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Staying on A Houseboat in Kashmir | Ummi Goes Where?

What You Need to Know About Staying on a Houseboat on Dal Lake, Srinagar

A houseboat is a boat that has been designed or modified to be used primarily as a home. It is not to be confused with a boathouse, which is a shed for storing boats — although I wouldn’t mind staying in that either.

Srinagar houseboat in Kashmir India | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Oyo

In India, houseboats have become a popular form of accommodation for tourists, particularly in Kashmir and Kerala.

 

Houseboats in Srinagar, Kashmir

Unlike in Kerala, where houseboats can take you on overnight cruises in the backwaters and out to sea, houseboats in Kashmir are stationary.

The tourist houseboats in Kashmir are usually attached by wooden planks to the owners’ family houseboats. This allows them to easily attend to the guests, do the housekeeping and deliver food.

 

Some of these houseboats have been around for over 100 years. They are made of very durable woods and usually have intricately carved wood panelings.

The houseboat people love these intricate patterns so much that almost every surface on the houseboat is covered with them — from the walls to the ceiling to the curtains to the upholstery — giving you a major sensory overload (just like everything else in India).

How to Get to Dal Lake, Srinagar

Most of the houseboats in Kashmir are located on Dal Lake in a city called Srinagar. A common way to get there is by taking the train or bus to Jammu, followed by a taxi to Srinagar and the lake. There are also direct buses from Delhi to Srinagar, if you don’t mind a journey that takes almost 24 hours.

If you prefer traveling by air, Srinagar Airport (Sheikh ul Alam Airport) is served by several domestic and international airlines including IndiGo, SpiceJet, Go Air, and Air India. There are frequent flights from Delhi and Mumbai, which may include a stopover in Jammu. From Srinagar Airport, you can take a taxi to the lake, costing around Rs 550.

Please note that due to security issues, foreign travelers are required to register upon arrival at the airport or at their accommodation.

How Much Does it Cost to Stay on a Kashmiri Houseboat?

There are hundreds of houseboats on Dal Lake — some are backpacker-friendly while some boast 5-star facilities. And they are priced accordingly. The rate could range anywhere from Rs 200 to Rs 6,000 per room per night, and for Rs 6,000 and above, you could also rent the whole houseboat.

Some of the houseboats are individually owned, but most of them are part of a bigger group, owned or co-owned by companies that handle the bookings, marketing, etc. In August 2018, I visited Srinagar with my travel partner and we stayed for three nights with the Snowgoose Group of Houseboats for Rs 1,710.

How to Book a Houseboat Stay in Srinagar

During off-peak seasons, it’s possible to just turn up at Dal Lake without any booking. There will be touts or shikara rowers who will take you to the houseboats that they are affiliated with, from which they will get a commission for every guest they bring.

Of course, this will also mean that you will be at their mercy. You might get overcharged, or taken to a really crummy houseboat that couldn’t get any customer. Unfortunately, you can’t really shop around for the best houseboat on your own unless you rent a boat. Or swim.

Shikara touts in dal lake, Kashmir | Ummi Goes Where?
 Shikaras (water taxis). Credit: Make My Trip

So, the best way is to book a houseboat in advance through booking apps like Booking.com. You will only pay the advertised rate, and on top of that, you can see pictures of the room and read reviews from previous guests.

Snowgoose Group of Houseboats

The Snowgoose Group of Houseboats is in charge of several houseboats in the area. The manager, whom we had been communicating with prior to our arrival, wasn’t around during our visit, so instead, we were entertained by a man named Jaz.

He took us to our houseboat, which was owned and manned by his father. It had four rooms (each one with an en-suite bathroom), a kitchen, and a living room.

Every bathroom had a Western-style toilet, a bathtub, a sink, and hot water. This was a pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting something more primitive, like a squat toilet and maybe just a bucket of water from the lake for showering.

The toilet in houseboat in Srinagar Kashmir | Ummi Goes Where?
The bathroom in the houseboat in Srinagar.

Because we were their only guests at the time, we got the biggest room — with two beds. For the price we were paying, I think it was good enough.

My only complaint, if any, was that there were frequent power outages, although of course, this was not their fault. But it was horrible during the day because it could get really hot and stuffy in the room without a fan. 

