There are very few floating markets which still are active on lakes across the globe. Vietnam has the Cai Rang floating market which is followed by Thailand which has the Solomon Islands market and the Damnoen Saduak.
Wait, back home in India we have our own share of floating markets and one amongst them is on the beautiful Dal Lake in Srinagar, where the locals sell their produce in their canoes.
Most of the produce sold here is grown in the floating gardens on the Dal Lake. The ecosystem here is rich in the wetlands which produce a large amount of tomatoes, cucumbers, water chestnuts and not to forget the much famed nadru, a delicacy which is prepared out of lotus roots in the valley.
Catching these shifty boatmen in action is an adventure of its own. They gather at the centre of the lake at the break of dawn and finish up just as sunlight begins to fall on the waters. The negotiation and exchange lasts for hardly an hour or so and very soon all of them disappear into their respective villages like the market never existed.
The Shikara Ride
There is no other better way to catch life on the Dal Lake than from the comfort of a shikara. Once the floating market winds up, hop on to a shikara for a leisurely two hour ride which takes you through the local canals and for sure you would return spellbound.
During the Dogra rule of Kashmir, the British were not allowed to construct houses in the valley. In order to bypass this rule, they built lavish houseboats, some of them with elaborate walnut wood carvings and splendid open decks.
PC: nevil zaveri
Whether it is for going to school, to the market or to visit someone in the neighbourhood, everyone on the Dal Lake is bound to get into a canoe.
The Unique Feature
Most of the vegetables sold in the floating market of Dal Lake are grown on the waters of the lake itself and are harvested a couple of hours before being sold. The floating gardens are created according to the radh or demb type, which is a unique feature of this lake. These basically constitute of matted vegetation and soil, but are detached from the bottom of the lake.
The rich ecosystem of the lake helps in the production of tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, melons, brinjal and Kashmiri saag (collard greens) in plenty. Every morning, about two dozen boatmen meet at an open patch of water which is known as the Gudri market. The market is about half an hour ride from the row of houseboats and one requires to start before sunrise to reach on time.
PC: Kashif Pathan
It is magical to see the boatmen managing to stay afloat despite sitting dangerously at the edge of their canoes while exchanging the wares. The canoes are made out of deodar wood, which is the same wood found in the pillars of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.
The Century Old Market
The market is active only during the summer months; some of the boatmen row almost 15 km every day from their fields. During the winter season, all the residents join together to get their supplies from the main land.
The market is said to be almost a century old and has many legends. One of the fables say that the melons which grew here were so delicious, that the first crop of the year would be sent to the royal table of the Mughal rulers in Agra.
PC: Colin Tsoi
The Kashmiris love their bread and are well known to bake varieties. Apart from the vegetable sellers, the bakers also hit the waters early with their supply of lavaas and girda which are filled into wicker baskets.
The florists are another lot who row to the edge of the lake towards the Mughal gardens every day and pick the best of flowers. Of late they attract a lot of tourists to the floating markets by selling roses, daises and water lilies. The lotus blossoms of the lake are a feast for the eyes during the summer season; their stems are harvested in the month of October to make fish curries and pakodas.