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The wind flutters amid the boats and raises waves which hit the toe of boats and pop them in air. Nazeer pulls a rope to make a knot to the pole half drilled into the land.The wind blows through the colorful flowers pots making the flowers stoop and sleepy, then billows the crewel stitched curtains of houseboat which float in the air like large birds. Nazeer in his white kurta pajama wearing a skull cap that matches his dress & provides contrast to his black beard.

pencil sketch of Dal lake- Anonymous

Wind whiskes from the windows of houseboat whirling through the drawing room spreading the scent of flowers that lay hanging in the wicker basket. “This time of the year it seems like it’s winter” says nazeer. “No tourists have come since the flood of last year”. Nazeer whims and looks at the top of hill where a temple of shankracharya is located. The clouds loom ominous above the temple and wrap around it till it becomes invisible, and then Nazeer turns and goes towards his family who live in a samaller boat and they have made a kitchen in a hut which sits on stilts. “Make some chai” he called someone A “khawa indeed”. A gentle rain began to fall and produced a melodious effect as it struck the wooden roof of the boat. Tip, tap, tip,tip. lala, lala, the voices coming from the corridor of houseboat, a door wide open, there a beautifully carved walnut wooden table, here a wall hanging showing birds of Kashmir a mynah, kingfisher, parrot and pigeon. The wind outside began to make fierce noise as it hit the wooden deck of houseboat. The forest of shankaracharya abundantly green, clustered with pines and mulberry trees made the water of dal lake look green the shikaras carrying people to ferry them to houseboats. Nazir sits down in the drawing room and we talk.

water color painting of dal lake by seema ghiya

water color painting  of Dal lake by seema ghiya

It was a drizzle and it has stopped, outside the temple on the top of hill looks clear now, we talk about many things the advent of houseboats how they are connected with the history of Kashmir, about the guests which stay in houseboats. About the people who are trying to save this lake from becoming a thing of past. The rainbow looks clear near the zabarwan mountain spreading and its colors mingling in the heavy air. A large group of birds fly above us they seem to come from the forest, there a fisherman leaps in a shikara and throws his net into the green water. Nazeer tells of the Europeans which were visiting to dal lake and they were staying in their houseboats for months and now the tourists they get are from many parts of india. They stay for “only a night”. ya “only to see how it looks like staying on water”. Nazer answers a phone call “Ha dada aap ka kambra hai” “bas mazai mai” he has some Bengali tourists coming from kolkatta. The rates of the hotels rise every year in Kashmir but it’s these houseboats which provide economical prices though they have all the amenities of a deluxe hotel. But don’t know why the tourists choose hotels instead of houseboats. Like nazeer most of the houseboat owners get customers who stay for one night only. So everyday they have to look for new clients. They get booking from travel agents or the client referrals. The shikara walla also bring customers.

oil painting of dal lake by donna jolly jacob

“There are only three to four months of season in Kashmir & rest of the year we have to stay indoor or leave to other parts of india to seek work or sell handicrafts. many kashmiris take shops in goa & rajasthan in winter”. “No work here during winter” grins nazeer.

The boats steer carefully through the narrow channel made between two houseboats. Lotus pads grow in clumps and a boy makes a bait of meat piece and places it precisely amid the lotus.The cranky noise of the planks slither as one walks on them bubbles coming from the water there a fish leaps among the lotus the boy overjoyed in ecstasy jumps from one plank to another and holds the fish on line in the air, removes the hook throws fish through the kitchen window.

Nazeer has a warm smile his son has caught a big fish with a piece of meat. Akib studies but he is fond of fishing. I talked with nazer about the future of the their children. He told me that. The houseboat people are known for their hospitality, it was his grandfather who was working as a cook with English and they had a houseboat so this is going through generation to generation. When he was a child he used to sell fur hats and postcards to tourists. Now his son’s will take over the houseboat business when they will grow up. The question is how long will the houseboats last and how long the lake will stay fresh and beautiful. The houseboats and lake go together hand in hand. “If there are no houseboats the lake will loose it’s charm and if there is no lake the houseboats will die away”. So both are precious for each other. What government will do to save both of them remains a question.

Painted by colonel George strahan

A view of mountains from Dal lake Painted by colonel George strahan

Soon the sun began to set leaving behind a beautiful orange color in the dusky sky, Nazeer’s reflection in the green water ripples with every passing wave. The birds come again and sit on the hem of a colored shikara, the top of temple of shankaracharya moulds in the darkness & becomes half invisible. There the birds made a splatter in the water and fly away.

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