LIFE ON DAL LAKE, Srinagar – Houseboats, Shikaras and People of the Lake

Jammu & Kashmir

Life on Dal Lake Kashmir

Last Updated on: May 16, 2024 

About this blog: Like every other tourists and traveller visiting Srinagar, we too stayed at a Houseboat of Dal Lake. This blog is about life on Dal Lake – the people, Shikaras and houseboats of Srinagar. We have also collated a list on the things you can do at Dal Lake. Do give it a read for a glimpse of life on Dal.

There is something fascinating about Dal Lake. There is a whole world hidden in it. You just cannot see it from the fringes. Only when you explore the inner waterways and creeks of this iconic lake in Kashmir, will you be able to see life on Dal Lake.

Zabarwan ranges at the backdrop of Dal Lake

In the tourist circuit, Dal Lake is synonymous with Srinagar. And a stay at the elegant houseboats of Dal Lake is a must to complete your experience in Srinagar. While staying at a houseboat is definitely one of the most unique experiences in Kashmir, Dal is much more than that.

Dal Lake, Srinagar

Dal Lake is gorgeous. Surrounded by the snow-capped mountains on three sides, the huge lake forms a huge part of Kashmir tourism. Houseboats and shikaras are a constant part of the lake scenery. And so is the reflection of the Zabarwan ranges on the clear waters of Dal Lake. Most of the beautiful Mughal gardens are situated surrounding the lake.

Reflection of mountains on Dal Lake

At first we thought that Dal Lake would probably be the total opposite to the offbeat experiences that we were seeking in Kashmir. But one look at the shikaras and I knew that I would never want to miss the experience of a Shikara ride on Dal, however clichéd it may be!

Shikaras of Kashmir

So yes, we packed our bags from the hotel we were staying at Lal Chowk (not that I complain about staying at the heart of Srinagar) and came to stay at a houseboat in Dal Lake. Staying with a Kashmiri family on an old houseboat, talking to them, getting to know about their life on the water was one of the best experiences that we had in Kashmir. Who knew that one of the most touristic experiences in Kashmir will turn out to be an eye opener for us?

How big is Dal Lake? 

Dal Lake covers an area of 18 sq kilometes and is a part of a natural wetland that covers 21.1 square kilometes including the floating gardens. These floating gardens are known as “Rad”’ in Kashmiri. These floating gardens are a treat to the eyes when lotus flowers blossom during the month of July and August. The shoreline of the lake is about 15.5 km.

The peaceful Dal Lake

The wetland of the lake is divided by causeways into four basins – Gagri Bal, Nigeen Lake, Bod Dal and Lokut Dal. Nigeen Lake is considered as an independent lake, though. Both Lokut Dal and Bod Dal have an island in the centre. They are known as Rup Lank (Silver Island) and Sona Lank (Gold Island) respectively, also popularly known as the Char Chinari.

Char Chinar Srinagar

The beautiful Mughal gardens Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh are located at the periphery of Dal Lake on the Boulevard Road. You can get a great view of the lake from these gardens. The Hari Parbat can also be seen in the background.

Things to do in Dal Lake for Tourists

There are a lot of things to enjoy in Dal Lake apart from staying at a houseboat and riding a Shikara. And each experience is as beautiful as the other. Here is our list of must-have experiences at Dal Lake.

1. Stay in a Houseboat

Houseboat of Dal Lake

Staying at a houseboat on Dal Lake is one of the most unique experiences you have in Kashmir. You will find these elegant wooden houseboats starting from Dal Gate. Houseboats are also found in Nigeen lake and on River Jhelum.

These houseboats are an interesting part of the geopolitical legacy of Kashmir. The British in India were suspicious of the Russian presence in Central Asia and both sides ended up in many political games. The Dogra Kings were wary of both sides and they came up with a policy where the British were not allowed to buy land in Kashmir. However, the British found a legal loophole. There were no restrictions on living on water. So they started building these houseboats to replicate a little of England in Kashmir.

Interiors of a houseboat on Dal Lake Kashmir

However, these houseboats were always a part of the heritage of Kashmir. Much before the British came into picture, these floating homes on Dal Lake were known as ‘behaz’ (cargo boats with an open attic) and ‘dongas’. The British modified these floating structures, made them bigger into what is known as houseboats today.

