Gliding through absolute tranquility in a Shikara, only the quiet slapping of the paddle to be heard, is the ultimate experience. Where? At the Golden Dal, a labyrinth of small canals, large fields with lotus plants, houses built on stilts and others made of bricks that are perched on little islands. In between – floating vegetable gardens with gigantic green squash dangling from the bushes. Some houses form little villages with stores and other businesses. The calm waters of Lake Dal allow making amazing photos – reflecting the sky, mountains, houseboats… A photographers dream!
This paradise does not come without flaws. Plastic trash and wrapping material is floating around and seaweed covers large parts of the surface of what is called “open Lake Dal”. For the trash the Kashmiri blame the Indian tourists. Of what we have observed during our three visits they might not be altogether wrong. The pollution of the lake is homemade though. The mowing boats, crisscrossing the lake face a battle they cannot win. Seaweed is also harvested from small boats and used as fertilizer. Also cows like to nibble on it when it waits piled up near the road to be driven off in trucks.
Spending so much time in Shikaras got us increasingly interested in where and how they are made. Our host took us to two places where we watched the master, usually a family business, working away. The most impressive procedure was the use of nails that have been kept in a fire and were driven into the wood while still glowing red, which makes them last longer we were told.
A big Shikara with a roof costs up to 2.300 Euro and needs a couple of weeks be finished.