Dal Lake is undoubtedly one of the largest lakes in Kashmir and is a very good contender for the title of the most beautiful too, what with it being bounded by the Himalayas on all sides. The lake presents a picturesque scene that many people think of when Srinagar is mentioned: shimmering blue waters and channels connecting several basins filled with aquatic plants and animals as well as ornate versions of the Venetian gondola called “shikara”. At the fringes of the water are enormous houseboats, some of such luxury that they boast no fewer than four separate bedrooms besides the living room, kitchen, and dining room. Move a little further inland and you find the famed gardens left by the Mughal rulers of the Kashmir, wonderful little spots of planned-out tranquillity and order beside the waters. Surely one can see why the lake is worth a visit from this picture alone.
The lake is a pretty big one, with official records showing it be nearly 8km long and 4km wide: unfortunately, these figures have been gradually getting smaller, due to the various problems with sedimentation and dropping water levels. The lake is a busy one: if you look to the west, you are going to see a number of small islands, several of them tourist attractions in their own right. Willows abound on the banks of Dal Lake, and there are also floating gardens found in the waters: these are rafts carrying earth that has been seeded to produce watermelons, tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and even potatoes. Then you have the fishery trade, which is rich and vibrant here.
The most popular of the lake’s attractions-of those in the lake itself, that is, since the Mughal gardens, the University of Kashmir, and the Shankaracharya and Hari Parbat temples are technically around the lake and not in it-would probably be the houseboats. Moored at a good part of the lake’s total shoreline of 15.5km are various houseboats that are used by both permanent and temporary residents of Srinagar. These got started when British nationals were not permitted to own land for their residences in the past and they coped by building dwellings on the waters-a neat legal loophole for which they would be remembered later on. Nowadays, though, the houseboats are generally owned by locals, both those who use them for their own residences and those who hire them out to tourists. Most have cedar, a classic shipbuilding wood, as their primary material, and several can get fantastically ornate.
Dal Lake has been experiencing some problems in recent decades due to the marked eutrophication that generally comes as a result of growing human populations near a body of water. As a result, the state government started a Dal Development Project towards the end of the 1970’s, and this project is ongoing. The lake is nevertheless a gorgeous place to visit and an important part of the tourist industry of Srinagar, so do not be afraid to see it for yourself. It is beautiful at all times of the year, but be warned that there have been winters where it actually froze, specifically in January. It is best not to test the ice then, since some have reported it as being quite thin and precarious in some areas.