Room inside a houseboat of Kashmir

Houseboats are like a small house and have rooms, lobby, kitchen and all the areas a house on land has. The lobby is known as ‘Metheab’, the kitchen is called ‘Bushkan’, the corridor is known as ‘dorak’ and the drawing room is called ‘khot’. Houseboats are the home for the local Kashmiris living on the Dal Lake. And the beautiful ones that you see in the pictures are the ones for tourists.

Houseboats of Kashmir

A typical houseboat has five to six fully furnished rooms. Most of the furniture is quite beautiful and exquisitely carved. Other Kashmiri handicrafts also adorn different parts of the houseboat.

A stay in the houseboats of Kashmir is truly an amazing experience, something to cherish for a long time to come.

2. Walk around the Boulevard Street

Boulevard Road in Srinagar at evening

Boulevard Street was another place that we absolutely loved in Srinagar. Boulevard Street is the main road along Dal Lake. This a great place to simply stroll and walk around, especially in the evening. At one side is Dal Lake while the other side of the road is dotted with hotels, restaurants, cafes and shops.

Pro Tip: The best place where you can view the sunset at Boulevard Road is from Ghat No 14. Also, Nishat Bagh gives an exceptional view of the sunset.

3. Visit the Morning Vegetable Market

Morning Vegetable Market at Dal Lake

This is the place where you actually see life on Dal Lake. A pre-dawn vegetable market is set up everyday in Dal Lake where the local community brings in their produce in the middle of the lake in their boats. The floating vegetable market in Srinagar is one of its kinds. The market is completely unorganized.  You can see the local farmers in their pherans and with their boats laden with fresh vegetables get ready at the crack of dawn to sell their produce.

The market starts by 5:30 AM. The business is usually brisk; they return to their own houses by 7.00 – 7.30 AM.

The floating vegetable market is a great place to experience life on Dal Lake and is a good place for the photographers. You can take a Shikara Ride to see the floating vegetable market. You can arrange the Shikara ride from the houseboat you are staying on. The only catch is you have to wake up early!

4. Go for a Shikara Ride

Shikara ride on Dal Lake Kashmir

A Shikara ride is one of the most beautiful experiences in Dal Lake. After visiting the morning vegetable market, you can go for another 2 hours Shikara ride on Dal Lake. The Shikara will take you to the Char Chinari, the vegetable gardens, Meena Bazar and a few spots where various films like Kashmir ki Kali and Mission Kashmir were shot.

Houseboat where Mission Kashmir was shot

Even if you do not visit the morning vegetable market, you can take a Shikara ride and just go around Dal Lake.

You can also visit the Hazratbal Shrine on Shikara.

Hazratbal Shrine as seen from Dal Lake

5. Visit the Mughal Gardens

Most of the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar are located around the periphery of Dal Lake. You can take a Shikara ride to Nishat Garden. And from there you can visit Shalimar Bagh as well.

6. Watch the sunset

Sunset on Dal Lake

Sunset is beautiful at Dal Lake. Just as the sun seems to go down the horizon, the sky becomes orange and golden. The Pir Panjal at the backdrop of the lake looks stunning. The Hari Parbat also looks quite striking.

Houseboats of Kashmir

You can ride a Shikara in the evening and watch the sunset from the Shikara.

Perhaps the best sunset in Srinagar can be viewed from Nishat Garden. So you can get on a Hop-on Hop-off bus in the evening to Nishat Garden, watch the sunset and then return.

You will also get a good vantage point for sunset from Ghat No. 14 as well.

Life Around Dal Lake

A Kashmiri vendor selling handlooms

After staying in Srinagar for a few days, it was clear to us that the city is actually divided into 2 main parts – people living on Dal Lake and the people living on land. And interestingly, there also exists two very different lifestyles in Srinagar.


Life on Dal Lake is a different world altogether. And this world is not all that easy. The houseboats on Dal Lake are not only for the tourists. Though the ones you will see as you walk around the lake on Boulevard Road are the ones catered for tourists. As you leave the periphery of the lake and go to the interiors, you will find the houses of the people of the lake.

Houses on Dal Lake

The lake is their home and they have built a life there. You can see little children ride shikaras on their way to school. And there are schools on Dal Lake itself.

