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Shopping on a shikara

The Dal Lake has been an eternal symbol of Kashmir, clogged with houseboats and colourful shikaras that offer tourists a sojourn on the lake

lifestyle Updated: Jun 06, 2013 00:57 IST
Rajesh Ramakrishnan

The Dal Lake has been an eternal symbol of Kashmir, clogged with houseboats and colourful shikaras that offer tourists a sojourn on the lake.

Usually it evokes images of honeymooning lovers and a tranquil glide on the waters. However, there is a completely different side to the lake and the shikaras. It is also a vibrant commercial hub. Every morning, vegetable sellers from around the lake gather at a designated spot, which turns into a teeming market. This area of the lake is well hidden from tourists. It is like any other wholesale market except that the produce is hawked from boats, and the buyers and sellers conduct their transactions from the shikaras.

Piles of glistening orange carrots jostle for space with bushels of fresh green spinach. There are tender stalks of spring onion and round cabbages, the occasional mound of radish. The buyers and sellers greet each other with an air of comfortable familiarity. Some are prosaic men who conduct their transactions in silence. Others bargain raucously, laughing and chatting with their customers as they weigh the vegetables and hand out clumps of rupees that appeared magically from within the folds of their pherans.

The shikaras manage tricky manoeuvres with admirable skill. They dart into improbable corners and extricate themselves from the melee with a mastery that can only come with years of practice. The heart shaped paddles stroke the waters as the boats dip and bob in a gentle cadence. The shikaras of the farmers slowly empty out their content while those of the vendors start creaking under the weight of their wares. The vendors will take the fresh vegetables to the main markets in Srinigar.

Like any other market, there are other vendors as well. One of the shikaras doubles as a mini fast food restaurant. A man serves piping hot halwa with Kashmiri bread, a hearty breakfast on a cool morning. A woman skirts the edge of the market with bunches of fresh flowers on her shikara. There are shops selling groceries and daily needs that are perched on the edge of the lake. They can only be accessed by a shikara. Other shops sell traditional handicrafts, the ubiquitous Kashmiri shawls, paper mache boxes and wood carvings. There is an entire ecosystem on the lake that includes man as well as nature. It is worth taking a look behind the beautiful facade of the lake into its inner world.