THE DAL LAKE

The Dal Lake is one of the chief ornaments of the Kashmir valley. It is situated to the east of Srinagar. (The word 'dal' signifies an expanse of water.) It is 4 miles long and 2.5 miles broad and covers an area of about 10 square miles. The western portion is dotted with islets called demb and numerous waterways running inland. The chief canal is called Mar after the high mountain lake Mar Sar which drains the Dachigam Rakh after feeding the Harwan Reservoir and empties itself into the lake towards the north. The islets are covered with willow trees which are of both indigenous and foreign varieties. The former having small lanceolate leaves are distinguished from the larger leaves of the latter. The twigs of the former have a bitter taste and are used as tooth brushes. The immersion of the feet in water in which the leaves of this tree have been soaked for some time results in a soothing effect to the head and eyes. If the water is well strained and pure it is used in some cases for anemia. The twigs divested of bark and pounded into a fine powder and mixed with curds form an effective balm for burns. The wood is highly prized, being used for the manufacture of blades for cricket bats.

The English willow has been introduced and thrives on these islets. It provides an excellent material for basketmaking which has grown into an important industry.

Where the land has been cleared of trees, all kinds of vegetables are grown-potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, gourds, turnips, radishes and many exotic varieties. The chief manure for these fields is ashes, the silt of shallow canals, and pond-weeds, such as Polygonum, water milfoil, Naais major. (The weeds are twisted with a punting pole thrust into water, rooted out and piled in a boat. They are left to rot till they ferment and then are applied to melons, tomatoes, gourds, onions and garlic.) Potentilla reptens, Euphorbia and nettle also grow profusely. Here and there cosy huts stand on these islands. The surroundings of the huts are generally insanitary. The aesthetic sense of appreciating beauty is not yet developed. The planting of creepers and rose bushes round these hamlets would improve their look considerably.

The Dal Lake is divided into three parts by two causeways, one of these starts from Nayid Yar Bridge and is about four miles long. This was constructed by a grocer named Mahesh Chowdhery, who miraculously came into possession of a mass of gold. Under the guidance of a nymph, who appeared to him in the form of a serpent, the course of the dam which terminates at Ishibor village was indicated. Should the other course be taken, it leads to Nasim Bagh and Nigin. The portion towards the east is called Lokut Dal, while the portion in front of Nasim is called Bod Dal. Lately the eastern causeway has been extended from the Nishat side to enable the Government to take the water pipe line through this dam to the city. It is said that the contractors experienced great difficulty in filling up a spring near the Nishat Bridge.

On the south-western corner is an inlet called Sodura Khon which is the deepest part of the lake. ('Sodur' means a sea, and 'khon' a gulf.) It is more than 40 feet deep and undoubtedly a spring. It is also said that in olden times there existed two springs near Sodurabal to which people from the city of Batapora used to come for pilgrimage when the city was peopled by the Brahmans. The place was called Sodura after the spring which lies at the foot of Bhutsher.

The shores of the gulf are frequented by visitors in house boats. Huge chinars, willows and tall poplars fringe the shore. Apricot and cherry, almond and pear, quince and apple trees decorate the gardens. What a delight it is to keep open the window of a house-boat on a May-dawn, and keep one's ears open to the celestial musical vibrations from a chinar tree under which the boat is moored! If a paradise flycatcher happens to nest here, it is the first feathered friend to break the silence of the dawn. It will be followed by the Tickell's thrush with its incessant melody and next by the golden oriole with its liquid note. Simultaneously the ringdove will be heard stringing its harp and cooing the crescendo and the dove in repartee filling the morning breeze with melody and concord. As the day advances the other birds join in with their quota till the concert is in full swing. Who that listens to the celestial music would not sing and dance and lose himself in ecstasy! As daylight deepens the chorus begins to subside, but the doves and hoopoes carry on in some shady nook till the Great Orb shows his lustrous face.

Here one comes across bathing boats with catering arrangements. The boats are properly decorated with shoots and arrangements for diving from various heights. The holidaymakers swim and dive and make merry in the water. The swimmer stands on a plank which is towed by a motorlaunch and holds a rope in his or her hand in an erect position. Very few finish circling round the bathing boat at full speed in an erect posture. This we may call a kind of surf-riding.

