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The Lead: The Kashmiri Shikara rows alone in Dal Lake

DH Radio | The Lead: The Kashmiri Shikara rows alone in the Dal Lake

 Locals row their boats through a lotus garden during rainy weather, at Dal Lake in Srinagar. Credit: PTI Photo

This episode of The Lead from DH Radio focuses on the status of the famed Shikarawalas of Srinagar's Dal lake during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Excerpts from the podcast:

Ahmed Shariff: What is the state of the Shikara boat owners now, when tourism is at a standstill during the pandemic?
Zulfikar Majid: Many of them are selling vegetables, fruit and some are going for daily labour to sustain their living. However, due to Covid-19 pandemic, finding daily labour has also become difficult. Many Shikara owners say they are in the process of selling their boats but this time there is no one to buy them.

Ahmed:  How do they generally operate?
Zulfikar: Shikara is a wooden boat used for the transport of people and goods in the lakes all over Kashmir. In the famous Dal lake in Srinagar, they are painted in bright colours and are used by tourists for a boat ride in the lake. It can seat 4 people and boatman rows from the upper bow.

Ahmed: In the present times, have they found any alternatives to sustain themselves?
Zulfikar: As I said earlier, many of them are selling vegetables, fruit and some are going for daily labour to sustain their living. But that is not sufficient for them to sustain and there are reports that several boatmen are selling their household items to meet both ends.

Ahmed: How long does it take for one to build a Shikara, is this also something which is traditional and gets passed down the generations?
Zulfikar: A boat is usually made out of Cedarwood which can withstand damage from being in the water for long periods. There are few master craftsmen left, who can build boats. All the others have passed away in the last six decades, taking their knowledge with them. It takes the master craftsmen 10 to 12 days to build a normal boat.

Ahmed: Are tourists the only source of income to the Shikara owners?
Zulfikar: Yes mostly the boatmen in Dal lake were dependent on tourists. However, the boats are also used to ferry vegetables which are produced in the interiors of the lake.

Ahmed: Now, let's listen to the conversation that Zulfikar had with Farooq Ahmad Dar, Shikara walla (boatman) at Dal lake.

Zulfikar: What have you been doing for the past year?
Farooq Ahmad Dar: It has been a year since we are without work.

Zulfikar: So how do you earn and how do you manage your household expenditures?
 Farooq: I am doing some labour work which is hard to get. I have also some ailment in my eyes for which I need treatment. Most of the time I am sitting at home as there is no work. If I get one or two days of labour work in a week, that is how we are managing the expenses. That is how life is moving on …

Zulfikar: How was the situation when militancy was at its peak in the 1990s? Was it different from today?
Farooq: Those days also we suffered as tourist arrivals were at its lowest. But at least we could get labour work during those times. Now after Covid-19 lockdown, even finding labour work is also difficult. Even earning Rs 10 has become a difficult job.

Zulfikar: Are any tourists from outside coming to Kashmir these days?
 Farooq: No for the last six months it is nil.

To know more about the conversation, listen to the podcast