New Jacquline Heritage Houseboat at Nigeen Lake, Srinagar was our abode for a night but it gave us memories of a lifetime. I went to Srinagar with my family for a night. We were headed towards the skiing destination Gulmarg and wanted to explore the famous Kashmiri houseboats at Srinagar. We went to Srinagar towards the end of December. The air was piercing chilly, the surroundings were full of fog, but there were no signs of snow. At minus 5 degrees locals were hoping that it would snow in Srinagar soon. So were we! Though weather forecasts mentioned otherwise.
Gulmarg is a 2 hours drive from Srinagar. After a lot of research we zeroed in on New Jacquline Heritage Houseboat at Nigeen Lake, Srinagar for our stay. Nigeen Lake was our obvious choice as we wanted some peaceful time. Dal Lake being the tourist hub was way too busy for our taste. After landing at Srinagar airport, it took us almost an hour to reach the houseboat which is 17 kms away. The local private taxis usually charge between Rs 800 to 900 for the same. We hired a local driver who took us next to Nigeen Lake club from the airport. It was our boarding point of Shikara which was scheduled to take us to the houseboat. It took us 15 minutes to reach across the lake to our houseboat.
The ferry boatman of the Shikara greeted us (arranged by the houseboat) and took us across Nigeen Lake to reach the houseboat. As the boatman ferried us across Nigeen Lake, we realised how quite it was. The velvety water reflected the setting sun. The only noise was the splash of water and a few chirping birds. It was 4 in the evening. The water looked like a mirror as it reflected a line of houseboats docked at the bank and Chinar trees lined up behind them. As we neared New Jacquline Houseboat, we were mesmerised by its beauty. I somehow knew that very instant that the decision to book a night at the houseboat was brilliant in spite of the bone chilling cold. We got down from the Shikara and were escorted inside the houseboat. We had booked the best suite and it was definitely special.
We were taken to our room which was decently big and had an attached bathroom. The fittings in the bathroom were luxe and the decor of the room reflected the authentic Kashmiri decor. Paper mash vases, wooden carvings, warm fur blankets, velvet bed covers, beautiful carpets; you name it and it was there. Everything spelled comfort and luxury. The bed had wooden posts with beautiful carvings. It was decorated with fancy laces. We were greeted with a bowl of fresh fruits (apples, bananas), a plate of Kaju Katli and a jug of mixed fruit fresh juice. In the freezing cold, we just let go off the juice. But ate everything else offered. We realised it was important to keep warm as the temperatures fell.
The houseboat consisted of a living room which had a charcoal wood heater, a dinning room where our dinner and breakfast was served (included in the per night charge), a lobby leading to the rooms. There were 3 more rooms in the houseboat. (Please see the video for more details). The food at the houseboat was homely but delectable. There were ample of choices in both veg and non veg dishes. As Kashmir is famous for its non-veg delicacies, we were treated to an authentic mini Wazwan and Kashmiri bread during our stay at the houseboat. Breakfast was also filling and made to order. Every hearty meal was started with a Bismillah!
Wazwan is a feast offered during marriages or celebrations in Kashmir. It usually consists of Rista, Gushtaba (meat balls cooked in red gravy or yogurt based gravy) Tabak maaz (deep fried lamb ribs with thick lard and crispy skin) and Lahabi kabab, etc. If you are keen to try Wazwan then you can also order a Wazwan platter at Ahdoos, one of the oldest restaurants in the city. Believe me we were in food coma at both the houseboat and the restaurant. Kashmir is also a food paradise.
The New Jacquline Heritage Houseboat had a porch facing the lake from where we could sit and observe the Shikaras passing by. There were few floating marketeers on the lake selling products and services on the Shikaras. Few were trying to sell us bags, hats, socks, jewellery and others were trying to sell us services like photography. It was annoying how they persistently tried to sell stuff to the tourists. But if you think from their point of view, tourists are their only source of income. The unrest in the valley has already caused their businesses big losses. Somewhere, I felt bad for them.
I also realised that the silk thread work, pashmina wear and paper mash utilities made in Srinagar are unmatched for their craftsmanship in the world. We bought a few items during our stay. They are extremely beautiful. For pashmina and woolens our houseboat owner Sami Ullah gave us the best deal. The quality and the craftsmanship of pashmina stoles and shawls brought from him are excellent. It was an added advantage to stay at their houseboat, I guess. We were invited to his home where he also treated us with authentic Kashmiri Kahwa. Absolute bliss!
Sami treats his guests like friends. He would often come and sit with us and tell us stories about their fishing and trekking expeditions. He also told us that his family has been in this business for over five generations. He told us about the difficulties faced in the houseboat business. The tourists pray for snowfall but for a houseboat owner it means sacrificing sleep and scrapping off snow from the roof of the houseboat all night long. Snow adds weight to the boat which might sink it further and might be unsafe for the guests and the boat. He said that the management and upkeep of a houseboat is difficult and expensive but a few families like his still believe is promoting their culture and heritage through these houseboats. His father, owner of the houseboat Mr Maqsood A Madari also met us and is a very friendly person.
A few drawbacks observed during our stay were, that the room heater was switched on only in the late evening as it was oil based and wouldn’t have lasted throughout the night if switched on earlier. So till the heater was switched on in our room we were feeling extremely cold even under the blankets. The only alternative was to sit in the living room where the fire heater was burning. We did spend a considerable amount of our evening chit chatting in the living room. Another drawback was hot water coming through the tap very late. When the temperatures fall so low, water in the pipes freezes which at times poses difficulties in its flow. The hot water in the pipe also took very long to come out of the tap. These are minor glitches occurring due to extreme weather conditions which can be overlooked if you are looking at an excellent houseboat stay. The meheman-navazi (hospitality) of the houseboat staff and owners was impeccable. They tried to make our stay comfortable in every possible way. In Sami’s words, “Inshaallah” we would visit them again in the future.
Will I recommend staying at New Jacquline Heritage Houseboat? Absolutely yes! What do you guys think? Have you ever stayed on a houseboat? Do share your experiences.
All the images have been produced after necessary permissions from Sami Ullah.