DAL: HEAVEN'S OWN LAKE --Reetu Asrani

DAL: HEAVEN'S OWN LAKE --Reetu Asrani

Gar firdaus bar roo-e-zameen ast,     

 

Hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast.

(Free translation from the original Persian:
‘If heaven is on the face of earth,
It is here, it is here, it is here’; gar is an abbreviation of ‘agar’, and one version of the couplet begins with ‘agar’).
 
‘Here’ is Kashmir.
Part of the northern-most Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmir.
Heaven on earth.
Natural  beauty, beyond compare.
 
Mountains, flowers and lakes, Kashmir has them all. Perhaps the most famous of these is Srinagar’s Dal Lake--an enticing silver sheet, with a tinge of blue, sprinkled with flamboyantly colored shikaras and stylish house-boats. 
 
The hues of the lake keep changing from dawn to dusk. As soon as evening turns into night, the reflections of twinkling lights of house-boats in the water twinkle like a royal necklace of multi-coloured gems. Whenever a shikara glides along the calm surface, causing ripples, the reflection conjures up an image that is akin to the gems having been strewn loose from the string of necklace.  
             
‘Dal’ is a Tibetan word which means ‘still’. It is believed that in ancient times, there was no lake here, and, instead, a large meadow, known as Watalanmarg, existed at the place. Later, due to a massive earthquake, water gushed into the meadow, and took the shape of a lake.
 
Dal Lake is not just any other lake--its uniqueness lies in the fact that it contains a small, dynamic, world, in and around it, full of vitality and enthusiasm. There is a feeling of ‘joie de vivre’ everywhere. It is like a mini township, with complete infrastructure. It has floating markets with tiny wooden shops, selling anything, from handicrafts for tourists, to groceries and household items for inhabitants of Dal. A cyber café, a salon house-boats or floating residential hotels are there. There is a regular traffic of mobile shops, in boats, selling eatables, like barbecued kebabs, ice creams, and a variety of snacks, fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts and virtually every utility item. Dal Lake offers the most unique and amazing accommodation option--the houseboats or floating hotels. Every houseboat is ornately carved and richly furnished, with living areas, bedrooms, baths and sun-decks.
 
A truly fascinating feature of the Dal Lake is what can best be described as floating farms. Stacks of weeds are entwined into a mass, in which soil is placed, and melons, tomatoes and other vegetables are planted in this soil. The roots of these plants touch water, so no extra watering is needed, and they grow quite well. According to a leading newspaper in the valley, vegetables grown in such floating farms are supplied not just to the valley itself, but the surplus is exported to other states too. The annual turnover of this business is over Rs 35 crore (350 million). These floating farms are also mobile farms; they can be shifted from one place to another.
 
Nehru Park is a vibrant spot in the middle of the lake. Hordes of photographers, clicking away photos of tourists in traditional Kashmiri attire, are a common sight here.  It is also a favorite haunt of water sports enthusiasts, as it is the preliminary point for water skiing, surfing and swimming. The small islet, with four chinars (called Booune in the Kashmiri language, these are trees whose botanical name is Platanus orientalis, or oriental plane; they grow as tall as 25 metres, with girth exceeding 50 feet), popularly known as ‘Char Chinar’ is an excellent venue for short picnics. An island in the Dal Lake, it is also known as Char Chinari, Ropa Lank, or Rupa Lank. A Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC)-owned restaurant, in the form of a houseboat, is anchored to the island, offering delicious Kashmiri food, in a traditional ambience.
 
The diamond in the ring is the smallest but the loveliest part of the Dal Lake, called Nigeen. Separated by a causeway and only a short distance from the world-famous Hazrat-Bal shrine (dargah), it has deep blue waters, and is encircled by a ring of green trees. This part of the Dal is also famous for water sports. Those who love solitude prefer staying in houseboats at Nigeen, on account of  its peaceful surroundings.
The best remedy for frayed nerves and a stressed out mind is a relaxing shikara ride in the Dal Lake. Just lie back on the comfortable, cushioned seat of a shikara, and hear the soothing sound of oars splashing the water around. In just a single ride, you can enjoy a variety of sights and landscapes. First, you see a series of house-boats in rows, with their occupants waving and greeting you as your shikara glides on. The next sight is the open wide expanse of the lake, with reflections of blue sky and towering mountains. As you move on, you see the thick green sheets, interspersed with colourful lilies and lotus blooms. The superimposition of new vistas continues, as your shikara moves on. Every sight during the ride is a feast for the eyes.
 
Dal Lake is indeed the most precious jewel of Srinagar.

Text: Reetu Asrani  Pics: Owais Rahim Raga

Reetu is a producer-director of  documentaries and the Project Head of  Indian Youth Climate Network, IYCN  (Jammu and Kashmir). A strong  supporter of communal harmony, she  has worked in radio and television, and organised events like Lohri ki Dhoom, Kashmiri Sufiyana Music Concert, -‘Jashn-e-Aman’- and Khwaja Ke Darbar Se. Having lived in Kashmir for many years. She now shuttles between Srinagar and Mumbai.

 
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