First Light on Dal Lake, Srinagar
“…Kashmir is my last resort. I think, if I truly deserve it one day, I should go there and stay there for quire a long while. Or, if I really need it at any point it should be my haven, my Shangri-La .”
Equipment: Fujifilm XT2, 23mm f1.4
Location: Dawn market Dal Lake, Srinagar.
Photographic Journey: Photographic Journey to Kashmir
Of all the Photographic Journeys I undertake, my favourite is Kashmir. I wouldn’t mind staying here for a lengthy time. I ponder over one of the special moments on our Photographic Journey.
It is just before 630am on a cold November morning. I make my way quietly through the pitch-dark houseboat on the icy Dal Lake and tip toe carefully past the ‘housekeeper’ who is asleep on the floor by the sliding doors.
Slowly, silently, pulling the doors apart, I make my way outside and the cold blast blowing down from the Himalayas meets you like a solid wall of ice, forcing you to pause and step back for a moment.
My shikara paddler was booked to be at the pontoon at 630 to give us enough time to paddle over to the other side of the lake. In the darkness I see a small light flickering and reflecting and recognise it as the trusty paddler I’ve had for the last 2 days.
The angular shape of the shikara becomes clearer through the gloom and watery mist and I can just hear the soft splash as he makes the last few paddle strokes and ties the boat on the white frosted icy pontoon.
We were soon heading off into the darkness, and out beyond, where the houseboats moor permanently to accommodate the sadly declining number of travellers to this beautiful unchanged corner of India.
In the dugout of the shikara there is a small urn of hot ash at your feet and it tries hard to defy the cold damp air that is turning your breath to warm damp mist.
The rhythmic gentle sound of the sploshing of the paddle is gently met with the first haunting azan of this Srinagar day, echoing ethereally across the still cold, dark, water.
In response, soon, each mosque around the lake responds and adds their own azan. Some soft and distant. Others low, loud and near. A memorable moment.
A bright sun begins to rise over the green tree cover across the lake. The sky above the Himalayan foothills turns shades of pink, purple and gold. The first birds stir and counterpoint the Azan coda.
We are on our way to the dawn market, tucked into a small corner of the lake.
Local farmers, middlemen traders, flower and vegetable sellers meet up for a few short hours every day to trade.
We are early and pleased to be ready for the first and best pickings to arrive. We find a sheltered spot where we sip from a warm flask of tea and eat the bread from yesterday’s meal, glad of anything to help stave off the cold. As we sup the tea, one by one, two by two, the traders arrive in their small dug out shikaras overloaded with the days produce.
Here a boatload of colourful flowers ready for some religious ceremony across the lake. There, green leaf vegetables and coriander and there white turnips and brown root vegetables.
The photography capturing this market story is fantastic but second to the real experience of being there amid the sounds, smells and sights. Kashmir remains with you long after returning.
Some people have reservations about travelling to Kashmir but I never saw any or met any problems in Ladakh and Srinagar, and the experience is so rewarding. Our contacts were helpful, friendly and skilled, notably our local guide Aamir but also the film-maker Ruman Hamdani, who spent precious time with me to ensure we returned home happy and with hugely strong desires to return again soon.
Preferred route and travel to Jammu & Kashmir is via Dubai with Emirates. Daily flights from the UK’s major airport hubs connect seamlessly to Delhi where a stopover is usually always advisable, to rest, refresh and prepare for an early morning flight to Srinagar with either Vistara or GoAir.
The internal flights to Srinagar are cheap and plentiful but recently, of course, travel Kashmir has been affected by FCO advice to travellers with the recent unrest. Check your travel insurance policy carefully and make sure that you are staying within the advisory guidelines as set out by the FCO.