There are some fine buildings in the Nigin Bagh which house hotels and a branch of the Srinagar Club. So the visitor does not feel the want of the essential amenities of civilised life. There is also a regular bazar on the road, supplying almost all the needs of the visitors. The wheat and barley fields begemmed with scarlet red Papaver naudecaule present an enchanting spectacle in spring, while the Convulvolus arvensis embraces the tall weeds tightly.

Hazrat Bal

Hazrat Bal ('hazrat' = majesty; 'bal' = place) has grown into a village owing to its being the sanctified repository of the Prophet Mahmad's hair which was brought to Kashmir from Medina in Arabia by Sayid Abdulla in 1111 A.H. The ziarit is beautifully situated on the lake and a good number of chinars stand in its compound which is paved with stones. There is a colony of night herons on these chinars. The carvings on the walls and the latticed windows of the mosque are specimens of exquisite art. This is one of the most sacred spots for the Mussalmans who visit the place from all parts of the valley. Friday is the chief day in a week for congregations to assemble. There are four fairs held annually when the faithful gather in their thousands. It is a great sight to see hundreds offering their prayers to God facing towards the west. Hundreds of boats are to be seen moored along the beach. Villagers bring here the produce of their fields for sale on these occasions.

Not far from Hazrat Bal is the Garden of Morning Breeze - the Nasim Bagh. The Great Moghul, Akbar, conquered Kashmir in 1588. This garden was laid out by him, and about 1200 chinars planted in it. So some chinars are 360 years old. There is now a chinar nursery in the garden planted to provide saplings to replace the dead chinars. There is also a small rill passing through the middle of the garden. Also there is a spring of good water in the east of the garden not far from the shore. The remains of some old buildings can be seen on the same side. It is a holiday home for soldiers.

A Regional Engineering College has been founded here. There are also University Buildings and Colleges.

This garden makes an excellent camping ground. It commands an attractive view. In the foreground is a spacious sheet of water surrounding the golden island-Sona Lank, which is like a piece of emerald embossed in aquamarine.

The beautiful peak of Mahadiv (13,013 ft.) and the steep slopes of the Shalamar Range are lovely to behold. On the west the Hari Parbat Hill and the Pantsal Range present a more impressive spectacle. The surrounding fields and luscious gardens breathe health and vigour. The cool shade of the chinar resonant with the music of sweet songsters at dawn in May and June transport the visitor to Elysium. In autumn when the chinar turns red and the glowing tints of the setting sun are reflected in the lake, the whole sheet of water is turned into a ruby mine.

One can have quite a number of delightful excursions from this garden.

(a) The Tel-Bal Nala
The water of this nala is drawn from the thawed snows of the Mahadiv and also from the surplus water of the Reservoir. This stream abounds in fish which is much liked as food. The banks are lined with willows and blue and pied kingfishers find plenty of food in these waters. While going up the stream one comes across a lovely village and from a vantage point a clear view of the valley can be had. In July and August mosquitoes are a pest here.

(b) Shalamar Garden
This garden lies to the north-east of the Dal Lake and is a favourite haunt of holiday-makers. The word Shalamar comes from 'shala', a mountain and 'mar', beautiful. It is said that the Saint Nur-ud-din, also called Nunda Reshi, when invited to visit that part of the city refused, saying, 'If I visit this place now, I shall not be allowed to visit Paradise hereafter'. The garden was laid out by Jahangir in 1619. It is beautifully kept and the turf is fairly deep. The seasonal flowers are carefully sown and beds are in perfect order. The fountains playing round the pavilion, shone upon by the sun's rays passing through the chinar leaves, display myriads of rainbow colours. The close proximity of the hills as the background of the garden presents a picturesque contrast to the goidly exposed layout of Nishat. After sunset the electric lamps shining in the niches behind the cascades are marvellous.

(c) Harvan
Harvan is the corrupt form of Shadirhadvana which means 'grove of six saints'. This place is three miles from Shilamar. Here is an artificial lake in which the water from the Mar Sar Lake is stored. This is the source of the water supply to the city. The reflection in the lake of the dense forest slopes of nearby mountains and the verdant reserved Dachigam defile is a thrilling sight. Formerly the pilgrims to Mahadiv climbed through Dachigam but now they go from Dwara. The excavations of Harvan just above the road are of great historical and artistic interest and hence worth a visit. They have been carried out under the direction of Pt. R. C. Kak and are probably the first of their kind in the world. They belong to A.D. 300 when Kashmir was included in the Kushan Empire and Buddhism prevailed in the country. The fourth Council was held about this time under Kanishka. This was the monastery where the great scholar Nagarjuna lived. It contained a stupa, some chapels and other buildings. The construction work is of three kinds- (i) Rubble, (2) Diaper-rubble, (3) Tile. A vivid account of these excavations is given in the ancient monuments of Kashmir.

