With its clement summer weather and richly fertile land, its Mughal pleasure gardens and string of alpine lakes, Srinagar in Kashmir is among the world’s oldest tourist destinations. It was founded by the Mughals to escape the heat of the Indian plains, rediscovered by the British Raj in the late 1800s, and in the 1960s and 1970s popularised by hippie Westerners who came upon it on the pot-scented trail from Kabul to Goa. But for the past 20 years Srinagar has been largely off-limits.
Dal Lake is enjoying an extraordinary, if fragile, renaissance. Houseboats are being repaired, their nostalgic English style – shingled roofs, Tudor timbering, steep gables – reconstructed. The boats are decorated with painted balustrades and potted geraniums, and are positioned cheek by jowl, each with a more unlikely name than the next: the Queen Elizabeth, Helen of Troy, Honolulu and Acropolis.
Many of them are getting new bathrooms and hot-water showers. Furnishings are simple: Kashmiri vases, chain-stitch-embroidered curtains, 1950s cedarwood beds and tables. Some road-facing boats carry ad hoardings for electronic goods.
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