Room in houseboat in Srinagar | Ummi Goes Where?
Our room on the houseboat. There was another bed in the corner, from where I took this pic.

An Unpleasant Experience in Kashmir

The owner of the houseboat, whom we called Baba, was the one who ran the place, but we dealt mostly with his son, Jaz. Jaz was a gregarious 30-year-old man (married, with one kid), who lived in Delhi but came to visit every few months.

He offered us a package that — he said — would include:

  • A 3-night stay on the houseboat, inclusive of meals
  • Free shikara rides throughout our stay
  • A full-day tour around Srinagar
  • A visit to a carpet factory
  • A 3d2n camping trip in Naranag (inclusive of meals and transportation)
  • Bus tickets from Srinagar to Delhi
  • A full-day tour in Delhi
  • An airport transfer in Delhi

The price he offered was reasonable. It wasn’t too expensive but wasn’t ridiculously cheap either, otherwise we would have seen it as a red flag.

Behind his father’s back, Jaz smoked one joint after another, sharing it with our driver, Mansoor. My partner and I don’t smoke but we generally tolerate people who do.

However, Jaz thought it was fun to blow the smoke in our faces and laugh at our ‘cute reaction’. When we didn’t find it as amusing as he did, he simply did it again, and again, saying, “Sorry, it’s my habit”.

Srinagar tour, Kashmir
At the beginning of our Srinagar tour.

The Srinagar City Tour

As it turned out, our ‘full-day’ Srinagar tour lasted only a few hours because the weather was ‘too hot’ for him. We also ended up going to an expensive restaurant that he insisted on and having to pay for his lunch (which he said he would pay back later but never did).

Now I don’t have a problem with buying someone lunch, but don’t tell me you’re going to pay me back if you don’t intend to.

The Camping Trip in Naranag

The day before our camping trip, Jaz told us he was going to the market to buy our food supply (chicken and beef for barbecue, eggs, bread, biscuits, large bottles of water and soft drinks, and lots of fruits).

However, when the day came, the only meat we had was chicken, which was just enough for one meal. For the remainder of the trip, our meals only consisted of rice with potatoes, onion, and dhal, which in itself wouldn’t have been a problem (we’re not picky eaters), but we felt cheated by all of his empty promises.

Kitchen tent in Naranag
The mountain guides preparing our meal.

There was no beef or bread or biscuits or large bottles of soft drinks as promised. The only things he brought were chicken, eggs, some banana, and a small bottle of Mountain Dew that he already drank half of.

Later in the night, he bought another small bottle of Coke, half of which he offered to us, and the other half he used as a mixer for his rum.

We found out that the rest of the money had been spent on his cigarettes, hash, and alcoholic drinks to try to get me drunk so I would sleep with him. He himself got drunk and kept trying to touch me even after being repeatedly told no.

He did apologize for this the next morning, saying it was a one-off thing, that he had never got drunk on the job before, that he didn’t know what got into him last night, that he lost control because I was so beautiful and he was having problems with his wife, blah blah blah — all the typical stuff men like him would say — and then did the exact same thing the next night.

He even confessed to buying a box of condoms to bring on the trip. 

On a horse in Naranag
Me, the poor horse, and Jaz.

The Journey from Srinagar Back to Delhi

Our bus to Delhi was canceled because of a riot that caused the government to cancel all interstate bus services. So, we had to fork out more money to pay for a shared taxi to Jammu, followed by a sleeper bus from Jammu to Delhi.
 
Sleeper bus from Jammu to Delhi
On the sleeper bus to Delhi.
 
To top it off, Jaz also canceled our Delhi city tour and airport transfer because he thought it would be ‘troublesome to arrange to meet with the driver’ since we didn’t have a local SIM card or internet connection. Instead, he gave us two metro cards, which he said had sufficient balance to get us around Delhi and to the airport.
 
It turned out that one of the cards had expired and the other one only had 28 rupees (USD 0.40) on it. We contacted to Jaz to complain about this, and he promised to refund us the money for both the Delhi bus and the city tour into our bank accounts later in the week (yeah, right).
 
[UPDATE: He still hasn’t refunded our money, making excuses after excuses, but had the cheek to invite me to meet him in Goa, offering to pay for my tickets and expenses as long as I came alone and ‘be romantic’ with him.]

