Day 2 started at 5:00 am and we set out in the Shikara (type of wooden boat) to floating vegetable market for shopping. Out on the lake it was cold and dark. The boat man on the Shikara was wearing a Phiran (a long cloak) to keep him warm. Kashmiri’s also keep Kangri close to their body to keep them warm. Kangri is a small portable earthenware-lined wicker basket used as a warming stove.
There are around 3,000 to 4,000 houseboats on Dal Lake. While I was enjoying the beauty around, we reached a point where there were small wooden bridges on the lake which provide access to the road from houseboat. The residents of houseboat use this bridge to cross over to the other side. So while the Shikara could pass under these wooden bridges, our heads could not! So we had to bow down our head while the Shikara smoothly passed on the other side of the bridge.
We were eager to see the floating vegetable market and reached there before 7 am. But, we were a bit disappointed as there were no Shikaras selling vegetables. We later found out that after floods in Kashmir, the market is no more functional 😦 But to compensate for this disappointment, there was something really interesting waiting for us. It was the best breakfast I have ever had on the lake – Homemade Halwa (sweet) and Lavassa (bread). Kashmiris eat Lavassa for breakfast everyday along with “noon chai” (salty pink tea). The word “noon” in Kashmiri language means salt.
So we started from the empty market and were heading towards our houseboat. On our way back, the sun appeared to come higher and higher above the mountains, shining between the clouds and penetrating its rays in the mirror like lake.
The floating farms caught my attention and as I was talking to the boat man, he shared that vegetables are grown on the lake and they have floating roots. So now I know that people live on the lake, farm on the lake, sell on the lake and eat on the lake! But that is not the end of the list! There was something that left me speechless – a bird’s nest on the lake!
We came back to our Houseboat and our breakfast was waiting for us. After breakfast, my roomie and I decided to visit Hazratbal Shrine. The majestic Shrine is situated on the left bank of the Dal Lake and is considered to be Kashmir’s holiest Muslim Shrine. My driver shared that Kashmiris who cannot afford to visit Mecca for Haj (pilgrimage) consider this Shrine equivalent to Haj. The Arabic script in black ink written on the entrance of the Shrine reads as “As Salatu Wassalamu ‘alaika ya Rasoolallah” which means “Peace and blessings be on you, O Messenger of Allah”.
So now there was something special cooking for lunch. This was not any ordinary lunch, it was hosted by the Royal family. Yes, Jyoti Singh, daughter of Dr. Karan Singh (last prince regent of Kashmir) hosted Lunch for us and we also got an opportunity to learn the art of cooking Dogra food. We enjoyed cooking Ambal i.e Khatta Meetha Kaddu (sour and sweet pumpkin) and Saag.
Almond Villa is set on a hilly orchard and is the property of erstwhile Dogra royalty. Walnut trees with pink blossoms, peach trees, apple trees with white blossoms, daffodils and the heavenly feeling swayed my mood.
Lunch with the Royal family was indeed royal! We ate Khatta meat, Rajmah (red kidney beans), Saag, Auriya (potato raita) – my favorite, Gucchi Pullao, Ambal, Pomegranate chutney and sweet saffron rice (for desserts). Jyoti was really kind and an amazing host. She also gave us dried lavender and homemade plum and strawberry jam.
The Lalit Grand Palace
Post the sumptuous lunch at Jyoti’s place, we checked in the beautiful Lalit Palace which is encircled by Himalayan ranges and is the former palace of Dogra Kings of Kashmir. I took a power nap there and then was all set to head to Zaina kadal.
Zaina kadal is a market place where you can find spices, dry fruits, samovar, carving plates and what not!
I spent my evening reminiscing my favorite colours of sunset at the Khanqah mosque (built in 1395 and rebuilt in 1732) where I met Ms. Haseen who is now my Kashmiri friend. “Khanqah” is a Persian word which means a “house” or an “Abode of Sufis and Dervishes”. It was interesting to see the structure of this mosque which is similar to a Monastery.
It was a long day filled with fun, flavors and colours!
Day 3 I decided to go for an early morning tour of the Palace….to be continued……
Cheers – Lubna