For many travelers who visit Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir in Northern India, the travel experience is not complete, until you have spent at least a night in a houseboat.
The houseboats in Srinagar originated during the British Raj period. During that time, the Kashmir king, Gulab Singh, did not allow foreigners to own land in the Kashmir valley. So, they had to convert cargo boats into houseboats, which were decorated beautifully with carved wooden panels (khatamband). Nowadays, many houseboats are furnished lavishly with elegant furniture, chandeliers, grand dining and living rooms, bringing nostalgia for the 1930s Raj era. Most houseboats offer very personalized service, both from houseboys and the owners and their families, who live close by.
Therefore, the charming boathouses in Srinagar are sometimes nicknamed as “floating palaces”, where you can get everything you need on board.
The houseboat usually has a front deck, a living room, a dining room, two or three double bedrooms and a back deck. Most guestrooms have bathrooms en suite. Some boats are more than 30 years old.
Unlike moving houseboats in Kerala, Southern India, the houseboats in Srinagar are usually stationary. They are anchored individually along the western part of Dal Lake, close to the lakeside Boulevard.
There is a vast selection of houseboats to choose for every budget. During my trip to Srinagar with my friends in July 2014, we chose to stay at Shelter Group of Houseboats, which has several houseboats along Jhelum River. Though the location is a bit far from Dal Lake and the Boulevard where most houseboats are located, but you can really enjoy peaceful atmosphere and cool fresh air around the houseboats.
In addition, since the houseboats are located in a flowing river, you will not have put up with polluted and stinky water of the Dal Lake, which is a turn-off for many visitor. Moreover, since the houseboats are connected to the shore by small bridges, you do not have to haggle with shikara (gondola-like boat) boatmen when you cross to the houseboats too. (See details of the Shelter Houseboats below.)
Houseboats are an important source of incomes for local people in Srinagar. Not only for the owners, but also for shikara boatmen, flower and souvenir sellers, who sail around on their boats with heart-shaped paddles. Since the region is affected by ongoing internal conflicts between nationalist Muslims and Jammu Hindus, staying at houseboats is one way to support local tourism.
For more information about the Shelter Group of Houseboats, please visit its website: http://www.houseboatsinsrinagar.co.in/
PS – This post was written in order to give an overview of houseboats in Srinagar. I was not paid for it by the Shelter Group. 🙂