Dal - A Lake Made Of Lakes
Dal Lake is, initially, one of the most confusing parts of Srinagar for it's not really one lake at all, but three. Further more much of it is hardly what one would expect a lake to be like - it's a maze of intricate waterways and channels, floating islands of vegetation, houseboats that look so firmly moored they could almost be islands and hotels on islands which look like they could simply float away.
Dal Lake lies immediately to the east and north of Srinagar and stretches over 5-km. The lake is divided into Gagribal, Lokut Dal and Bod Dal by a series of causeways.
Nagin Lake, which is usually thought of as a separate lake, is also divided from Dal Lake only by a causeway. The causeways are mostly suitable for walkers and bicycles only so they make a very pleasant way of seeing the lake without having to worry about traffic or Shikaras.
The main causeway across the lake carries the water pipeline for Srinagar's main water supply. Dal gate, at the city end of Dal Lake, controls the flow of the lake into the Jhelum river canal. It's the steady flow of water through the lake, combined with its relatively cold temperature, which keeps it so clear looking.
The largest group of houseboats lies along the western edge of the lake near the lakeside boulevard, towards Dal gate. They are lined in looping rows and around small islands. Several hotels can also be found on flat islands in the lake. Beyond the houseboats to the northwest are the floating gardens.
Attractions Around Dal Lake
There are three islands in the lake; three real islands anyway, there are other sorts of islands joined by causeways. Around the lake are many of Srinagar's most interesting sights, in particular the pleasant Mughal gardens. It's also flanked by hills, particularly along its east bank. The Shankaracharya hill provides a very fine view over the lake.
Have A Swim!
The waters of Dal Lake are amazingly clear. Nevertheless one is advised not to go swimming in the lake although the swimming houseboats, equipped with diving boards and chutes, are moored in a deeper part of the lake, 'upstream' from the concentration of houseboats. Swimming here can be quite refreshing, especially on a hot afternoon. One will undoubtedly be joined by a number of Indians, including Hindu women who swim in their saris.
The lake is probably at its most beautiful when the lotus flowers bloom in July and August. The floating gardens, known as "Rad" in Kashmiri, are one of the stranger aspects of Dal Lake. They're composed of matted vegetation and earth, which are cut away from the lake bottom and towed to a convenient location where they are moored. Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Melons all grow amazingly well in these gardens, if one look underneath one can see that they do literally float on the lake. One can also approach the floating gardens by road; the boulevard runs along the eastern edge of the lake, providing fine views all the way.
One will often see weeds being pulled up out of the lake - this serves a double purpose. The lake waterways are kept clear and the weeds are rotted until they form excellent compost for the gardens. The shallowness of the lake and its heavy growth of waterweeds is probably the main reason there are so very few powered boats on the water. Dal Lake would be nowhere near as pleasant if there were powerboats rushing back and forth across its tranquil surface.
There are many tours around the lake but by far the best way to see it is to take a Shikara for a day and do a circuit of the Mughal gardens. At a reasonable price, there's hardly any other lazier and more pleasurable way of getting into the swing of Srinagar.