â€œShauk se karoâ€ (Do as you please, enjoy the experience) the same dramatic greeting. The overtly polite tone. The bright colours. The tacky yet romantic seating. And the pride in his eyes as he takes you around what he clearly cherishes â€“ the Dal lake.
I had first laid eyes on the Dal lake as a wide-eyed 6-year-old, on a family trip to Kashmir. The idea of a shikara and being on a waterbody for so long had been a novelty.
Twenty-five years is generally is a long enough period for a place to go through an upheaval. Its long enough for a place to feel nothing like before. Not so the Dal lake of Kashmir! Countryside Kashmir
As we got to Srinagar on our first long term travel â€“ time seemed to have stood still at the Dal lake. A ride in the shikara over the Dal lake was the diametric opposite of the offbeat travel experience we were seeking. But standing on the Boulevard road in Srinagar, seeing the houseboats parked in neat rows and the bright floral designs of the shikaras vying for our attention“ I knew we had to get on it.
An old man, with the customary cigarette in hand (we werenâ€™t aware how much the people of Kashmir loved their tobacco back then!) “ no it wasn't rude to blow smoke on the customers face when your greeting is so courteous and melodious“ welcomed us into the shikara. Showed us how to seat ourselves comfortably on the rather odd sized mattresses of the shikara. Now relax and enjoy the nazara (views). Let the Dal lake cast its spell on you.
We hadnâ€™t even gotten over the amusement of this entire setting when it all began.
No thank you, we dont want to buy anything.
Row a little further. Some more vendors selling chips and snacks row past. We give them a blind eye.
Aah, those flowers were too bright? How about these ones?
This couldâ€™ve got annoying. But his choice of words felt like the script of an old Bollywood movie. It was just too amusing to be annoying.
Kashmir ki kali literally translates to Flower of Kashmir! The obsession of the people of Kashmir with this movie made way back in 1964 is still intact. Generations have passed. But the young entrepreneurs of Dal lake are still heard referring to the same movie!
The professional attitude of these budding photographers impressed us. They might all shout out, Kashmir ki kali photos But their pitch is well prepared. They've done their homework.
First, they show you their portfolio. The photos of various women they've clicked (yes, wearing the exact same clothes!). But it says a lot about your convincing power when women from across the country agree to do this year after year.
You choose the dress depending on the shade of red and the amount of bling you prefer â€“ they have 2 or 3 options. These are accompanied with jewelry to match. Its clunky stuff, some of which you dont know how to wear, you've never seen it before. But there's nothing to worry. These guys are true entrepreneurs ât“ they are well versed in all aspects of the job.
Jewelry sorted, now the makeup. Whats a Kashmir ki kali without the red cheeks and bright red lips? Some touches here and there, and you are all set.
Or so you think. You aren't just going to leave you hands by your sides, are you? You've got to pick a prop ât“ a pot of water you've just fetched from the stream? Or maybe a bunch of flowers (plastic ones, mind you!)?
You are very kind, sir. Enjoy your stay in Kashmir. Come to my home for a cup of tea if you have the time!
Just like that, as you are doing the most touristy thing there can ever be, you are given a warm friendly invite into a strangers home. You now notice the young guy smiling before you. From a â€œphotographer on Dal lake, he transforms into an entrepreneur with dreams in his eyes.
All this while, he was creating a memory for you to carry back home. But the real memory you'll remember forever is the connection you made with him in those few moments.
Our shikara ride on the Dal lake was a severe case of dÃ©jÃ vu. It felt like a childhood memory calling out,Come, lets be that little girl again.