The Building of Kashmiri Houseboats
Srinagar Travel Blog› entry 39 of 41 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.