A Shikara Ride around Dal Lake: Militarization of Kashmiri Waters

In under two minutes of the shikara starting to row on the Dal Lake, we were asked to stop as a motorboat passed us, carrying soldiers from the Central Reserve Police Force.

The world-famous Dal Lake has been a tourist attraction for decades now. Even during the peak of armed resistance in the valley, tourists never stopped thronging this magnificent natural wonder located right in the heart of the Srinagar city.

Although I was born and raised in Kashmir, it wasn’t until recently that I got to take the famous “Shikara Ride” around the lake myself. I was accompanied by a non-Kashmiri friend who was on a trip to the valley and it was this friend who pushed me for the shikara ride. However, after this, we continued our ride through the majestic waters and entered the backwater colony of the lake.

The Shikara Ride

We booked a Shikara from Ghat Number 13 and started our ride. While my friend was instantly in awe of the magnificence of the lake, we were instantly reminded that even on water, we were not free to roam as we pleased. In under two minutes of the shikara starting to row, we were asked to stop as a motorboat passed us, carrying soldiers from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

This place portrayed an eerie calm. The shops, the shopkeepers, the shikara owners, and even the waters looked tense. Everyone and everything looked like it was weighing everything it said or did, a million times before saying or doing it. Every aspect of life looked like it was under surveillance. As we moved further into the colony, we got to know the source of this tension and the feeling of being constantly watched. A CRPF camp right in the heart of Dal Lake. lake.

This camp was a little different from the ones on land. Firstly, they had motorboats for patrolling cars, which was obvious. The building, which must have been a hotel before being encroached by the CRPF, was wrapped in layers of heavy camouflage net and concertina. What was surprising was that there were signboards all around the camp that said “No Fishing in This Area”.

These signboards become more important in light of the fact that the primary occupation of people living in this colony, is fishing, besides rowing the shikara boats. It is also noteworthy that with the making of shikaras and houseboats becoming a lost art, fishing is slowly and steadily taking over as the major occupation of these people. The bottom line of this journey, which lasted 2 hours and was marked with a constant and strong military presence, was the reaction of my friend and not mine.

For me, the presence of CRPF everywhere and anywhere in the order of the day and hence normal, but for my friend, who is based out of Delhi, seeing a CRPF camp on the water was a unique experience altogether. Throughout the journey, he kept asking, what is the need for CRPF on the Dal Lake? Why is the camp in the middle of a locality? Is Dal Lake a security hazard in any way? Although I really wanted to answer all these queries, the truth is that I didn’t have any answers. A militarized lake in a militarized land.

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