A Kashmir Adventure

Kashmir's two major natural advantages are its mountains on the one hand, and lakes and rivers on the other. These waterways enhance the beauty of the land and are one of the chief sources that attract tourists to its verdant valleys. But more than just a means of pleasure, the water-ways are an activity oriented way of discovering new lei-sure sports.

To those of you who are by nature passive, there is little more needed than a wining nod to a passing shikara-wala before you are invited on board these narrow boats with their sprung-cushion seats and chintz curtains. You can command a shikara on the Dal and Nagin lakes in Srinagar for just a crossing, or for a whole day, and dis-cover the tranquillity of being gently oared over water from one scenic spot to another. You can also stretch your time limit by actually staving aboard a houseboat so you wake to the sound of soft waves lapping beside your bedroom window.

A variation on this can be the hiring of a motor boat so you travel faster over water. Or better still, when the summer days are balmy, go water skiing. Interested en-thusiasts can use the facilities of the Watersports Institute at Nagin Lake.

The Jhelum river has remained the lifeline of Srinagar, and there are people who live on the river in boats, called doongas. These water-people claim to be descendants of Noah. If you hire a slow boat from them, you can actually visit old parts of Srinagar where, because of narrow, wind-ing roads, access by taxi is almost impossible. The advan-tage of going by boat is that you get to see numerous old mosques and temples, as well as attractive houses, that line the banks hut cannot be viewed or photographed from land. Constructed of wood, and with carved and latticed balconies and verandahs, they are well maintained and preserve the ancient heritage of Srinagar.

As you float past the houseboats moored along the river front, you also have the opportunity to observe the life of the people of Kashmir. In succession, the numerous bridges spanning the Jhelum pass by (and at places are ferry services for local travel). Srinagar city is located by the banks between Zero Bridge and Chattabal where a meir controls the water level on this stretch. A small lock on the west bank allows the movement of boats up or down stream. Once past Chattabal, the river changes character as it widens and meanders past visages in the valley. The river flows into the giant Wular Lake but the journey is best terminated at Manasbal Lake.

The advantage of cruising by a low powered boat over a shikara or a doonga is that a river-trip from Anantnag to Manasbal is considerably shortened over its three days, that photography is more convenient, and that mooring at the place of your choice is not restricted.

The two rivers, Indus and Lidder, are essentially mountain streams and are suitable for white water rafting on some stretches. The Indus in Ladakh, in particular. has three portions that are ideal for this sport Due to a low volume of water and a wide river bed, it can be navigated only in pares. Options offered are a half day run for amateurs from Phey to Niemo, or a two day exciting run from Phey to Alchi (day one) and Nurla (day two) with a choice of going further to Khalsi. The Zanskar River, also in Ladakh, can offer professionals six days on rapids that begin at Padum and And through the picturesque Zanskar valley. The best season is August-September.

Similarly, the Lidder near Pahalgam has two short stretches suitable for white water rafting, specially for day trips. As the gradients are not steep, they are excellent for first-timers being introduced to this enthusing sport.

Miscellaneous Details
Kashmir has many lakes - Dal, Nagin, Mansbal and Wular. These are excellent spots for rowing - whether it is a shikara or a racing skull. No OIIC has tried canoe-ing in these lakes so far. These lakes are inter-connect-ed as also the river Jhelum which flows through the entire length of the valley and connects with all the lakes. An interesting sport is what is locally called 'Water Trekking'. One can have a three to four day trip along the river to various lakes in a shikara with all the camping gear. There are lovely spots to camp for the night.

The lakes are also famous for water skiing. The Ski School of Gulmarg organises ten day water ski courses in Dal and Nagin lakes during the summer months. The courses include boarding and lodging facilities.

As you pick up more courage you can venture into the white waters. Rafting is a very recent sport in Kashmir. Indus, the river which gave India its name, offers two to three day host stretches for rafting in the vicinity of Len. However the most challenging and enjoyable ride is on Zanskar: a five day trip from Pa-dam to its confluence with Indus at Nimu. One has to pass through a narrow gorge where only a streak of sky is visible for as long as two days. The Zanskar ride can be combined with a week long trek from Manali to Pa-dam.

White water canoeing has extensive possibilities. Lidder, Sindh, Drass, Suru, Indus, Zanskar, Chenab and for the less adventurous, even the Jhelum river can present interesting trips. The time to raft is either in May/June or in September/October. Equipment is available with some local agents. 

No one has yet tried diving in the lakes. It would be fun to discover the legendary city which is believed to lie at the bottom of Wular Lake. It is also said that Manasbal lake has no bottom. The high altitude lakes of Tarsar, Marsar, Kaunsarnag, Kishensar, Vishensar and Gangabal could also be interesting for canoeing, a sport that has still to catch on.

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Kashmiri Overseas Association