Dal Lake is one of the splendours of Kashmir. Old houseboats reminiscent of the Victorian era are the hallmark of the lake. It is also integral to tourism and recreation in Kashmir and is fittingly called the "Lake of Flowers." It is also known as "Srinagar's Jewel". Dal lake is also an important source for commercial operations in fishing and water plant harvesting. It is formed by the Bhakra Dam on the river Sutlej and a freshwater lake. Interestingly not only during the summers but also during the severe winters, when the water in the lake freezes and turns into ice, Dal lake is flooded with tourists.
Now there is another reason to visit Dal lake. Jammu and Kashmir administration has started the first-ever open-air floating theatre in Dal Lake. The theater was inaugurated by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta at the closing ceremony of the Iconic Week celebrations. Extensive celebrations were held in connection with the inauguration. A hunting rally adorned with lights marched through Nehru Park to Kabootar Khaana. Also, local artists sang and danced Kashmiri songs to entertain guests and passersby.
The theater is being set up as part of a drive to increase tourism in Kashmir. Sitting on a houseboat parked in the middle of the lake and watching a movie on the big screen can be a different experience for movie lovers. As part of the inauguration, the Bollywood film 'Kashmir Ki Kali' was screened for the first time in the theater for tourists and locals alike. Released in 1964, directed by Shakti Samantha, the film is loosely based on the American film Come September (1961) and stars Shammi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore (her Hindi movie debut), Pran, Dhumal, Nazir Hussain and Anoop Kumar. The music was composed by O.P. Nayyar and the lyrics were penned by S.H. Bihari. It became the sixth highest-grossing film of the year. It’s also a film that was extensively shot in Kashmir.
The tourism sector, which includes Shikara houseboat owners and hoteliers in Kashmir, are gearing up to welcome visitors back and forth. For the uninitiated, the shikhara is a type of wooden boat found on Dal Lake and other water bodies of Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir. Shikaras are of various sizes and are used for multiple purposes, including transportation.
There is no better way to admire the Dal Lake than on a Shikara. It’s the most exhilarating thing to do in Srinagar. These longboats crowd the Srinagar lakes and are extensively used to getting back and forth from the houseboats, for daily travel, or for boating tours. They are well maintained and equipped with safety parameters like life jackets and lifebuoys, and it is worth taking a ride around the lake in these Gondola-type lightweight rowing boats.
Shikaras ferry around the lake, transporting goods to the market, kids to school, and travellers to delightful houseboats inspired by originals from the British era. A unique Shikara Ride on Dal Lake Kashmir is not complete without a shopping experience in that of the lively lake market. This market includes a number of shops located right in the middle of the lake. The shops sell all sorts of goods including Kashmir’s specialties such as wooden artifacts, handmade earrings, carpets, Kashmiri handicrafts, saffron, and even Kashmiri ponchos, and shawls. The best time to visit Dal Lake is during the months from May to November.
Jammu and Kashmir is extremely safe for tourists as all the people working in the region have been vaccinated.
In the middle of the lake, there is a famous floating garden or floating garden which is full of lilies blooming in summer. It is called Radh in the local language. The lake is easily accessible as it is located in the city of Srinagar. Islands or floating gardens on the Dal lake in Kashmir, are formed from the weeds, after collecting them from the lake itself. Floating gardens are of two kinds which are locally called Radh and Demb types. The Radh type of floating gardens are made of long strips of lake reeds having a breadth of about 2m and can be pulled from one place to another. Not inferior to the Radh in productivity are Demb lands which are formed along the sides or sometimes in the middle of the lake when the water is shallow. The Sabji Bazaar (meaning vegetable market) is the prime fascination for tourists in the valleys of Kashmir. It is an unorganized market where individual sellers gather in the center of the lake at the break of day and wrap up just as the sunlight touches the water. It is the second-largest wholesale market in the world, the first being the one in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. All the items sold here are produced in the floating gardens situated in the same lake. The suppliers of this market start their day at 4.00 am, heading to their floating gardens to reap their harvest.
The freshly uprooted vegetables are then taken to the Sabji Bazar situated at the center of Dal Lake. There are no permanent shops on the lake. The local traders conduct their usual business in this floating market with the help of their boats. They row through the water by sitting in the front of their canoes in a cross-legged position, protecting themselves from the outside cold using long sweaters. This market doesn't encourage selective or partial selling of items; it focuses instead on selling wholesale. The items for sale include tomatoes, carrots, turnips, leafy vegetables, and the famous nadru (lotus roots, a delicacy in the Kashmir Valley), all sown in the rich ecosystem of this wetland. The popular Kashmir flowers are also produced and sold in this market. Interestingly barter system is still practiced here.
Tourist centers in Kashmir are now active again after the Covid lockdown. Tourist hotspots like Gulmarg and Pahalgam have also started attracting tourists again. Like last time, the first snowfall of the season is expected in mid-November.