The Famous Floating Vegetable Market on Dal Lake, Kashmir, India
Dal Lake, the Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir
One of the largest tourist attractions in India is Dal Lake, situated in Kashmir. Spreading over an area of 18–22 square kilometers, the vast sheet of water reflects the carved wooden balconies of houseboats and the misty peaks of the Pir Panjal mountains. The effect is truly stunning.
During the Mughal period, the Lake Shore served as the summer resort of the Mughal Emperors. The Lake, also known as "Lake of Flowers" or "Jewel in the crown of Kashmir" is famous for its scenic location and its floating vegetable market, and thousands of people live on its shores.
Floating Vegetable Garden
The Sabji Bazaar (meaning vegetable market) is the prime fascination for tourists in the valleys of Kashmir. It is an unorganized market where individual sellers gather in the center of the lake at the break of day and wrap up just as the sunlight touches the water.
It the second-largest wholesale market in the world, the first being the one in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. The floating market gained international attention in 1960 when a Japanese photographer featured it in a tourist guide that was published in Japan.
All the items sold here are produced in the floating gardens situated in the same lake. The suppliers of this market start their day at 4.00 am, heading to their floating gardens to reap their harvest. The freshly uprooted vegetables are then taken to the Sabji Bazar situated at the center of Dal Lake.
There are no permanent shops on the lake. The local traders conduct their usual business in this floating market with the help of their boats. They row through the water by sitting in the front of their canoes in a cross-legged position, protecting themselves from the outside cold using long sweaters.
This bazaar (market) is one of the few places where the barter system is still practiced in India. Partially adopting the traditional exchange system with the local traders, it also accepts the modern currency system for tourists and vendors.
This market doesn't encourage selective or partial selling of items; it focuses instead on selling wholesale. The items for sale include tomatoes, carrots, turnips, leafy vegetables, and the famous nadru (lotus roots, a delicacy in the Kashmir Valley), all sown in the rich ecosystem of this wetland. The popular Kashmir flowers are also produced and sold in this market.
There is a rush of sellers and vendors at the crack of the day, and as the clock hits seven in the morning, the crowd vanishes and the place becomes silent as if the market never existed. Any vegetables left over after the haggling and exchange process are taken to street markets.
The most interesting fact about this lake is that the two-and-half-hour market has an annual turnover estimated to be in the range of Rs. 35 crores (almost $5,000,000 USD!).
A Small Tourist Guide
There is no better way to experience the authentic lifestyle of the local Kashmiris (people belonging to Kashmir) than from the comfort of a shikara (boat). Book an early-morning ride to the floating market, and don't forget to taste the local Kashmir tea during the shikara ride. Also, buy some fresh carrots grown in the floating gardens from the bazaar.
After witnessing the famous market, take a leisurely two-hour ride through the local canals to see the beauty of Dal Lake and the nature bounded by Pir Panjal mountains in a never-ending view.
As a tourist, I stayed in a houseboat. The houseboats surrounding this lake are a legacy of British tourism in India. The story of this surprising inheritance is as follows. Before independence, during the Dogra rule of Kashmir, the British were not allowed to build houses in the valley. So to overcome this rule, the British ordered the building of lavish houseboats, each with elaborate walnut-wood carvings and splendid open decks. These houseboats are called "a little piece of England afloat on Dal."
The cold breeze kept me shivering throughout my Shikara ride. My driver Mr. Yusaf offered me the traditional Kashmiri tea to fight the cold. Further rowing through the interior, I witnessed the beautiful view of the sky turning white from dark. I could see houses that open up to the lake. The only mode of transportation to these houses is by shikara. The people here are all dressed in traditional clothing and sweaters. As a whole, it was a great journey that filled my heart.— An experience of the author.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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