The Building of Kashmiri Houseboats

Srinagar Travel Blog

 › entry 39 of 41 › view all entries
Laying the keel
 

To get an idea of how they were built, Chris and I sought out Kashmiri houseboats under various stages of construction. In the process we got to meet many of their owners, builders, and craftsmen.

Unfortunately, few spoke English, but so long as they didn't mind our presence and clicking cameras, we were treated to a close-up look at their specialized craft  - often from right over their shoulders. All of the boats were entirely built by traditional methods using crude hand-tools and manual labor. There were no Black & Decker power tools, no lifting cranes, or no air compressors.

 

Thick and heavy hardwood lumber was cut to length with two-man saws to form the keel of the Honolulu.

Inside a hull
Nailers pounded red-hot spikes to join sides to the keel of the Snow King. Planers smoothed planks for flooring while other men slopped white paint to the hull of the Cultural Palace.

 

It was a fluke that houseboats came to exist at all on Dal Lake. Members of the Indian Civil Service who vacationed in Kashmir were not permitted to own land or build permanent homes because the Maharaja of Kashmir at the time feared a British presence in Srinagar. As a result, they chose to stay on houseboats. The first one - the Victory - was designed by M.T. Kenhard and built in 1888. Now hundreds if not thousands of the boats line the lakes of Kashmir and the Jehlum River. Their designs range from basic shelters to elaborate five-star floating palaces.

 

When launching day arrived, the proud new owners would put on a feast, usually lamb.

Houseboats old and new
A hundred or more of their friends and family would gather to manually slide the hull sideways into the lake. Chris and I were invited to a launch but it wouldn't take place until mid-April. Regretfully, we would be gone by then. We did catch the tail-end of one launch, however, and experienced the feast and festivities of the special day.

 

Paneled walls were completed afloat. The delicate trim work  of doors, windows, and railings were elaborately carved of cedar or walnut. Furnishings for each bedroom, the parlor, and dining room were all hand-crafted, also of cedar and walnut. Colorful stained glass windows added character to some.

 

While a shikhara cost about 7,000 Rupees and took about a week to build, a deluxe four-star , four-bedroom houseboat tagged in at 150 lakh (150,000 Rupees) and upwards. Their  construction took six months or more to complete. It was as fascinating to see those floating palaces being built from the ground up as it was to see them lining the shores of Dal Lake and the Jehlum River.

 

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Laying the keel
Laying the keel
Inside a hull
Inside a hull
Houseboats old and new
Houseboats old and new
Finish-work
Finish-work
The supervisor
The supervisor
New-launched hull
New-launched hull
Planers
Planers
Flooring
Flooring
Launch day
Launch day
Floating hull
Floating hull
Houseboat tools
Houseboat tools
Poling into position
Poling into position
Load of lumber
Load of lumber
Almost completed
Almost completed
Parlor
Parlor
The New Australia
The New Australia
Srinagar
photo by: vishal_