By: Zehra Shafi
Srinagar: F loating cruise all decked up with lights, cozy interiors and a hot steaming cup of kehwa with sheermal. Exciting? Well that’s the first feeling one gets while hopping on this newly launched attraction at Srinagar’s famous Dal Lake.
Despite harsh winters, the newly introduced cruise boat by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department Corporation (JKTDC) is receiving overwhelming response from the people, who line up every weekend to enjoy a smooth ride in the pristine waters of Dal Lake.
The 70-seater cruise boat, equipped with all safety equipment including life saving jackets, runs twice in a week on Saturday and Sunday. It takes off from the banks of Dal Lake near the Centaur Hotel and passes through the clean waters of the lake before taking a U-turn near Nehru Park.
Capped at just Rs 200 for each passenger, the cruise boat offers complimentary saffron Kehwa with Sheermal to the people on board.
The cruise boat was initially launched on October 25, last year. However, for the public, it was thrown open two months later on December 25.
“The response of people, including locals, has been overwhelming since the cruise boat was launched on Christmas. On the weekends, people line up at the banks of Dal Lake before the sun sets down to take a trip around the Lake,” Ghulam Nabi, the driver told Precious Kashmir.
Ghulam Nabi, who has trained in running cruise boats from a national institute in Goa, says that besides attracting tourists, JKTDC aims to provide some sort of entertainment to the locals to spend some quality time with their families and friends.
“A large number of people go on drives through Boulevard Road on weekends. And since the cruise boat is just stationed on the banks of Dal Lake, the picnickers park their cars and board the cruise boat to experience boat ride,” he said.
He expressed optimism that the new attraction in Dal Lake will invite more visitors once the summers arrive in the Valley.
“These days we end our operations around 7pm. However, when the summer sets in, we can run this boat upto 10 or even 11 at night,” he said.
Besides short rides, the cruise is also available for locals and tourists for engagement ceremonies, birthday parties, get-togethers or any close family gatherings.
Mohammad Younis, a JKTDC employee, says that Bollywood superstar Amir Khan also hosted a birthday party in August 2021 which was attended by many socialites and VIPs. Some locals, he said, also booked the cruise boat for family functions in recent days.
“Many people are unaware of the cruise boat. So we are promoting this venture by carrying out weekend rides,” Younis added.
Not just the corporation employees are happy with the new venture, but the locals and tourists are all smiles sharing a new experience.
“I have taken cruise rides in Mumbai and Goa but the experience in Srinagar was totally different. The cruise boat is spacious and offers a fantastic view from the top,” Chetna Sharma, a tourist from New Delhi told Precious Kashmir.
Shruti Singh, another tourist from Chandigarh, says that the cruise boat is a better option for tourists in the winters as it is fully covered and has heating arrangements too.
“Initially, I thought of taking a shikara ride in Dal Lake. However, I changed my mind because the cruise boat will save my two little children from the cold,” says Shruti, who is on a five-day visit to Kashmir.
She also opined that the authorities should increase the trip time from the current 30 minutes to an hour to allow tourists to explore the landscape in and around Dal Lake.
“I was keen to visit Char Chinar in the middle of Lake. However, the cruise boat doesn’t go there and the Shikaras are costly and have no heating facilities. So, maybe next time I will also visit the island,” she said.
Not only the tourists but locals too are enjoying their time with this short trip in the cruise boat.
“I was passing through Boulevard road when my eyes caught the attention of cruise boat. I parked my car near the wildlife office and boarded along with my friends. It was a nice experience,” Mirza Javed, a resident of Lal Bazar, told Precious Kashmir.
He said the cruise boat can be the best replacement for costly hotels and restaurants for family outings and functions.
Pertinently, the introduction of cruise boat was in the pipeline for over five years.
The disclosure about the launch of the cruise boat in Jhelum and Dal Lake was made by the then Director tourism, Farooq A Shah, in Mumbai in 2015.
Before the cruise boat in Dal Lake, the authorities also started three bus boats in river Jhelum last year to revive water transport in the Valley. The 35-seater bus boats brought from New Zealand were to ferry people from Lasjan area of the city outskirts to the downtown.