Just under the shadow of the excavation is the Trout Hathery. Trout-culture was introduced in Kashmir by Mr Mitchell in 1900. It was through the hard work and steadfast mind of Pt Sodama that this fish thrived here. The ova were sent from here to other parts of India such as Kulu, Kangra, Naini Tal and Shillong. Trout fishing is one of the favourite pastimes of visitors to the valley now.

The Dachigam Valley, more commonly known as Doch Gam Rakh or Game Reserve is one of the most charming dales of Kashmir. Its rich variety of flora and fauna, its luxuriant mountain slopes, the wild animals such as the panther, the bear and the deer which haunt its depths, its myriads of songsters make it a rare beauty spot even in Kashmir. A silvey stream emptying the Mar Sar drains this emerald green vale. This lovely spot, which by the way kisses the foot of Mahadiv (13,013 ft.) was deservedly the favourite abode of the Gupth Family, the expounders of Shaivism in Kashmir. There is still a spot in the valley which is called Vasupor, undoubtedly the village of vasugupta. A little higher up in the valley there is a huge rock called Shankar Pal (Shankar's rock). It is said that a Shiva treatise has been transcribed from an inscription on a portion of the rock, which is now embedded in the earth. This seems to have been the spot where Shankar Guptha meditated. To this saint's miraculous power is attributed the existence of Gupth Ganga, the famous spring to the north of Nishat bagh. Now there is a fish pond under this rock. Nagaberan is a meadow situated behind the valley.

About 400 yards to the N.E. of the reservoir under a huge chinar tree is a small spring called Sharadbal. This is dedicated to Sharda, the goddess of learning. The water of this spring is excellent for indigestion.

Nishat Bagh is an excellent pleasance where an afternoon with lunch and tea can be spent with great pleasure. This garden was laid out in 1632 by Asaf Khan, a brother of Nur Jahan, the Queen of Jahangir. It is beautifully terraced and the delicious smell of lilac and the flower beds lying on either side of the two path-ways which run through the garden are most exhilarating. The majestic chinars with their cool shade, the playing of fountains and cooing of doves send a thrill through every fibre. The view of the Dal Lake is superb. This garden lacks the subdued tone, the deep lawns and the bold background of Shalamar.

The eastern shore of the Dal Lake is full of springs. The Hindus attach some sanctity to almost all these springs and hence in olden days a large number of temples was built and gardens laid out round about them by the kings, their queens and their ministers. The most important of these springs is Gupta Ganga, situated in Ishibor village. Ishibor is the corrupt form of Shri Ishan Bror. Shri Ishan was the spiritual tutor of King Sandimati (34 B.C. - A.D. 13), and 'Bror' is probably drived from 'bairau'-a god. It was here that King Sandimati built a temple in honour of his guru, Shri Ishan, and laid out gardens. Later on his example was followed by Bad Shah (A.D. 1420-1470). The spring is sacred to the Hindus who come here to bathe on Baisaki or New Year's Day. It is also visited on Shri. Krishna's birthday. There is a peak called Sorshwari just above the spring which some of the pilgrims climb to gain merit.

Gopi Tirth is a small spring with clean water just behind the Nishat Bagh. There are two springs just near the road. One of these, called Shri Tsakor, has well-built sides which are covered with maiden-hair ferns. The other, Matso Bawn, is a miniature representation of the Martand Spring and here people go to remember their dead.

'In the village of Thed there is to be seen the junction of seven springs. There are many buildings of stone'.- Ain-i-Akbari

Chashma-i-Shahi
The Chashma-i-Shahi or the Royal Spring is a bubbling fount of cold, crystal clear water which the visitor in summer would much like to drink. This garden was founded by Ali Mardan Khan, a Moghul Governor in 1632. It is said at in a vision, during one night there, Shiva appeared to him. He composed a poem beginning with the verse:

'Huma asle Mahishwar bood, Shah Shahe ki man didam'

(He was the real Great God, the king whom I saw during the night.)

