Houseboats are serious business in Srinagar, Kashmir and in two senses. In good times they are full and profitable but in the 20-year conflict they were largely left to decay. Then there is the puzzling law. No new houseboats are allowed at all and repairs are bounded by heavyweight bureaucracy, even a permit from Central Government. Meanwhile many of these iconic boats are starting to decay.
Recently there have been newspaper articles about the decline in woodcarving which is a major feature of these boats – “Kashmir’s famed woodcarving a dying art” says one paper. I have witnessed the resurrection of one of these boats and so here are some illustrations for the record.
The num or verandah on Mascot 1
Left to right: Majid, a fine carver and his tools, Mahidin Shah, master draughtsman and carver. Mahidin drawing freehand with astonishing accuracy the design around his new walnut table.
The traditional ceilings are lined with a jigsaw of cedar offcuts, tongued and grooved, and carefully put together without any nails or glue. The photograph on the right shows pieces ready for assembly and the one on the left shows about a quarter of a ceiling. This is a Khatamband.
Some details: Part of a large panel above the bed and two small areas of a walnut table. The finished article has to be protected with non-reflective glass. The skill speaks for itself.