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Experience Legendary Kashmir Houseboats

The first destination that most tourists visit in Kashmir especially in Kashmir Valley is Srinagar. Srinagar is the largest city of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), and the city has lots to offer in terms of heritage and Mughal gardens but the real draw is the legendary houseboats.

Any stay in Kashmir should include at least a night or two on the fabled houseboat, and one can choose from the eight hundred houseboats moored by the edges of Srinagar’s jewel, Dal Lake and its smaller and quieter Nigeen Lake.

Many tourists are attracted to these houseboats because of the unique experience of living on the water with facilities and conveniences of a hotel. Narrow, flat-bottomed canoes called shikaras paddle tourists to these houseboats that have become a defining feature of the lakes.

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Houseboats on Dal Lake

Loophole in the law

Sometime during the 1800s, Kashmir was a popular retreat for the British colonialists in India to seek alpine climate especially in the summer when the heat is unbearable in the plains.

However, the then Maharaja of Kashmir forbade foreigners to own land and buy homes in his state which irked the British who did not want to lose their summer retreats in Srinagar. Instead, they took advantage of a loophole in the Maharaja’s law by building houseboats on Dal Lake and its waterways which sparked a boom in houseboat-building among Kashmiris.

And soon enough, these ‘floating hotels’ became resorts to royalty, movie stars, artists, writers, famous musicians and wealthy Western travellers searching for a touch of the exotic by the languid waters of Dal Lake.

*Also Read: Curious About Darjeeling, Queen of the Hills

Palatial interior furnishings

Building houseboats in Kashmir is a costly affair as owners have to spend lavish amounts of money in construction, fixtures and fittings, furnishings, upholstery and decoration.

Houseboats in Kashmir are typically made of cedar wood which does not rot easily in water, and the interiors are classically furnished with hand-carved walnut wood wall panels, doors and windows. The houseboats also need to have modern amenities and facilities as one would expect in a hotel such as a drawing room, dining room, kitchen/pantry, two to seven en suite bedrooms, hot and cold running water.

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Houseboats made of cedar wood
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Mascot Houseboats
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Carving details on columns and railings

Similar to hotels, houseboats vary in degree of luxury. The low-budget houseboats are drabby whereas the deluxe or luxury houseboats have palatial interior furnishings such as thick locally-woven Kashmiri carpets, richly-carved walnut tables and chairs, plush sofas, heavily embroidered curtains and crystal chandeliers. Because of the amount of work and intricacies involved, houseboat building can take many years – some more than ten years – to complete.

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Mascot Houseboat interiors
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Dining area
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Deluxe bedroom
kashmir houseboats hand carved walnut wood panels
Handcarved walnut wood panels

One of the striking features of houseboats in Kashmir is the quirky names. Till the early 1950s, the English were the ones who named the houseboats typically after the names of their daughters or something that is lovely and beautiful. As time went on and more houseboats were built, the names varied from commonplace such as Sunflower and whimsical like Queen of Sheba or Kashmir Hilton to bizarre such as Apollo Eleven!

Shikara boat ride

The shikara boats that paddle guests to the houseboats are made of deodar wood, colourfully painted and canopied. The length of the boat is almost fifteen feet long and it can comfortably seat four people in the boat. The boatman or shikara wallah sits at the back and paddles the boat back and forth from the lake shores to the houseboats.

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Colourful shikaras
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Shikara wallah

The houseboat experience is never complete without going on a shikara boat ride around Dal or Nigeen Lake. Explore the lake on a shikara for a few hours as it is a peaceful and relaxing experience.

kashmir houseboats shikara on dal lake early morning
Shikara on Dal Lake early in the morning

Dal Lake can be too commercial with tourists especially with the houseboats positioned cheek by jowl on the lake. But exploring the lake early in the morning offers a timeless glance into another world, how life for Kashmiris on the lake revolves around the water. The shikara is not only used to ferry tourists to houseboats but also as a form of transportation for shikara wallahs to send goods to the market or for parents to send their children to school.

kashmir houseboats explore dal lake on shikara
Explore life on Dal Lake from the shikara
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Local transport on Dal
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Life goes on in Kashmir
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Going to school
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This young man is ready for school

Nigeen Lake, on the other hand, has lesser tourists, thus the lake is extremely quiet save for the gentle ripple of the shikara wallah’s oars in the placid water and the intermittent interruptions by other shikara wallahs paddling up to your boat, dangling Kashmiri crafts and trinkets in front of you 😊

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Houseboats on Nigeen Lake

*Related Post: Planning a Trip to Kashmir? Here Are Popular Tourist Destinations in Kashmir

Note: Images of houseboat interiors are of Mascot Houseboats on Nigeen Lake. For reviews on Mascot Houseboats, click here.

*My trip to Kashmir was hosted by Kashmir Trails and J&K Tourism. Opinions expressed in this post are of my own.


experience legendary kashmir houseboats katpegimana

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. All opinions shared in this post are my own.

*Linking with #Citytripping, #FarawayFiles.

Wander Mum
Oregon Girl Around the World


  1. I know that there was an issue with the houseboats here polluting the lakes in the past decade, do you think the situation has been solved or are there still concerns? I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts. Hopefully there has been steps taken to preserve both these beautiful boats and experiences as well as the serene environment. Thank you for sharing Kat! #FarawayFiles

    1. The local council and associations are cleaning the lake every now and then. When I was there, I had seen equipment used to remove filth and rubbish out of the lake. However, I’m not sure if they are doing anything more to ensure that the lakes are 100% clean. I believe Kashmiris care about their environment and Dal & Nigeen Lakes are very special to them, thus they would take necessary steps to ensure that there is no major pollution. That said, the valley had gone through war, unrest and skirmishes with the Indian Government for so long that environmental protection might not have been their utmost priority.

  2. I am so excited to read this, Kat! When I travelled to India, Kashmir was one of the places I most wanted to visit and of course, I wanted to stay in a houseboat. Unfortunately the political situation when I was there made it too risky to go and I’d forgotten about that dream. Thanks so much for reminding me of this on #FarawayFiles. I do have to do this one day.

    1. I hope, by the time, you get to travel to Kashmir again, it would be peace in the valley. In fact, normalcy and peace have returned to Kashmir Valley, that is why the tourists are returning. As far as the tourist areas area concerned, they are generally unharmed and safe to go.

  3. OMgosh, when you said house boats I thought it would just be sometime standard like in Amsterdam or something, but these are immaculate! This is wayyyy more than just a house boat! Would love to stay in one! #FarawayFiles

    1. LOL, yes the Kashmir houseboat that I stayed was more like a palace than the usual houseboat. They have “budget” houseboats as well, similar to budget hotels – basic amenities only – the one that I experienced was akin to a luxury 4-star hotel standard 🙂

  4. Awesome post. I used to live there and went to high school there. I have such wonderful memories of the place. Very happy to see the photos and read about it. #citytripping

    1. Oh you used to live in Srinagar? Yes, I bet you have wonderful memories of the place. Many people I have met in India mentioned that Kashmir in those days were pleasant and absolutely gorgeous. Many of them are wishing that Kashmir goes back to how it was but I guess, politics has an upper hand nowadays, unfortunately 🙁

  5. Lovely article Kat, and so insightful! I’m stunned by the intricate woodwork on the houseboats…no wonder it takes long to construct. And apollo 11! haha:)
    You’ve coupled the read with tranquil pictures!

    1. Thank you Divya 🙂 Yeah, I was amazed to learn that it takes many years for a houseboat construction to be completed, and not to mention, a lot of money to spend as well.

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