It is beautifully preserved and a small garden maintained by the Government is attached to it. The garden has lately been extended. The view from here is one of the most charming and is aptly described in the words of Pt. R. C. Kak: 'In spring, when the fields of the blossoming rape-seed flank the verdant hill slopes with gold; when the snow-capped mountains are being ceaselessly washed by melting snows and frequent showers; when in sunny intervals masses of downy clouds are seen floating majestically in the translucent azure of the sky, their shadow trailing after them as if caught by the sharp mountain peaks; when the lake is free from weed and reeds-beardless, as the Kashmiri call it; and the two small islets, Rupa Lank and Sona Lank, are like emerald set in the sapphire shield of the Dal; when vast patches of the slopes of the Chashma-i-Shahi Hill and the Hari Parbat are covered with red and white almond blossom-the fortunate spectator stands entranced as he gazes out of the arch of the baradhari and his feelings are lulled by the gentle murmur of the little fountain that plays in the centre of the hall'.

Just outside the garden a few beautiful huts have been built on a delightful spot for the convenience of visitors.

Just to the left of Chashma-i-Shahi high up in the Bren Nallah, there is the shrine of Baba Ghulum Din, the brother of Sheikh Nur-ud-Din. In early spring the whole place is covered with Colchicum lutem, Crown imperialis and Virburnum nervosum. Here too we see a spring but it is not kept clean. In the rills grow water-cress (Nasturtium officinale) maga babor which is a valuable article of food.

In the same level with Chashma-i-Shahi and to the right of it is the delightful pellucid spring called Chashma-i-Sahibi. In the opinion of some people its water is preferable to that of Chashma-i-Shahi. It lies amid a grove of chinars, mulberry and cherry trees. The wild rose bushes, hyacinth and narcissus are in profusion. Formerly it was looked after by a sadhu who lived there. In summer the pandits of Srinagar spend their week-ends here. It is a pity the spot has been so neglected. With care and attention it will become one of the best health resorts in Kashmir. The view of the lake is most fascinating from here.

Close by are sheds for animal husbandry.

Pari Mahal
Pari Mahal (the Palace of Fairies) or Kuntlun, is a set of ruined terraces on one of the spurs of Zabarwon Hill. These were built by the eldest son of Shah-i-Jahan, Dara Shikoh, the philosopher prince. Here he had philosophic discussions -and what a spot for such exercises-with his tutor, Akhun Malla Shah. It is interesting to examine the structure of the building. It had been founded on the ruins of a Buddhist monastery.

There is another spring in the ravine of Zabarwon. It is dedicated to the Goddess Zishta and is sacred to the Hindus. People come here for pilgrimage on every Thursday in the month of Zeth (May-June). This furnishes a good outing for the women-folk of Srinagar. Near the spring there is a big chinar and round about it are groves of fruit trees, poplars and willows. A man lives here permanently to look after the spring. Some years back, I remember having seen a rock which had Shiv-lingams carved on it on five sides, partially covered with red lead and a rose bush growing from a crevice in the top. It was enclosed in a baked brick wall in an almond garden. It was called Zeshta-Pal. A spring lies to the north of Zithair in the adjoining wood. This wood is an excellent spot for the study of birds. The whole Gupkar slope is now beautifully turfed and the royal palaces command a charming view of the Dal. The white royal mansions amid the green vegetation appear like a crystal vein in an emerald mine. On a summer day the reflection of the electric lamps of the palace in the lake is a marvellous sight.

There is a ziarat to the Shias on the foot of the eastern slope of Shankarachar under a cluster of stunted pines.

A park has been newly laid out on the eastern slope of the hill. It contains lovely bowers and groves of trees where visitors can enjoy their evening walk. The whole of the Gagribal spur is well covered with rose-bushes, thyme and in early May the whole place is dyed with pink and replete with fragrance. White iris blends with pink to give another shade of colour.

