The hotel intercom started buzzing like crazy. The pitch of the tone too high to ignore the call, I pick up the phone with utter annoyance. The voice on the other side was baritone mixed with candy. It’s the front desk manager Aman. “Good Morning.Your car is waiting at the porch,” was all he had to say.
I quickly woke up and remembered, I am at Srinagar, one of the prettiest valleys in thecountry. I can’t blame Aman for ruining my sleep as it was me who agreed on it.The night before, while gorging on chef recommended Kashmiri Biryani at Takht-E-Suliaman, Aman came up with the idea of me visiting the early morning market on the Dal Lake. The stay at RK Sarovar Portico Srinagar has been made memorable by this gentleman, who sensing my knack for exploration, has suggested some unconventional places to visit.
While most people visit Dal Lake during the day or evening, the local market on water triggered my curiosity and I have arrived at Jetty No. 13, bang opposite a small mosque. With the morning Azaan as backdrop, I was amused by the beauty of the lake in dark with orange sky in the east. Everything here looks black, even the mountains around, except for the eastern sky getting ready for a new day.
The boatman quoted Rs 600 for an hour long shikara ride, I agreed. Ten minutes into the ride, the only thing audible right now is the splashing sound the rows are making.
There was a boatman rowing a shikara in the middle of the lake, whom I called for. He quoted me Rs 600 for an hour long shikara ride, I agreed. Ten minutes into the ride, the only thing audible right now is the splashing sound the rows are making. I was expecting Altaf, the boatman, would start a folk song, but he seems too reserved to be asked for. We have now left behind the wide lake andentered a narrow canal with shops lined up on both sides. These shops aresituated on the houseboats that are stationed in hundreds across the lake.While many houseboats serve as homestays, majority are residences for local people who can’t afford land. If you ask me about the hygiene of these houseboats, that’s a subject not much should be spoken about. The black water and plastic waste all around are proof enough. When I was pondering over thisserious environmental issue, a humming noise could be heard. The boatman saidin a low voice, “That’s the market!”
It started with flowers. Lilies, lotus, roses,chrysanthemum and a wide range of flowers being sold
I have neverseen a market on water before. With Dal Lake as a setting, I was awaiting a surpriseand I was. Never did I imagine, a full-fledged market can be just on boats,where both customers and sellers are rowing. And just like any market, there are rows for each items. It started with flowers. Lilies, lotus, roses,chrysanthemum and a wide range of flowers being sold. While the first set of sellers were men, as we rowed forward, majority flower sellers are women. With dupatta tied over their heads like turban, these women were selling the flowers to people, who have come from the middle of the city. Hesitant to speak to tourists, one of the women pushed her mother, who informed, this is the only place where they sell, except for some petty sales to tourists. They earn Rs200-Rs 600 a day depending on the market.
There are almost 50 vegetablesellers vending potato, onion, eggplant, okra, even fishes and eggs. The fishes are mostly from the lakes and stream nearby.
And then began the fruits and vegetable markets. Priced equal to the land markets, these are meant for consumption of the houseboats. There are vendors from land whobuy these vegetables in bulk as well. A few vegetables like gourd, cucumber,and pumpkin are grown by the people living on water. The tiny pieces of landthat pop up across the lake are used for growing. There are almost 50 vegetable sellers vending potato, onion, eggplant, okra, even fishes and eggs. The fishes are mostly from the lakes and stream nearby. The market was at its peak at 6AM.With first rays of sun making the bitter gourd shine, the sellers were toobusy. They must wrap up the market in half an hour to facilitate the tourists. Dal Lake may have its touristy pleasure with mountains reflecting on its dark water lending reminiscence of Bollywood of the 80s. But this market is for thetravellers who love sharing proximity with local culture.
I return to the hotel room enlightened. I enter the room to find my breakfast waiting bythe bed, as asked for. Gorging on a palate of roasted meat and dry fruit ladenpan cakes, I can now sleep seeing how peaceful this part of the country is. But the phone rings, Aman has dialled in with another set of itinerary to explore the local culture.