All through the day, you can see local men, women and children ride their narrow boat across the lake. You will also see them moving to and fro, from their houseboat to the Boulevard Road a number of times throughout the day.

A girl riding a Shikara on Dal Lake

You can also see them removing weeds from the lake. These weeds often help as compost for their gardens and farms.

They grow vegetables on these floating farms and sell them for a livelihood. Fishing is also an important source of income for the people on Dal Lake.

Life on Dal Lake

There is a floating Post Office on Dal Lake and now SBI has also opened a floating ATM on a houseboat on the Lake.

Tourism is definitely the major source of income for these people. So if you are wondering again whether it is safe to visit Kashmir, I would say that Kashmir is quite safe for tourists. These people respect their guests and go all out to make them comfortable.

The People of Dal Lake

It is the people of the lake that make it so colourful and interesting. They always have a welcoming smile. And they are quite happy to show you around Dal Lake. They will ask you to take a Shikara ride with them and promise a unique experience.


So after resisting for the first few days, we finally gave in to the desire of going for a Shikara ride. Our Shikara was on our houseboat at 5:15 AM. Yes, we decided to visit the floating vegetable market as well. Still quite sleepy, we got on our Shikara. Our shikara wala Rafique Bhai gave us a quilt in case we were feeling cold.

Shikara owner at Dal Lake

Thus we started our journey across the Lake in the dark. As we went through the channels and creeks besides the houseboats, we saw the Lake in its full glory. Gradually, darkness was giving way to light and we could see a few locals with their boats full of vegetables. Finally we reached the morning vegetable market.

Kashmiris talking at floating vegetable market

It was a place of cacophony and chaos. The farmers in their pherans were sitting on their boat along with their produce. Buying and selling was going on and we saw the farmers negotiating a deal in the local Kashmiri dialect. It was quite interesting to watch them.

Entrepreneurs of Dal Lake

Madam, Kahwa?” Soon a smiling boat man came forward selling Kahwa (a special type of Kashmiri tea). It was cold and what can be better than having a cup of Kahwa?

Flower man selling flowers on Dal Lake

Phool le lijiye, Madam” (take some flowers, madam) – this is what we heard next. “You can also take these seeds and plant them in your home garden”, an enthusiastic Kashmiri young man approached us.

While we had kahwa, we had to say no to the flower man!

And they kept coming. Boats selling flowers, ornaments and jewellery, handicrafts and even fruits and snacks approached our shikara.

Zaafran le jaiye, yeh pure hai” (Buy saffron from us, they are pure) – Some other would say.

Vegetable sellers at floating vegetable market

It was a bit difficult for us to continuously say no to them. Finally Rafique Bhai came to our aid and he himself told no to all those approaching our Shikara.

Like most tourist places, you can dress in Kashmiri attire and get yourself photographed. They will approach you with a smile on their face and a camera in their hand, ready to capture your best memories and deliver it to you. You can dress as a Kashmiri and take photographs at the backdrop of the beautiful lake. They promise to turn you into “Kashmir ki Kali” (the beautiful Kashmiri damsel).

Shikaras of Dal Lake Kashmir

Although I did not get dressed up, you can definitely try out the Kashmiri costume and take photographs. After all, these memories will always stay.


And then there were the floating shops selling snacks, chips and biscuits, fruits and vegetables, kebabs and curries. Some also deliver chicken and meat at the houseboats for those living on the Lake.

These are the entrepreneurs of Dal Lake. This is life on Dal.

Enrepreneurs of Dal Lake

And I am sure you will find a lot of beauty as well as poignancy in this vibrant life around Dal Lake.

Dal is undoubtedly an icon of Jammu and Kashmir. The beauty of the lake is unparalleled, just like that of the Kashmir Valley itself. If you visit Srinagar, we recommend you to have an experience of staying at a Kashmiri houseboat and taking a Shikara ride. You will create some very beautiful memories.

Dal Lake (FAQs Answered)

Where is Dal Lake located?

Dal Lake is located at Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The lake is one of the largest lakes in Kashmir and is surrounded by the beautiful Pir Panjal ranges.

How to reach Dal Lake?

To reach Dal Lake, you have to first visit Srinagar. Srinagar is well connected by flight from all the major cities of India. You can also arrive at Jammu by train and then take a bus, shared sumo or reserve a car to Srinagar.

