Dal Lake is a world of its own. It is in fact the most charming aspects of Srinagar. There are many small islands that looked as if they were floating in the lake. There are thousands of houses and houseboats inside the lake. Looking from Boulevard Lane you did see a small canal and not a lake but beyond the tree line the lake extends far more. The thousands of locals living here are more mobile than we can imagine. There are shops and restaurants inside the lake. You get everything you would in the main market. Locals grow vegetables in their small gardens. Children ferry off to school everyday. And there’s also the floating Saabzi bazaar, which takes place 2-3km inside the lake.
The Sabzi Bazaar takes place everyday from 4am to 6am. It has often been compared to the floating market in Thailand. It is a wholesale vegetable market where the selling and buying takes place from one boat to another. It is where the farmers bring their products and sabzi sellers buy them to be sold in the market. When I asked my shikara rider where all the vegetables came from, he just smiled and said, "The lake is too big. It even produces vegetables on its own." These small islands in the lake are very fertile and the locals can’t stop boasting about the organic taste. It might be true I had never seen a turnip as red as the one I saw there.
As many as hundred boats vied for their space. Tourists can watch from the sidelines but it would be a nuisance to interfere in the matter of their business. The market has gained popularity over the years but it is still very much a local affair.
Waking up as early 4am might not sound too fun for most weary travellers but it is worth it. At 4.30am it was still dark and Dal Lake was lit only by the bluish sky; light beginning to break the night. The otherwise overcrowded Boulevard Lane was empty and thousands of shikaras that remained yoked to the shore had vanished. Don’t expect to find shikaras so early in the morning. You would have to book shikaras in advance and meet up at a certain point. The government rate for shikara ride is Rs.400/hour but it they would ask a lot more in the wee hours of the morning. Few Shikaras would be even ready to take you. They would ask between Rs.800 to Rs.1200 but you can bargain down to Rs.500, it would be a good deal.
While exploring the Sabzi Market you also get to see the little alleys and canals lined with trees inside the lake. The old but attractive wooden shops and houses with small gardens are something you couldn’t have imagined or foreseen from outside the lake. The lake comes alive as you explore more and more and you begin to realize that more than a hurdle, the lake is central to their livelihood.