Kashmir, time travel and Entrepreneurs of Dal lake

How did a shikara ride on Dal lake, an overtly chiched travel experience in Kashmir touch our hearts?

“Shauk se karo” (Do as you please, enjoy the experience) – It’s the same dramatic greeting. The overtly polite tone. The bright colours. The tacky yet romantic seating. And the pride in his eyes as he takes you around what he clearly cherishes – the Dal lake.

Shikaras at Dal lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, India

I had first laid eyes on the Dal lake as a wide-eyed 6-year-old, on a family trip to Kashmir. The idea of a shikara and being on a waterbody for so long had been a novelty.

Twenty-five years is generally is a long enough period for a place to go through an upheaval. It’s long enough for a place to feel “nothing like before”. Not so the Dal lake of Kashmir!

Shikaras at Dal lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, India

As we got to Srinagar on our first long term travel – time seemed to have stood still at the Dal lake. A ride in the shikara over the Dal lake was the diametric opposite of the offbeat travel experience we were seeking. But standing on the Boulevard road in Srinagar, seeing the houseboats parked in neat rows and the bright floral designs of the shikaras vying for our attention – I knew we had to get on it.

The guy rowing the shikara in Dal lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

An old man, with the customary cigarette in hand (we weren’t aware how much the people of Kashmir loved their tobacco back then!) – no it wasn’t rude to blow smoke on the customer’s face when your greeting is so courteous and melodious – welcomed us into the shikara. Showed us how to seat ourselves comfortably on the rather odd sized mattresses of the shikara. Now relax and enjoy the nazara (views). Let the Dal lake cast its spell on you.

Colourful shikara on the Dal lake in Srinagar, Kashmir

We hadn’t even gotten over the amusement of this entire setting when it all began.

“Some fresh flowers for the Madam, Sir?”

“No thank you, we don’t want to buy anything.”

Flower vendor at the Dal lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

Row a little further. Some more vendors selling chips and snacks row past. We give them a blind eye.
“Aah, those flowers were too bright? How about these ones?”

Flower vendor at the Dal lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

This could’ve got annoying. But his choice of words felt like the script of an old Bollywood movie. It was just too amusing to be annoying.

Aah madam, you will love to be Kashmir ki kali

Kashmir ki kali literally translates to Flower of Kashmir! The obsession of the people of Kashmir with this movie made way back in 1964 is still intact. Generations have passed. But the young entrepreneurs of Dal lake are still heard referring to the same movie!

The professional attitude of these budding photographers impressed us. They might all shout out, “Kashmir ki kali photos”. But their pitch is well prepared. They’ve done their homework.

Photographer on Shikara, Srinagar, Kashmir, India

First, they show you their portfolio. The photos of various women they’ve clicked (yes, wearing the exact same clothes!). But it says a lot about your convincing power when women from across the country agree to do this year after year.

You choose the dress depending on the shade of red and the amount of bling you prefer – they have 2 or 3 options. These are accompanied with jewelry to match. It’s clunky stuff, some of which you don’t know how to wear, you’ve never seen it before. But there’s nothing to worry. These guys are true entrepreneurs – they are well versed in all aspects of the job.

A floating photo studio at Dal lake, Srinagar, India

Jewelry sorted, now the makeup. What’s a Kashmir ki kali without the red cheeks and bright red lips? Some touches here and there, and you are all set.

Or so you think. You aren’t just going to leave you hands by your sides, are you? You’ve got to pick a prop – a pot of water you’ve just fetched from the stream? Or maybe a bunch of flowers (plastic ones, mind you!)?

Photographer on Shikara, Srinagar, Kashmir, India

“Smile, please”.

“Oh, that is beautiful madam!”

“The photos will reach your hotel by this evening.”

“You are very kind, sir. Enjoy your stay in Kashmir. Come to my home for a cup of tea if you have the time!”

Just like that, as you are doing the most touristy thing there can ever be, you are given a warm friendly invite into a stranger’s home. You now notice the young guy smiling before you. From a “photographer on Dal lake”, he transforms into an entrepreneur with dreams in his eyes.

All this while, he was creating a memory for you to carry back home. But the real memory you’ll remember forever is the connection you made with him in those few moments.

Our shikara ride on the Dal lake was a severe case of déjà vu. It felt like a childhood memory calling out, “Come, let’s be that little girl again.”

Has a place you’ve traveled to after ages felt exactly the same? Do share your stories in the Comments.

Other stories on Kashmir you’ll like to read

Guide for offbeat travel to Kashmir, India

People of the valley, Kashmir

Tourist attractions around Dal lake in Srinagar, Kashmir

Yusmarg: Should you stay here on your Kashmir trip?

South Kashmir circuit: Non touristy fit for all travelers

Lolab valley, unexplored Kashmir

Chatpal, an offbeat gem hidden in Kashmir

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

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22 thoughts on “Kashmir, time travel and Entrepreneurs of Dal lake

  1. Priyanka

    The article along with the photographs is so wonderful! Took me back to Kashmir where I had similar encounters with lovely people. We also visited the homes of a couple of locals, met their families…. Never till now I had such lovely experience as in Kashmir.
    Thanks once again Sandeepa and Chetan for bringing back such lovely memories! 🙂

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      We actually were expecting better pictures but without spending more time it is difficult. We also missed the early morning market. May be in the next visit we will have better luck.

  2. Yogi Saraswat

    Would love to visit there . Actually I always want to go there but the situation there always stop me to go there with family. beautiful photos enhance charm to read your posts .

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Yogen, yeah it can feel overwhelming taking the family to Kashmir given the kind of news coverage. But the local people of Kashmir will go out of their way to make the tourists feel safe, that’s a guarantee!

  3. 2travellingsisters

    Beautiful captures of Dal! Although these entrepreneurs (as you call them 😉 ) can get bit annoying we have to try to simple ignore them as they are doing their job to earn their living..

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hehe, yeah, they are earning their bread and butter – and the only way they can do it is by you spending your money on their services – I guess the same story at every popular tourist destination. Agree with the annoying part though. But these entrepreneurs (why not call them that, right?) at Dal lake with their old world style language and behaviour are quite a bit fun!