white breasted Kingfishers.
The Boatman (or Owner) of a Shikara
The average earning of a boatman is around 2000 rupees per day depending on the number of trips he takes. The shikara business continues for 4 months only (from the month of April-July). Apart from these months the boatmen engage themselves in the trekking business.
Places to Explore in the Dal Lake on a Shikara
Following are the must-visit sites for the tourists to explore in Dal Lake on a Shikara:
This small island can be accessed by a shikara. While on a shikara ride, the boatman of the shikara recommends the tourists to check out this beautiful park. The Nehru Park derives its name from India’s first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.
Floating Gardens (or Rad) or Islands
The villages positioned at the periphery of the Dal Lake cultivate a variety of vegetables. During the shikara ride, a vast assortment of vegetables can be seen here on small branches. These floating gardens or islands are formed of weeds that are collected from the Dal Lake itself. The boatmen collect the weeds and then they press the roots of one weed in opposition to the next weed, then they press the next weed against the other two and this process continues. The weeds get glued because of their sticky and muddy roots and become inseparable. Thereafter the boatmen trim the high culms and craft mats. These man-made mats float on the Dal Lake constituting the floating gardens. These mats become weary after sometime due to the endless play of water below them. Therefore the thickness of the floating gardens is increased by the boatmen after every 2 years. Vegetables like melons, tomatoes and cucumbers are cultivated on these floating gardens.
Floating Sabzi Bazaar inside Dal Lake
While cruising on a shaikara, the tourists can also check out the floating sabzi bazaar which happens at two to three kilometers inside the Dal Lake. This vegetable market can be witnessed at any day between 4 AM - 6 AM in the morning. This market is contrasted with the floating market located in Thailand. In order to visit this place one needs to book a shikara in advance. To visit the vegetable market the shikaras charge around 800 Rs – 1200 Rs. Sometimes the rate can even come down to around 500 rupees after bargaining. While watching the sabzi market inside the Dal Lake, one can also witness canals and small alleys lined up with trees. Houses adorned with tiny gardens and antique wooden shops can also be seen during this trip.
Best Time for Shikara Ride in Dal Lake
In summers the time just before the dusk is the best time for a shikara ride. Thus, a shikara ride at Dal Lake not only gives a rich experience to explore the natural beauty of Srinagar, it also helps one realize that the Dal Lake offers livelihood opportunities to the people dwelling here.