From traditional items like Kashmiri shawls, saffron, walnut and paper machie to a simple cup of tea, dozens of mobile shikara shops rowing on the Dal Lake offer the tourists a complete package to make their visit to Kashmir unforgettable. A Kashmir Scan report.
On a foggy November morning, Bashir Ahmad Akhoon left his home situated in Hazratbal area of Srinagar. It is part of a routine that Bashir has been following since last four decades. Once he reaches the shores of Dal Lake, Bashir gets into his beautiful shikara named ‘Wonderful Flower Man’. The shikara, loaded with a variety of colourful flowers, is the mobile flower shop which has been a source of sustenance for his family.
“It is our family business and I am in this from last 40 years. First, my father started it and after his death, I continued it with the same passion. Likewise, my elder son has chosen the same business as his career,” said Bashir. “This time, we have four boats of ‘Wonderful Flower Man’ and it is, of course, a profitable business,” he says.
Like Bashir’s ‘Wonderful Flower Man’, there are many other mobile florists in Dal Lake who earn their livelihood through this business. Round the year, these mobile florists sell different varieties of flowers as well as their seeds and saplings to the visitors of Dal.
“We have as many as 350 flower varieties which are beautiful and mostly liked by tourists,” said Bashir. “Besides supplying flowers to houseboat owners for decoration, we earn good money from tourists, especially from foreign tourists,” he said.
The Dal Lake is famous not only for offering scenic moments of solitude and peace to the visitors and hosting many water sports, but the lake is a complete society in itself. Name a thing and you will get it on the water world of Dal Lake; food items, eatables, vegetables and all other daily commodities are available for the people who are living on its water. Even though transactions are more lively with tourists rather than locals these days, the floating shops in the form of boats also sell jewellery, paper machie products, woodcraft items, fresh flowers, eatables, tea stalls and all-time favourite barbecues.
Majority of the tourists visiting the Kashmir valley go for some local purchases in Kashmir which include shawls, Kashmir-made suits and, of course, paper machie and walnut. In Srinagar city, there are a number of shops selling walnut and paper machie items but the tourists have the luxury of this kind on Dal Lake without paying any extra money.
“No doubt the untoward situation in Kashmir has badly affected our business but despite that, we get good earnings because tourists are fond of paper machie and walnut wood made items,” said Mohd Ashraf Bhat who runs a mobile paper machie shop since past 18 years on Dal.
“We have all the varieties of paper machie items which a big showroom can have and in return we get a good earning because tourists love to shop while they are boating,” Ashraf added.
One more attraction for tourists is jewellery which varies from artificial to silver-made. Sajad Ahmad Soliha runs a mobile jewellery shop on Dal since 1998. He still remembers the day when he cobbled up a single day sale of Rs 4.5 lakh plus on jewellery sold to some foreign tourists. Contrary to that, he also narrates the story of the months of mass uprising last year when he couldn’t earn a single penny because of no tourist footfall.
“I was happy with this business but it all depends on tourist arrival,” said Sajad, adding “The greater the flow of tourists, the higher the sales would be and vice versa.”
Though there is a full-fledged floating market inside Dal Lake but the mobile shops are adding to the attraction of the lake. Besides the availability of all items like shawls, saffron, dry fruits, etc., these shops do make the shopping easy. The visitors love to shop simultaneously and keep it as part of their memory while they are boating with their family.
“Shopping on our mobile shops not only saves the time of tourists but they get varieties of goods and items at cheaper rates,” Sajad claims.
With more than 200 mobile shops, tourists can have their meals in boats as well. There are tea stalls, corn shops, mobile shops with snacks and the most delicious mobile barbecue boats.
“Tourists from all over the world like barbecues and here we have the delicious ones. We have chicken barbecues, mutton barbecues, fish tikas and kebabs of all kinds available throughout the day,” said Abdul Rashid Shouda who runs his mobile barbecue shikara since last 25 years.
“We have many mobile shops like I have and by the grace of almighty we have a great demand for our barbecues,” he said, “One can only imagine how wonderful it is to have delicious barbecues while boating on the beautiful Dal Lake.”
Besides the on-the-move mobile shikara shops, there is a stagnant boat in the middle of the Dal Lake near Char Chinari. That is none other than the famous mobile tea stall namely ‘Raja Tea Stall’, known for its tasty tea. One cannot resist having a cup of tea at this point.
“I make this tea with pure cow milk and whosoever takes it once do come again and again,” said Abdul Razaq Guroo, the owner of the Raja Tea Stall.
Like his tea stall, Razak was once famous for his milk shop among Dal dwellers who used to get unadulterated cow milk and curd. “I was the main supplier of milk and curd for all marriages in the Dal Lake community. People would take advance booking for the functions and other gatherings,” narrates Razak.
Not only locals, Razak was famous for his tasty curd among regular tourists also. “Tourists would come and wait for hours to purchase fresh curd. I had customers all the time from dawn to dusk,” recalls Razak, “but the situation in Kashmir which turned from bad to worse since past 25 years compelled me to switch my business.”
“Now I am hardly able to support my family.”