on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular


Story and photos by

Kashmir's wooden houseboats date back to the British Raj when the maharaja barred the British from owning property or building houses in Kashmir.

Srinagar houseboat interior
Srinagar houseboat interior
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The houseboats are large—80 to 125 feet (24 to 38 meters) in length. Ornately carved from deodar (Kashmir cedar), they retain a vintage colonial appearance, even though they have modern amenities. Lavishly decorated with chandeliers, Kashmiri handicrafts and handwoven carpets, they contain several bedrooms and a dining room.

Where can you find houseboats in Kashmir?

Today, about 800 of these floating accommodations are moored on lakeshores around Srinagar, the largest city in north India's Jammu and Kashmir region.

Most houseboats are located along the shores of Dal Lake, Nigeen (also spelled Nageen) Lake and Jhelum River.

When is the best time to stay in a houseboat?

The best months to stay in houseboats are from March to October. Although houseboats have heaters, November through February can be freezing cold, making touring less pleasant.

Dal Lake flower vendors paddle shikaras to houseboats
Dal Lake flower vendors paddle shikaras to houseboats
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

For this reason, winter houseboat rates are nearly half the price of high-season stays.

Shikara transportation

Local families look after the houseboats. Living in an adjoining kitchen boat, our staff included a cook and a boatman for our exclusive shikara—a small, paddled wooden boat.

Shikaras used to transport tourists have backrests, seats with padded cushions and a canopy.

We enjoyed cocktails on our houseboat's verandah, while admiring stunning views of the Himalayas over Dal Lake. Vendors selling colourful flowers paddled shikaras to our terrace.

What does it cost to stay in a houseboat?

Playing Kashmiri music on stringed instrument
Playing Kashmiri music on stringed instrument
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Houseboats are rated like hotels. To avoid disappointment, book a Deluxe houseboat rather than lower-class A, B, C and D houseboats.

Most houseboat guests book packages, ranging from two-to-six nights. Some houseboats serve breakfast only, so that you can try local restaurants. Others provide all meals. We preferred the delicious Kashmiri dishes, but you can also request international cuisine.

What to see & do near the houseboats

Don't miss a shikara tour of Dal Lake and an early-morning visit to the floating vegetable market. You can also visit (in season) Asia's largest tulip garden (the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden), as well as several botanical gardens and the Jamia Masjid mosque, built with 350 wooden pillars.

After dinner, our shikara transported us past illuminated houseboats to a doonga boat where we joined other guests for evening entertainment. Seated on cushions, we listened to Kashmiri singers and musicians playing stringed instruments. Servers poured us kahwah—Kashmiri green tea, flavoured with saffron, cinnamon and cardamom—from a silver samovar.

It was an evening to remember.


Other things to see and do in India:

India - Five Great Reasons to Visit