Time Required : 2-3 hours
The Jewel of Srinagar, the Dal Lake is synonymous to a visit to Srinagar and almost a visual definition to the town. Spread over 15 kms, it is the second-largest lake in Jammu & Kashmir. The mirror-like Dal Lake reflects the peaks of the Pir Panjal mountains while the colourful shikaras (gondolas) float around. The houseboats and shikaras are its main attractions.
The Dal Lake of Srinagar is also popular for the floating market (known as Raad) where vendors have their own Shikaras and are not shy of approaching tourists with their most endearing handicrafts, saffron, edibles and even ice-creams in tow. Ice skating during winter on the frozen Dal Lake also attracts many tourists.
The important attractions in and around the Dal Lake include the Island of Char Chinar, Nagin Lake, Chashme Shahi, Shankaracharya Temple, Hari Parbat, Hazratbal Shrine, and Mazar-e-Shura Cemetery. A sweeping view of the lake can be witnessed from the shores of one of the Mughal Gardens.
Houseboats and Shikara are synonymous with the Dal Lake, especially since the Shikaras are a cultural symbol and seen only in Srinagar. These are wooden boats pointed at both ends and have beautifully decorated canopies overhead. It is the favoured means of transport for local people, and you can see them ferrying a variety of goods across the lake to the mainland. Tourists have also taken a liking to it and a ride is a must-have.
A unique shopping experience in the Dal Lake is that of the lake market, which includes a number of shops located right on the midst of the lake. Much like a roadside market would have, hawkers are present here as well. They have Shikaras of their own and have all sorts of good for sale, which include Kashmir's specialities such as wooden artwork, hand made earrings, saffron and even Kashmiri ponchos.
The other attraction in the waters of Dal Lake is the houseboat, which are stationary boats meant to serve as accommodation for visitors. Overlooking the Dal Lake, they provide the most exquisite views of the lake and its surrounding mountains. They are made of good quality wood with intricate carvings and floral motifs. These could range from a simple one-room affair to huge luxurious suites and are graded accordingly by the Department of Tourism.
Often, the interiors are beautifully decorated with Kashmiri carpets, crystal chandeliers and plush furniture. The houseboats are often family-run businesses with delicious home-cooked meals, top-notch facilities such as hot tubs and WiFi, and endearing personalised service.
Dal Lake is on an average 5 ft deep and goes to a maximum of 20 ft at some places. Covering a shoreline of about 15.5 kilometres, the lake covers an area of about 18 square kilometres. It comprises of four basins- Lokut Dal, Nagin (also a separate lake), Gagribal and Bod Dal. In the middle of Bod Dal, there is a small island by the name of Sona Lank. Lokut Dal is also called Rup Lank and Char Chinari.
Floating gardens in the midst of the lake bloom with lotus flowers in the months of July and August, while winter season sees the temperature here dropping to -11 °C, freezing the lake. Currently, intensive cleaning and maintenance operations are underway at the lake to restore it to its former glory.
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