Dal Lake is the most iconic symbol of Srinagar, and probably Kashmir itself. The lake has more than a thousand houseboats that tourists love, there are shops selling everything you can imagine floating in the water, there are gardens that have been made in the water using nets to keep them afloat…it’s quite an interesting self-contained self-sustaining system.
We head out at 4am on the shikara that Bilal has arranged for us – shikaras are sort of like gondolas in Venice – many are beautifully decorated, and have one driver in the back with one oar paddling the whole boat across the water. It is dark when we head out, and the light from the sun is just coming into view as we reach the vegetable market. The farmers living on the lake gather here to sell their homegrown veggies, and the people buying them go into the city to sell in the city markets. So, this is arguably the cheapest place to stock up on veggies in Srinagar. The weather isn’t great that day, so it is apparently quieter than usual – nonetheless, I am impressed by the sight of about 50 boats, all with one man sitting at the very front of the boat, paddling past each other, usually quietly negotiating their deals. Occasionally a disagreement ensues and there is some animated chatter, but always with a smile. It is the season for cucumbers, cauliflower, and other green vegetables that I don’t recognize.
After having our khawa (saffron tea) and fresh baked bread, we continue on and pass through the Old City on the way home. I head back to bed, and after getting refreshed, head to Shalimar Bagh, one of the famous Mughal Gardens of Kashmir. Burhan who I had corresponded with via email came, along with a few others. The garden is beautiful – terraced with many neatly organized rows of colorful flowers. The Khans had told me that the gardens were so famous for decades, but Raja and his siblings only visited the gardens for the first time when they were 18 or 19 – until then, the security situation was such that traversing the 15 or so kilometers between Chanapora and Shalimar was too treacherous – and this is no joke.
Burhan and I took a long, beautiful walk, going along the river, witnessing workers in rice fields, people rowing their boats across their lake, passing tiny gardens and parks…we went all the way to Hazratbal, the beginning of downtown from the north side. I was intent on visiting Rozabal. Thomas first told me of this shrine, which is supposedly the tomb of Jesus Christ. I am not at all familiar with all the history and controversy surrounding this, but it seems to be widely believed that Jesus spent time in India as a youth, and many believe that he was an accomplished yogi. Which would lend to the theory that when he was crucified, he actually didn’t die, and afterwards, left to India…and died in Srinagar. Whoa. I have no idea what I believe, but I did get very strong energy flow as we approached the tiny shrine which was locked, and photography strictly prohibited, even from outside.
The Old City in Srinagar was full of hustle and bustle, and afterwards we went to see the copper works, which was fascinating – Kashmiris use copper for pretty much all drinking and eating utensils – and it’s all beautifully crafted. I was exhausted and headed back to Chanapora, back to the family I’d fallen in love with.