Just on the opposite side of this spur another island park called Nehru Park has been laid out. It contains a tank where non-swimmers learn how to swim and children bathe. There is also a shed where racing boats of Government schools and colleges are kept. The second storey of this boat-shed is a restaurant where people enjoy delicious dishes amidst the delightful natural surroundings. The park and the opposite Gagribal spur are artistically decorated with electric bulbs which view with the constellation of the firmament after sunset. The reflection of these lamps in water adds to the charm of the place. In summer the place is thonged with from the city and visitors. It is a source of income to shikari wala. Occasionally a show is arranged. A fleet of country-boats demba wari bedecked with lighted candles on the sides and inside the boats, are collected. They move in order. The trees towards the Kotar Khana and opposite it are laden with electric bulbs; when thus the whole flotilla towards the palace, it shines like a Galaxy. This formation of illumination is called Kongwari (Saffron beds).

A road lined with houses and hotels runs now from the Dal Gate round the lake. It has been built to enable tourists and citizens to have walks along the shore of the Lake and enjoy its superb view.

A CRUISE ON THE DAL LAKE

The water of the Dal Lake is discharged through the Dal Gate into the Tsunt Kol (apple stream). The old gate, now known as Pron Khan, was near the temple which stands lower down on this stream. An attractive view of Mahadiv and Kotwal peaks presents itself from the gate where shikaris with spring cushions, clean and beautiful seats are ready to convey the visitor round the lake. There are two canals from the Dal Gate leading on to the lake. The broad canal on the right leads straight on to the southern part of the lake, while the left one winds its way to the busy part of the lake where one can study the life and occupations of the people. We shall take this route.

The boat is propelled by three or four paddlers at a good speed between rows of willows and poplars and amid islets and picturesque buildings. The surface of the water is covered with water milfoil, water-fern and duck-weed. We reach the stately temple which marks the boundary of Rainawari, a suburb of Srinagar. Half a mile from the ghat is the C.M.S. Hospital. The produce of the lake is conveyed to the market in swift small shikaras. At a short distance from the temple there is a beautiful bridge with an artistic arch under which the boat passes. Set in a pier of this bridge is a stone with an inscription giving the name and date of the builder. It is from this bridge that the causeway across the lake starts. Beyond on the left is seen the Fort and a building which contains the Mourning Hall for Shias. A little further on are three erect stone slabs-two on either side of the canal and the third is in a swamp concealed among the willows. Probably, they used to be the water gauges in former days, but now they are believed to be petrified human bodies. The one on the right with a pointed top is the banker who charged 36 per cent interest and paid annas fifteen and three pies for every silver rupee (annas sixteen). The other on the left with a flat top is the mat-seller, who had a measuring rod six inches less than the right length and sold mats by this rod. The third concealed among the willows with girded loins and several vessels on his shoulders, is the milk man who mixed water with the milk and sold the adulterated stuff as pure milk. The gods were wrath with these men for their evil deeds, and cursed them and turned them into stones, and they stand thus to this day.

The boat speeding through islets teeming with gourds, pumpkins, brinjals and various vegetables, reaches a point where a magnificent chinar stands on an island with a solitary house which commands a grand view. On the opposite side is an island called Bata Mazir, rearing Lombardy poplars on its bosom.

Here the waterway splits into three branches. The one on the right goes to Nishat Bagh, the left one spanned by the Ashai Bagh Bridge to Nigin (fewel) Bagh and the middle one to Shalamar. All floating gardens are concentrated in Dal Kotwal. Punting poles are driven into some of them to keep them steady. These poles afford vantage points for kingfishers and shrikes to pounce upon their prey.

What is a floating garden?

Along strip of land about twenty yards by one yard is cut off from the side of a swamp containing the matted roots of a bulrush bed, which is cut off from underneath, allowing a thickness of about two feet and a half, and the whole mass floats up. The floating mass is anchored to a boat and punted to a secure position. In course of time weeds and mud settle down on it and lo! we have a floating garden. Sometimes it happens that a farmer steals away a garden of his neighbour. The Kashmiri name for a floating garden is rad. These gardens yield tomatoes, cucumbers, musk and other kinds of melons. The manure used is the rotting pond-weeds in coils.

In late July the blossom of the lotus (Nelumbium speciosum) - pomposh - presents a most charming sight. The flower and the cup-like leaf are about a yard above the surface of the water. The fruit is eaten and the roots (nadru)- form the chief vegetable used by the townspeople during the winter months. The root-knots pounded and fried in oil are supposed to cure diarrhoea in children. The best lotus blossom can be seen in the southern portion of the Anchar Lake called Khushal Sar.

