Dal is a lake in Srinagar (Dal Lake is a misnomer as Dal in Kashmiri means lake), the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The urban lake, which is the second largest in the state, is vital to tourism and recreation in Kashmir and is named the “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir”or “Srinagar’s Jewel”.The lake is also an important source for commercial operations in fishing and water plant harvesting.
The shore line of the lake, is about 15.5 kilometres , is encompassed by a boulevard lined with Mughal era gardens, parks, houseboats and hotels. Scenic views of the lake can be witnessed from the shore line Mughal gardens, such as Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Baghbuilt during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir and from houseboats cruising along the lake in the colourful shikaras. During the winter season, the temperature sometimes reaches −11 °C (12 °F), freezing the lake.
The lake covers an area of 18 square kilometres and is part of a natural urban wetland which covers 21.1 square kilometres , including its floating gardens. The floating gardens, known as “Rad” in Kashmiri, blossom with lotus flowers during July and August. The wetland is divided by causeways into four basins; Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin (although Nagin is also considered as an independent lake). Lokut-dal and Bod-dal each have an island in the centre, known as Rup Lank (or Char Chinari) and Sona Lank respectively.
The measures are being taken to fully address the serious eutrophication problems experienced by the lake.
Reckoned to be the heartbeat of Srinagar, Dal Lake is the finest manifestation of the power and beauty of nature. Fringed by majestic mountains and the Mughal Gardens, Dal Lake has steadfastly maintained its position as a favourite tourist place to visit in Srinagar. The canopied Shikaras sailing on the sparkling water offers a picture perfect moment. On the other hand the houseboats on the lake render luxurious accommodation option. Along with nature lovers, Dal Lake also proffers great options to adventure seekers. Water sports including water skiing, golfing and hot air balloon riding have lately become quite popular in Dal Lake. The pride of Jammu & Kashmir tourism, Dal Lake invigorates visitors with its exceptional beauty all year round.
Dal Lake House Boats
The first houseboats appeared during the days of British colonial rule when the beauty of this part of the country lured many of the British but the Maharaja of Kashmir strictly controlled the building of houses. The British overcame such restrictions by simply taking to the water. Each of the early houseboats were built in particularly British style leading to them being described as “each a little piece of England”. Today’s houseboats continue to offer accommodation and style seemingly from an earlier age. Many visitors choose to stay at one of these unique floating homes but there are also good quality hotels and restaurants on the lakefront.
Spending time on the water is a priority for most people and one of the favourite modes of transport is the shikara boat which has been described as the gondola of Kashmir. The owners of houseboats invariably provide shikaras for the use of their guests and others are available for hire at reasonable, although usually negotiable, rates.
What to See at Dal Lake
There are many interesting places to visit such as the ancient temple of Shankaracharya or the masses of lotus flowers which bloom in July and August. The lake also has many floating gardens often moored in close proximity to the houseboats. These gardens are created from sections of matted vegetation which are simply cut free and manoeuvred into position. Perhaps unsurprisingly, water loving crops such as melons, cucumbers and tomatoes seem to grow particularly well in these conditions.
There is always a great deal of activity on the lake and it even hosts a floating market where vendors sell their produce, directly from their boats. In some areas , swimming is popular as is canoeing and other forms of boating. During the winter months, there may even be the opportunity for skiing.
Best Time to Visit Dal Lake
The most popular time to visit Dal Lake is between June and August when the weather is probably at its most pleasant. Average summer temperatures range from 12 to 30 degrees Celsius making this a pleasant escape from the scorching summer temperatures found in much of India. Most people seem to agree with the old Maharaja on his choice of summer retreat. Winter however has its own attractions and this is when the spectacular scenery can be experienced at its magnificent best. Winter temperatures average around 1 to 11 degrees Celsius but during a harsh winter, temperatures can drop as low as minus 11 degrees and at such temperatures, the surface of the lake can freeze. Needless to say, venturing onto the frozen surface can be extremely dangerous and should not be attempted without taking specialist advice from local experts.
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