On a balmy August evening, boatman Bashir steered us towards the middle of the lake, avoiding the stretches overrun by weeds. The Dal may not be pristine any more but it was still a pleasing sight.
Moored houseboats, looking more like giant dollhouses, were lined up on my right. Most had filigreed exteriors. Only a few tourists were about, relaxing on open decks, and they took no notice of our presence as we floated past.
I was surprised to see a German flag fluttering atop one of the houseboats. It seemed a bit late to be celebrating their World Cup triumph, and I asked Bashir to shed light on the mystery. It turned out that there was no soccer fan involved; only a lovesick one.
Cupid had struck the owner of a houseboat when a German tourist was holidaying on the premises. The romantic vistas may have helped his cause. Or the heart-shaped shikara paddles had done the trick. For whatever reason, sparks had flown on both sides and the lovers were soon yoked in matrimony. Today, the inside of the houseboat is done up the German way, or so our boatman said.
Bashir, who is in his 40s, has been ferrying tourists since 1989 – around the time the protests in Kashmir made it to international headlines. In the winter months or when sightseers stay away, he helps his family weave pashmina shawls in a village near the lake.
Bashir stops paddling and points towards ‘Cheerful Charlie’, the houseboat where Hrithik Roshan was filmed serenading Preity Zinta in the 2000 Bollywood thriller “Mission Kashmir”. It’s a nondescript houseboat, much like the others. Bashir himself has ferried only one celebrity. Several years ago, when Naseeruddin Shah and two of his friends went for dinner on a houseboat, the veteran actor sat in Bashir’s boat.
I wonder if Shah mentions the Kashmir visit in “And Then One Day”, his recently released memoirs.
(To be continued)
NOTES FROM A KASHMIR TRIP
Part 1 – Srinagar, flatbread, and the Bengali connection