The bulrushes which grow in the swamps afford a safe shelter to reed-warblers, bitterns, moorhens and dabchicks. The interior of the green stem, called petsi-ladur and the pollen above the pappus, called dal masalah, are eaten. The pappus mixed with fine earth makes an excellent plaster called kalaron. In autumn the plant is mown down and used for mats.

A fragrant white lily (Nymphaea stellata) bomposh, which has great medicinal qualities, is found among the bulrushes. It is used in various forms of concoctions with other herbs. The stamen mixed with sugar is said to be good for the blood. The long stem dried and stewed with dried fish is used as a table delicacy. Its fruit kenabob is eaten. The Nymphaea alba is another variety of this flower.

Some islands are covered with quince trees which are of two varieties, the sour and the sweet. The sweet variety is highly beneficial for coughs. Jams are prepared from the fruit as well as the flowers. The leaves of this tree used as tea are said to be good for chest troubles. The seeds of both kinds used in decoctions have a lubricating effect on the digestive organs and make excellent cool drinks.

The narrow channels between islands where the water is still are full of a cordate-leafed plant (Limnanthemum nymphoides) called khor, which is the chief fodder for cows in summer and increases their supply of milk.

There is another plant Hydrocharis morsus-ranae (Bhota khor) which is prolific in still waters. One of the most important aquatic herbs is Trapa bispinosa (water chestnut) which is called singhara or gor. The fruit is eaten raw after peeling, or is roasted. It is found in large quantities in the Wular Lake where it is dried, husked and turned into flour. It is a nerve tonic and forms a specific diet for diabetes.

From Dal Kotwal the boat enters Bod Dal which looks like a sheet of aquamarine embossed with the emerald slab of Sona Lank. The two mountain peaks in the north-east, Mahadiv and Kotwal, stand like sentinels or as guardian saints to the lake. The pavilion of the Nishat Bagh beckons the wayfarer to come and be refreshed. On the left are conspicuous spots the hamlet of Hazrat Bal with a chinar grove, the home of night herons and Nasim Bagh.

The Sona Lank (Golden Island) is an artificial island occupying a central position in the lake. It was made as a haven where boats could be anchored during a sudden storm. There are four chinars on the four corners, and lately a pavilion has been built which is surrounded by lilac bushes. Some garden flowers such as pansies, wall flowers and salvias have been planted. The pavilion should have been more artistic and preferably of stone. Possibly, a fisherman may be seen with his long spear furnished with seven barbed points scanning the depth of water for fish. Sometimes when it is dark he lights a lantern to attract them. The fishes generally found in the Lake are of four kinds:

1. Ail gad.
2. Kashir gad (it has a flat white body).
3. Chiriv.
4. Theta Gurun, the last named variety being generally found near the shore of the lake.
5. Parim gad (Mirror carp).
The whiskered terns skim along the surface of the water with their keen eyes in search of fish, and a pair of water-pheasants with white wings and a plume feather in the tail may be seen surveying the lake. Sometimes a crake may be heard in the bulrushes at the entrance to the canal leading to the Shalamir Bagh.

Lunch over, the boat moves beyond the eastern shore of the island over a rather weedy surface. On the way one may come across an aquatic plant, Euryale ferox, with orbicular leaves, densely thorny, green above and purple below. Each fruit of about 20 nuts is enclosed in a prickly pouch. The fruit roasted and eaten with, or stewed in milk, is a powerful nerve tonic. It is called, juwar in Kashmiri. The boat passes, under a picturesque bridge called Onta Kadal (Camel Bridge) with an artistic arch and just in front of the bridge is a spring in the lake where the water is weedless and dark blue. This part has become a miniature lake enclosed by causeways. It is generally full of pondweeds, Myriophyllum spicatum, fringed with willows and bulrushes. On Sundays boats throng the landing place of Nishat Bagh. After having tea on the velvety turf beds, amid flowers of diverse hues with Nature's transcendent glories meeting the eye on every side, one is transported to ethereal realms lost in an ecstasy of indescribable bliss. When the sun sets and sends the reflections of his red light on the fleecy clouds sailing in the sky, the boat leaves the ghat, and under the wooden bridge, Nali Kadal (Pipe Bridge) enters the Lokut Dal-a placid, tranquil sheet of water clasping the lovely Rupa Lank (Silver Island) which looks like a jewel in the head of a coiled serpent. The darting of fishes among the interwoven pondweed can easily be perceived through the transparent water. The bold outline of the Shalamar Range with Twin and Zabarwon peaks and the Shankarachar Hill with its stately temple, cast their shadows into the mirror-like pellucid lake. In early spring the slopes of these mountains, redolent with the fragrance of the almond blossom, the sunset and sunrise on the snow-draped mountain tops, the golden rape-seed fields offer a delicious feast to the senses of sight and smell but paralyse speech.

