Saturday, August 13, 2011

Explore Kashmir: Dal Lake.

The idyllic Dal Lake, Srinagar.
Our trip to Kashmir was primarily about our Trekking tour. When I was planning the trip, I was not sure how long the trek would last, so I had left ample room by booking some extra days in Srinagar. When our trek ended, we still had 3 more days to spend in Srinagar, before our return flight back to Goa. We decided to use these days to explore Srinagar a bit more.

You can't explore Srinagar without exploring Dal Lake. The whole city is built around the lake, and it is an integral part of Srinagar. It houses thousands of houseboats dotted around the lake. We decided to spend 2 nights in one of the houseboat, in order to unwind after our hard week in the mountains.

Baktoo Group, the company that organized our trek, also happens to own a couple of houseboats in the Nagin lake (which is sometimes referred as a separate lake, but is actually part of Dal Lake). We were invited to spend the 2 nights with them.

Our houseboat on Nagin Lake.
The houseboat is like a deluxe hotel with all the modern amenities (including a refrigerator filled with ice cold beer). We were given the deluxe room and left to our devices to relax and explore Dal lake.

The best (and perhaps the only way) to explore Dal Lake is by a small boat called a Sikhara. One hour ride in a Sikhara costs Rs. 400/- (about $10).

Sikhara Boat, Dal Lake.
Sitting inside the Sikhara, you can watch life pass you by, as you slowly travel on the still waters.

Dal Lake, overgrown with weeds.
The first thing you notice about Dal lake is the weeds. They have literally taken over the lake. I would be very scared to fall overboard here.

The government is doing everything it can to clear the lake of the weeds. It pays local people by the hour, to remove the weed out of the water, and keep the lake clean. Special machinery is also deployed to remove the weeds.

A local Kashmiri, removing the weed from the lake.
The lake is dotted with small islands that you can visit with the Sikhara.

An island on Dal Lake.
A fisherman on Dal Lake.

Houseboats lining up Dal Lake.
Since all the houseboats (and the tourists) live on water, it makes sense that the best way to do business on Dal lake is by boats. Everything from vegetables, flowers, arts and crafts comes to the houseboats on small boats.

The owner of our houseboat told me about this early morning vegetable market that is a must-see for a photographer. Only problem is.. I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning. I set my alarm at 4:15 a.m. and got myself ready. 

Exactly at 4:30, the Sikhara driver came up to my room and we set off. It was totally dark, and I was very sleepy. I was wondering what kind of photographs I can take in total darkness.

After about 1 hour of riding in the Sikhara, we reached our destination. It was a cacophony of vendors on boats, bartering or selling/buying goods from their boats.

Early morning bartering at the Vegetable Market, Dal Lake.
It was still dark. For reasons that I cannot remember (perhaps I was too sleepy), I forgot to carry my tripod along with me. Shooting hand-held was out of the question due to lack of light. I managed to find a reasonably sturdy wall on which I placed the camera to get some decent shots.

As the dawn slowly made its way on the horizon, the light levels allowed me to shoot at a reasonably fast shutter speed to capture the essence of the Dal lake vegetable market.

Bartering in full-swing.
Some heavy discussions going on here.
Vendors heading off to sell their goods.
As each vendor filled his boat, he would head off into the lake - to sell his goods in the various houseboats. The market slowly started becoming empty as the sun rose on the horizon, and I decided to head back to the houseboat.

The Vegetable market slowly becoming empty.
As we headed back towards the houseboat, I could now see the route the Sikhara had taken in the total darkness. The lake here is almost completely filled with Lotus leaves. Only a small path exists for the boats to go through.

Paddling through the Lotus fields.
A family fishing in the early dawn.
Indian Lotus Flower in Dal Lake.
The lake is home to many different birds. If I was not sleepy and the Sikhara was not swaying so much, I would have spent more time on the lake trying to capture the different birds. I did manage to capture a few.

Needs to be identified.
A duck with its baby.
I finally reached our houseboat. The vendors who I had seen earlier in the morning were now hawking their wares at different houseboats.

A flower vendor.
The rest of our time on Dal lake was spent relaxing and unwinding - and finishing most of the beer in the refrigerator.


flobo said...

The pictures are just gorgeous.

Cajie said...