The Dal Lake – known as the “Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir” is the icon of Kashmir Tourism and lies in the heart of Srinagar City. The Lake is perched at about 5500 feet above sea level, has a depth of about 25 feet and occupies 18 square kilometres of the Srinagar topography.
The Dal Lake – on which gallons of ink and scrolls of paper have been spent to record and eulogize its beauty by poets, writers, Statesman and tourists alike. Set in the amazing Kashmiri Valley amidst snow-capped Zabarwan Mountains, in the foothills of the Himalayan Range, the Dal Lake is a vast, endless and a picturesque lake of still and sparkling water which becomes one with the mountains in most parts of the lake and seems to be touching the skies in the other parts. Shades of white on the Mountains and shades of green of the tall conifers that circle the Lake is all you will see at the Dal Lake which is surprising in the city-centre of Srinagar.
The floating gardens of Lotus blooms of the Dal Lake known as the ‘Rad’ in Kashmiri are the most incredible sights which add a dash of colour to this white and green collage when the flowers are in full bloom between July and September. Rad is comprises reed-rafts or vegetation matted with the Earth under the surface of the lake, on the Lake-bed which are cut from the Lake bed and towed to a different location which is convenient for mooring.
Even Melons, Tomatoes and Cucumber are cultivated on these floating Gardens.
The shore side of the lake is surrounded by lush green Gardens of the Mughal Era, Parks, Hotels, House boats, Royal Springs Golf Course and the ‘Shikaras’– all strung together by the Boulevard Road. On the western edge of the Dal Lake is the Dal Gate where all the House Boats are anchored.
‘Houseboats on Dal Lake’ is what Srinagar is synonymous with. Titled "floating palaces", the houseboats are made of cedar-wood and measure 79–125 feet in length and 9.8–20 feet in width and are rated in a similar manner to hotels according to level of comfort. They have lavishly furnished rooms, with verandas and a terrace to serve as a sun-deck or to host evening cocktails. The Houseboats are anchored individually, with interconnecting bridges providing access between boats. The kitchen-boat is attached to the main houseboat, which is the residence of the boat keeper and his family. Each houseboat has its respective Shikara for ferrying guests to the shore. A Shikara is small wooden paddled boat with a canopy – colourful and ornate – like the Venetian Gondolas - and is about 15 feet long. It is used as a water-taxi as well as a cruiser on the Lake.
The Shikaras deserve a special mention as they epitomize Kashmiri romance. Recall those countless romantic film scenes (especially romantic songs) shot on the Dal lake time and again – the most famous being the Hindi movie song ‘Tareef Karun kya Uski’ enacted by Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore. Floating gently and endlessly on the Dal Lake in the Shikaras in a chill weather is the most sought-after fantasy and an incredibly romantic experience that brings the honeymooners here in bunches each summer. Dal Lake is awe-inspiring during the day and spectacular at night.
The Shikara is used not only for ferrying honeymooners and other tourists on the Dal Lake but also as mode of conveyance for vending of fruits, vegetables and flowers as well as for fishing and harvesting of aquatic vegetation. All gardens and house-boats in the lake periphery are approachable through the Shikaras. The traditional outfit of the boatmen is the "Phiron". A Shikara is a boat made for royalty as it has bright coloured big cushioned seats with backrests – King Style and can actually seat about six people. You can cruise along the Jhelum River which offers scenic views of the Pir Panjal Mountains and passes through the famous seven bridges and the backwaters.
Dal Lake - a Himalayan urban lake has an inflow channel from Jhelum River and comprises five basins - the Nehru Park basin, the Nishat basin, the Hazratbal basin, the Nagin basin and the Barari Nambad basin and has a number of criss-crossing channels. Covering an area of 18 square kilometres, it has a shore-length of 16 kilometres. Dal Lake is divided into two smaller lakes - the ‘Lokut Dal’ and the ‘Bod Dal’. The Lake has several water sources. Some of its water is from the spring and some from ‘Mar Sar’ – a Mountain Lake. The shores of Dal Lake are very fertile which reflects in the wide variety of fruits and vegetables that grow here among which are – Radish, Potato, Tomato, Pumpkin, Cucumber etc.
The Ecosystem of Dal Lake is ecologically rich and very supportive of floriculture and aquaculture. This Ecosystem comprises macrophytes (an aquatic plant that produces oxygen, provides cover for fish and substrate for aquatic invertebrates), floating macrophytes, submerged macrophytes and phytoplankton. The lake’s aquatic and marshland environment consists of 117 species in macrophytes flora. Dal Lake is known for Lotus Flowers.
The faunal distribution consists of Zooplanktons (drifting water-organisms), Benthos (community of organisms that live near the bed of the water body) and Fish. Zooplanktons found in the lake include K. serrulata, Brachionus plicatilis, Keratella cochlearis, Polyactis vulgaris, Monostyla bulla, Alona monocantha, Cyclops ladakanus and Mesocyclops leukarti. Benthos include Tubifex sp and Chironomus sp. and fish include carpio communis, Cyprinus carpio specularis (economically important), C. Schizothorax niger, S. esocinus, S. curviformis and Crossochelius latius.
The Fishing Industry (culturing, processing, preserving, storing, transporting and selling Fish) in Dal Lake is the second largest industry in Srinagar. Carp Fish species constitute 70% of the Lake’s commercial fisheries.
Indigenous and typical to the Dal Lake is the ‘Floating Market’ – merchandise stacked boats gliding gracefully and effortlessly which is truly an awesome sight. The salesmen in the boat paddle from one boat to another – much like home-delivery – selling fresh flowers, fresh fruits, dry fruits, baked foods, cold drinks, camera film and even handicrafts such as the papier-mâché boxes, woolen shawls, silk carpets and leather goods.
Extremely tourist-friendly, hardworking and flexible, the boat-salesmen even offer money-exchanging services at your boat. All of the above are true in summers only as in winters; the Dal Lake radically changes its mood. Winters in Srinagar plunge the temperature to sub-zero, sometimes even -15 degrees Celsius which freezes Dal Lake. Then all the colourful description so far would change to an absolute white canvas with the white coloured Mountains and frozen white Dal Lake. Then you would see tourists trying or acing Ice-skating or playing cricket on the Lake.
The J&K State Government has earmarked Rs. 1100 crores to restore the lake to its original grandeur.