Kashmir houseboats – craftsmanship

Names such as Leh, Ladakh, Shalimar, Kashmir, and Amritsar arouse, excite, and beckon any curious traveller. Last year our regular agents TransIndus in London put together one of our most memorable trips. We had not been that far north in India and like many others before us were hooked by Kashmir. Through Mascot Houseboats (new website imminent) I learnt about the curious phenomenon of the houseboat born out of Maharajah Ranbir Singh’s refusal in the 1880s to allow outsiders like the British to cool off in the summer months and build on Kashmiri land. Thus this amazing floating tradition was established.

Nageen Lake - Srinagar

Nageen Lake – Srinagar

I have written about the record-breaking floods of September but it never occurred to me that some people would not know about the houseboats of Kashmir. So above is a general view across Nageen Lake that gives some idea. The boats, in varying condition, are big too, anything from 60 to 150 feet long, with two to four bedroom suites and about 14 feet wide. Then there is a small pantry for serving the dining room, a large lounge leading to the num or verandah. A true palace.
It is the craftsmanship that really impresses. I was lucky to see various stages in the restoration of a near wrecked hulk hauled out of the mud and after two years work, a mountain of bureaucracy, permits etc. it is due to be complete and ready for letting this month. Everything is carved and these two photographs just hint at the quality. It may even be the last of such fine work.

Kashmir Garden – unfinished panel (detail) with the carving tools

Chinar tree above the bed

Chinar tree (detail) above the bed.

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