Final Thoughts

Despite the annoyances I experienced with Jaz, I still wrote a good review for the houseboat, solely because of the father, the kindly old man who treated us like his own children, and who was unaware of what his son was up to.

So, if you want to stay at Snowgoose, I wouldn’t advise against it (as I don’t know if the other houseboat companies are any better) but please DO NOT take any tour package from Jaz and do not get in the car if a guy named Mansoor is driving (I didn’t get a photo of him unfortunately). He was always high and/or drunk. It’s only a matter of time before he drives his car off a cliff.

Staying on a houseboat in Srinagar Kashmir | Ummi Goes Where?
With the father (owner of the houseboat) whom we called Baba.

Staying on a houseboat is definitely a unique way to experience Kashmir. The only downside is that you can’t come and go as easily as you’d like. You need to call a shikara to take you to dry land. Your houseboat owner might have a small shikara of their own that you can rent or borrow, but this may not always be available, especially if there are other guests on that houseboat.

Alternatively, you can get a houseboat that is moored right by the banks, where you can get on land as soon as you step out of your door — although I think that kind of defeats the purpose of staying on a houseboat.

Have you ever slept in a houseboat or something similar? Did you like it? Share your story in the comment section below.

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22 Comments

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  3. Tekkaus

    This will indeed be a once in a lifetime experience for a lot of people. You are really enjoying your life with adventure and travels. This will be one of the many roads that not many are willing to take, let alone experience.

    • ummi

      Thanks, Tekkaus. I always love trying things that are unique to a particular place, it’s really a fun way to make my travels more meaningful. 🙂

  4. Fas

    Yes I have experienced sleeping in house boats when I was still a kid with family. We were in New Delhi as my dah was transfered there. Dad drove all the way to Kashmir from New Delhi.. the movie dad took made me remember my childhood days.. now mum n dad is gone but the memory still stays…Kashmir was cold then…good memories!

    • ummi

      Love reading about your childhood experiences in foreign lands, kak Fas. You were a well-traveled kid! And I agree — memory stays forever, which is why I would rather spend money on memories rather than materials. 🙂

  5. bae roslan

    what an experience you had. jahat lah Jaz. thank god u back and safe. i’ve experienced slept in a house boat in malaysia, outside tak pernah.

  6. Mahamahu

    Wow houseboat is very impressive and also interesting outside and inside it is spacious and comfortable the best can go and and also spend the night in the houseboat …

    • ummi

      Memang, I sampai sekarang pun tak abis geram lagi. Nak tulis bad review, kesian pulak kat ayah dia, baik. Nasib baik I dengan member, bukan sorang.

    • ummi

      Thanks, Grace. I’m still pretty annoyed, honestly. If I see him again, I’m still going to demand my money back hahhaha. But the houseboat experience was really cool.

    • ummi

      Ye, Wawa, seronok duduk houseboat ni. Kalau pergi dengan family atau member2 mesti lagi best. Sewa satu houseboat terus. Cuma harap2 jangan terjumpa dengan orang macam Jaz tu la, ya.

    • ummi

      Terima kasih, Ruby, kerana selalu memberi komen positif dan membina. Houseboat ni memang best sebab deko tradisional, dan kita dapat merasa sendiri cara hidup penduduk di Dal Lake, Srinagar.

  7. Mk

    I am sorry to hear about your experience in Kashmir, mostly what people are doing is initially offering cheap prices for the stay then looting other ways that’s what I called hunting. Hunter always found of hunting. But what really matters is hosting and nice treatment for our respective guests. People like him won’t raise in tourism industry and wouldn’t able to stay long. Unprofessionalism and careless will dark our tourism business as we say one cruel fish ruin whole ocean same as that case. I felt apologize from the houseboat community. I hope next you come will have better experience from Kashmir!

    Stay safe!

    • ummi

      Hi, MK! Thank you so much for your comment. But don’t worry — I’m not entirely turned off by the houseboat experience because of that one person. Like you said, what matters is the hospitality given, and we did receive that from the father. We were just unfortunate enough to meet the son.

      I’d love to visit Srinagar (and the rest of Kashmir) again, preferably in winter to see what it’s like. I’ve seen so many beautiful pictures of it. Perhaps you could share your houseboat details here, for my future reference. 🙂

      You stay safe too!

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