The turquoise waters of Srinagar’s Dal Lake glisten in the spring sun, reflecting in between quaint ripples the grand Himalayan peaks that dominate the horizon. Here, amidst scores of docked houseboats and bright yellow shikaras ferrying tourists and locals alike, floats a most unexpected government centre – a post office.
The “Floating Post Office, Dal Lake” – claimed to be the only such in the world – is built on an intricately carved maroon houseboat, now moored on the western edge of the Dal Lake.
This post office lets you avail all the regular postal services available in the country while being afloat. The seal used on everything posted from the Floating Post Office is unique – along with the date and address, it bears the design of a boatman rowing a shikara on the Dal Lake.
“This is actually a heritage post office that has existed since British times. It was called Nehru Park post office before 2011. But that year, the then chief post master John Samuel took an initiative to repurpose it and rename it as ‘Floating Post Office’,” said Surinder Kaul, a sub postmaster who runs the post office.
In August 2011, the Floating Post Office cum Museum was formally launched by then chief minister Omar Abdullah and Union minister of state for communication and IT, Sachin Pilot.
The post office’s houseboat has two small rooms – one serves as the office and the other a small museum that traces the philatelic history of the state postal department.
Farooq Ahmad Khan, a grade four employee who assists Kaul, says many tourists staying on houseboats on the Dal Lake row to the post office everyday to send special postcards back home.
One such postcard, deposited hours ago and lying on the office desk, is written by a certain David to his relatives in London.
He writes, “Lake Dal is idyllic. I’m living in a houseboat owned by a Muslim family, who have rented it for a good price. Next week, I will hire horses and trek up the Kashmir Valley. Best wishes.”
But for the locals, the Floating Post Office is more than an object of fascination. Kaul says Rs 1-2 crore is deposited per month at the Floating Post Office by communities living in and around the Dal Lake.
The lake has several islets that are home to more than 50,000 people.
“For Dal residents, this is where we complete our normal post office work, including banking. Labourers and farmers working nearby and those who run the shikara business all come to this post office to deposit their savings. This is the nearest post office for us,” says Mohammad Ibrahim Bhatt, a Dal dweller who runs a snacks shop on nearby Boulevard Road.
So, are there any problems in running a post office on water? For Kaul and Khan, who have been managing the centre for more than two years now, the greatest fear is the recurrence of 2014-like floods.
“The houseboat had gone for a toss, uncontrollably propelled by the deluge,” says Khan. “Rescue teams had to anchor it using special mechanism on nearby highland. And then, we brought it back on the Dal after the water receded.”
And, what are the boons? “At no time of the year do you need a fan in this post-office!” exclaims Kaul.