What is special about Dal Lake?

Dal Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes, not only in Jammu and Kashmir, but also in entire India. The lake is an integral part of Kashmir tourism. The Lake is a beautiful lake having amazing scenery with the Pir Panjal lakes surrounding it. The waters are clear and often the reflection of the snow covered mountains can be seen on the lake. During July and August, lotuses are found to bloom on the lake.
The Lake is also known for the houseboats and the shikaras of Kashmir. The lake is also given the moniker of “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir”.

Where can I stay at Dal Lake?

You can stay at houseboats on the Lake. There are a number of houseboats to choose from and the hospitality is simply awesome. If you wish to stay on land, there are a number of hotels on Boulevard Road catering to various budget categories.
We stayed at a houseboat named Island Hotel run by Sajid (Contact: +91 8899936832). The houseboat has basic amenities but the love we received from the family was precious.
Wifi Island Houseboat on Dal Lake

What is the distance from Srinagar Airport to Dal Lake?

The distance from Srinagar Airport or Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport to Dal Lake Ghat No 1 is about 13 km. Dal Lake is huge and the distance will depend on where you want to go.

Dal Lake in Pictures

Early morning Shikara ride on Dal Lake
Shops and restaurants on Dal Lake
Sunrise on Dal Lake
Pir Panjal ranges
Sunset at Dal Lake
Evening at Srinagar
Work from Home at houseboat in Kashmir

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Life on Dal Lake
Dal Lake Kashmir

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Agni Amrita Travel Blogger

Hey! we’re Agni & Amrita.

We have been travelling together since the last 15 years and writing independent and personal travel content since 2014. Travel is one of the best teachers and through this blog, we aim to share our experiences and travel tips. We encourage you to travel more and see the world through your eyes and not through filtered templates.

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  1. Chapri.Dean

    Fanatic research full with information and other details.
    Highly appropriated your efforts .

    • Agni Amrita

      Thank you so much!

  2. Surya kasibhatta

    I have visited dal lake 4 days back. Every info is good here but I would like to add about scams they do at dal lake. Book your houseboat online before and do proper research or else you will end up paying triple.

    Shikaar ride take it from authorized people at ghats.

    Don’t trust agents or guides they will loot you. Try jugnoo or nova cab apps or taxi stand for taxis n local sight seeing.

    Don’t purchase any items on shikara ride. The items like saffron, hukka, gift items all are fake. Food you can eat at shaks on shikara.

    For Photos, they will lure you by taking 20 -25 pics in kashmiri attire. One pic is 12o so rest of it calculate yourself. Ask for only one or two they will not accept but at the end they will.

    At meena bazar bargain everything you purchase.

    Dal lake and kashmir trip are expensive trips. Plan accordingly keep enough cash because most of them don’t accept online or wallet payment.

    On dal lake houseboat check for room heater and electric blanket before with the hotel, we had lots of problem. It was not ok while it is 2 degrees temp outside.

    • Agni Amrita

      Thank you Surya for all these information!
      Although we did not face these issues, we are thankful for sharing these with our readers. But yes, even we do not recommend buying saffron, hukka and other gift items from the Shikaras. Also bargain and bargain a lot…
      Dal Lake might seem a bit costly, but local Kashmir did not seen very expensive to us. nevertheless, it is always good to plan ahead.

  3. Ajay Modi Travels

    Thank you for share this travel related information…

  4. mklmsw

    It is too bad that while I was staying in a houseboat on Dall Lake I did not know to get up early and visit the vegetable market!

    • Agni Amrita

      Oh! You missed it. Hopefully, visit there the next time you are in Srinagar!

  5. Sunit

    Wonderful post.
    Any ideas for which ghat to stay in. Travelling as a couple. Need some peace and quiet

    • Agni Amrita

      Thank you so much for the comment. Dal Lake is quite peaceful. You can stay at any of the houseboats. But if you want absolute calm, then stay at houseboats on Nigeen Lake.

  6. Nishita Khanwani

    I have seen the Dal Lake in a few Bollywood movies and ever since I have tamed a desire to visit it. If God gives me a chance, I would love to stay in the houseboat and devour the beauty of this place at my leisure.

    • Agni Amrita

      Thank you!


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