Kotar Khana (the House of Pigeons) is a delightfully turfed headland with summer houses-an abode of peace and serenity. It is beautifully decked with garden flowers and there is an aquatic bed of imported red, yellow and white water lilies in its foreground. I would suggest the plantation of the giant water lily of tropical South America here. This flower has a diameter of one foot and a round leaf three feet in diameter with upturned edges.

The boat enters through the narrow neck of water into the Gagribal Dal which is the nearest place for bathing. Here are bathing boats and motor launches to give people a surf-ride. Every effort is made to keep the water free from weeds. The water of Gagribal is highly praised for its lightness and purity.

Sometimes a sudden squall overcasts the, sky with dark heavy clouds; the surface of the lake turns murky, the raindrops create myriads of bubbles and the pattering of rain on lotus and lily leaves produces a mine of pearls. This in lovers' language is called Siyah Bahar (Dark Delight). Such a scene cannot but send a thrill of ecstatic rapture through the frame of the onlooker.

The lake narrows into a channel from Gagribal. On the left is the boulevard with its grand hotels and graceful houses, while on the right are bulrush beds and islets with willow groves which provide ideal harbours for house-boats. Fancy could not picture more lovely retreats for rest and relaxation. What a joy it is to be in a shikara and have lunch or tea under a shady willow grove, surrounded by bulrushes whence issue the strident notes of the reed-warbler, whose hanging nest is seen entwining round the rushes! Close by a moorhen with red beak and white tail darts off or a dabchick emerges or a little bittern comes out to gaze at you with long neck and pointed beak, while from the trees flow out the soothing notes of a golden oriole, a ring-dove or a thrush. The mountain ranges around with various shades of blues and browns present an unforgettable flash of colour to the wondering eye.

It is a pleasant experience to watch the boys performing aquatic feats on the bosom of Gagribal Dal. These feats were introduced by the late Rev. Canon C. E. Tyndale-Biscoe in 1891 in his school. The sports flat race, hand race, standing race etc., took place every Tuesday at about 5 o'clock in the summer. The schools were divided into houses and the crews wore the colours of their respective houses. The outstanding event, in these sports was the sinking of the fleet, when all the boats at a whistle turn turtle, the crews set them right again, baled out the water with their paddles, and were back in their positions in 3 min. The band played 'God save the King', and His Highness saluted and all the crews stood up with raised paddles. Now these aquatic feats are performed by the boys of the Government schools and the state band entertains the spectators.

What a fascinating pastime it is to come out at night at the prow or on the flat roof of a house-boat to observe the various constellations! What a satisfaction it is to recognise some of the glorious luminaries of the firmament and call them by name! The angular height of the Pole Star from Srinagar is about 34 deg. N. The two constellations, Ursa Major (Ursa = a bear, Major = great) and Cassiopeia (Lady's Chair) lie on opposite sides of the Pole Star. The Great Bear is known in Kashmir by the name of Sapta Reshi and the Pole Star by Dhruva. To find out the Pole Star join the two stars of the quadrangle of the Great Bear, called pointers, draw a line in imagination that will pass through the Pole Star. Or trisect the big angle of Cassiopeia which is in the form of a W; the trisector will pass through the Polaris. The Pole Star itself forms the tail of Ursa Minor (Little Bear). The Auriga (Charioteer) with its bright star Capella (the Goat) with a dim isosceles triangle, called 'Kids', close to it, Perseus (the King) with their opposite on the other side Draco (the Dragon) are some of the circumpolar constellations. The point of the trapezium of the Little Bear if produced will pass through Vega the brightest star of Lyre (the harp) and the tail of the Great Bear if lengthened will pass through Arcturus the brightest star of Bootes (the Eagle). There is a small star close to the middle one of the tail of the Great Bear. It is called Arandati by the Kashmiris. There is a local superstition that anybody who cannot see this star, is likely to die within six months.
 
 

Kashmiri Overseas Association
Srinagar & its Environs