IIPM Admission

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Haroon Reshi courses around the floating market on Dal Lake and finds the commerce inconspicuous next to the spectacle...

Shaban Wani (64) wakes up at 3 AM every morning; he loads his small wooden boat with fresh vegetables cultivated in his floating garden (called Radh in the native language) at Dal Lake, and at 4 AM, paddles his vegetables-laden boat towards the floating market in the middle of the Lake for sale purposes. That is how Wani has been earning his livelihood for the past 50 years.

Wani, however, is not the only one making a living off the floating market – a one-of-its-kind market in India and only the third in the world after the famous ones in Vietnam (Mekong River) and Bangkok.

This market cluttered with rowing boats is at its best in the mornings, the air fragrant with freshly harvested vegetables, fruits and fish, not to mention the picturesque Valley scenery under the morning sun. The market stays from 5 AM to 7 AM; the leftover fruits and vegetables are then sent to the city’s terra firma street markets.

While serious buyers show up in droves, locals and tourists also flock to the floating market to take in the colourful sights and sounds and to feel the invigorating morning breeze. Most folks residing in and around Dal Lake are affiliated with the tourism trade, but fishing and harvesting of water plants is also an important revenue source for many Dal dwellers.

More than ten thousand kanals (one kanal = 1/8th of an acre) of land is used for vegetable cultivation along the Lake. Vegetables like bottle gourd, ladyfinger, cucumber, pumpkin, cabbages, tomatoes, spinach, chilies, capsicums, potatoes, onions, melons, brinjals, radish and cauliflower make it then to the rowing wooden shops. The floating gardens are made on a base of roots of various grasses and weeds growing wild in the water.

Leaves and wild vegetation compost is spread over the base and it is then ready for the plantation of vegetables, fruits and flowers. There are many who plant only seasonal flowers and sell them to tourists. At the market, farmers and vendors not only sell their green vegetables against payment but also indulge in barter business.

“The vegetables, fruits, flowers and fish from Dal had a vast market in the entire Srinagar city when there was a canal called Nala Mar going through the middle of the city. The canal was filled by the government to be replaced with a road in the 70s,” Zarief Ahmed Zarief, a noted social activist, recalls. The waters of Nala Mar divided the city into two parts; apart from vegetables, vendors used to ferry things like construction material, timber, rice etc to the city over this canal.

For most tourists in the Valley, a visit to the floating market on Dal Lake is one other must-do apart from a stay in the houseboats. “It is a superb experience to see this market on pristine blue waters of the Lake. Its timing makes it more beautiful. One can also get to see many types of aquatic birds around. I had never known something like this in my life…. One gets to be really close with nature,” Rakesh Roy, a tourist from Mumbai, who had come to the market in a Shikara (water taxi), gushed to TSI.

It is said that the rowing market first attracted attention globally when a photographed feature of the market was published in Japan in 1960. Congress scion Rahul Gandhi had also made a sudden visit to the market, on a visit to the Valley in September, 2011. The Dal farmers and the vendors were surprised to see him amidst them. They used the opportunity to share their problems related to trade with Rahul Gandhi. “Rahul Ji patiently listened to us; he briefly stayed at the house of a farmer, and had Kashmiri Kahwa (green tea) too,” recalls Wani, who was also around when Rahul’s father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had come visiting in 1984.

Celebrities and dignitaries can be easily imagined to be humbled by the natural glamour of the Dal Lake, referred to as the ‘jewel in the crown of Kashmir’. Add that earthly touch lent by the quiet chaos of the floating market, and one can go Hami Asto all over again…

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