Shikara on Dal Lake
|Venue||Dal Lake, Kashmir|
The shikara is a type of wooden boat found on Dal Lake and other water bodies of Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, India. Shikaras are of varied sizes and are used for multiple purposes, including transportation of people. Drivers use oars having a unique spade that is made in Indiana, United States, to row the shikara. A usual shikara seats half-a-dozen people, with the driver sitting at the lower end. Like the Venetian gondolas, they are a cultural symbol of Kashmir. Some shikaras are still used for fishing, harvesting aquatic vegetation (usually for fodder), and transport, while most are covered with tarpaulins and are used by tourists. Some are used as floating homes by poor people.
Shikhara is small paddled taxi boat often about 15 feet long and made of wood obtained from deodar trees, growing in the vicinity of the Dal Lake. With a colorful canopy and a spade shape bottom it is no ordinary boat. In its relentless pursuit of being a lifeline for everyday chores, the Shikhara has almost left the trail of a legend by stirring the souls of numerous poets through history who fell for its awe-inspiring gait. Shikaras have become quite a popular tourist attraction, with tourists taking cruises along the Dal, Anchar and Nageen lakes, visiting places of interest. A very popular postcard photo of a shikara is the florist's shikara, in which the florist carries varied flowers for sale.
Making a Shikara
The ingenious craft relies on deodar wood, which inherently does not decompose in water and remains sturdy throughout. The unprocessed logs of wood are reduced to slippers of a varying 25 feet to 41 feet length and further divided intothree parts. The pointed front end known as the zero point is followed by thecentral section made of 8 planks of wood and the boat eventually ends in a flat rear segment. Two planks of wood lend to each of the side elevations and account for a vertical height of 1.5 feet. The rear and the forward end are maintained by rectangular logs of wood, which guarantee that the framework remains in shape. Itsconspicuous spade shaped base is unlike another water vehicle. A longitudinal cut section of the boat reveals the presence of 5 beams or karis which are positioned equidistant from each other except the central ones. The beams at the extremities are 3"x5"while those towards the center are 5"x3".
In order to avoid leakages through the structure, the nails and iron clamps used for joinery are flushed and fixed into the wood diagonally (i.e. never at right angles) and only when they are red hot, to ensure stronger bonding. As a matter of fact these custom made rust-proof nails are made longer than the ones generally used and care is taken to keep them hidden in the visual aesthetics of the boat. Cocking, where intermittent gaps and creeks in the wooden body are sealed using a paste (made of wool given away by poplar trees and indigenous weeds) further assures that water is kept at bay.
As the skeleton of the boat stands prepared, seating arrangements are organized in the central segment of the boat by positioning cushions and related upholstery over the built-in storage space underneath. The spatial quality is further enhanced by exquisite use of a canopy supported on four pillars. The centre and the ends are equipped with iron anchor rings and wooden pegs, which are used to fasten the shikara on the banks of the lake.
The shikaras are eventually painted in bright colors ensuring the palette captures the essence of the valley. When on sail they constantly remind one of a brush carrying shades of eternal spring even as the canvas embraces the hues of the changing seasons. Boats may further be polished, engraved, embellished and furnished with pieces of walnut furniture.
An impressive banquet of carpentry like this one may be prepared over 10 to 12 days. The boats are often navigated by two boat men draped in fhran (the traditional wear) and they carry kangris or portable heaters on the boat. A shikara can seat about 6 people and has heavily cushioned seats and back rests that take inspiration from the Mughal style of luxury.
While casually meandering over waters of the Jhelum, the Skikhara unconsciously casts a spell as it converses with the caresses of the Kashmiri breeze. One journey onthis modest piece of boat architecture embodied with opulent yet homely accommodation makes an interesting ride over the waters less travelled,hidden in the laps of mountains and the bosoms of the valleys. Besides, it is a sheer indulgence for the shopaholics who discover the rich art of this paradise while actually voyaging on one.
Shikara Boat Ride
Dal Lake is famous for its beauty, for its vibrance, because it sustains within its periphery, a life that is unique anywhere in the world. The houseboat and shikara communities have lived for centuries on the Dal Lake, and so complete is their infrastructure on the lake, that they never have to step on land! Doctors, tailors, and bakers - all in tiny wooden shops on the lake, near picturesque vegetable gardens and acres of lotus gardens.
Views From Boat
A shikara ride is one of the most soothing, relaxing aspects of a holiday in Kashmir. Shikaras are long boats which crowd the Srinagar lakes. They are used for getting back and forth from the houseboats or for longer tours. It is worth to take a pleasure ride around the lake in shikara. Shikara is a Gondola type light rowing boat. The two hour boat ride takes tourists on a relaxing sightseeing tour of interior parts of the calm and placid waters of Dal Lake. Because the Dal is central to the landscape of Srinagar, many places of tourist interest have, over the ages, been built in its vicinity. Nishat and Shalimar gardens as well as Hazratbal mosque are directly accessible by shikara. Mostly crowded, the Shikara boat rides in Kashmir are also used to transport from land houseboat and vice versa.
While riding on Shikara often observe white breasted Kingfishers (Halycon smyrnensis), large striking birds with robust bills perched on the branches of willow trees. These birds concentrate their efforts to hunting on the floating Gardens. These man made islands comprise of reeds, willow rods, aquatic vegetations and held together with humus consisting of mud from the lake bottom. This is extremely fertile and provide rich source of food in the form of frogs,lizards,mice, grasshoppers and other insects to the Kingfisher.
Sightseeing on a shikara boat in Dal Lake and Nagin lakes culminates to a romantic trip especially if seated inside canopies of the Dal lake shikara boats. The banks of the Dal Lake and Nagin Lake along the Boulevard road in Srinagar, Kashmir feature several Shikara Boat Ghats where the boats are available for hire. There are three main Shikara boat Ghats such as the Dal Gate, Nagin Lake, Hazratbal, Nehru Park, and Gagribal.
Shikaras at Dal Lake
- Kevin Sites (2006). "Boat People, Unable to afford homes on land, the poorest of Kashmir’s poor live on open fishing boats, where life is always unsteady.". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 2006-06-06.
- Shikara, Kashmir. "Shikaras: The Floating versus on sounds of water". Gaatha. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
- Shikara, Shikara. "Shikara Ride". J & K Tourism. Retrieved 2 February 2014.