Muzaffar handles his family business of welcoming people and letting them have a luxury houseboat experience. To us at tlow, he is Muzaffar bhai. His favourite time pass is watching movies. So all day, you can see the television on with him watching old Hindi movies. He is a big movie and news fan.
All the information he gathers, he discusses with travellers and his friends. He makes sure that the travellers are comfortable. It feels like the family is not doing business, but as if they are hosting their relatives from across the country and the world. The family is so active in its hospitality that they make the stay a homely environment.
Dal Lake story
“It all has started when my family was going through a rough and hard phase financially. My grandfather decided to start the houseboat business with the intention of welcoming people so that they could get a local as well as luxurious experience living in a royal houseboat,” he explained.
Muzaffar said, “The wood of our houseboat is more than 80 years old and still in good condition. We usually do maintenance thrice in a year. The interiors should have a feel where people can stay comfortably with their loved ones. They should be able to sit and talk. This ideology has been followed by my dad, so he decorated the place in a more royal and pleasant manner.”
The royalty can be seen in the ancient gold and brass tableware which is kept in the hallway of the houseboat. The outside porch of the houseboat is the best place to sit and enjoy the peaceful feeling of the place.
“I have seen many sunsets in many colours. I feel every evening there’s a difference in colour and light over here. My childhood memories of this place when my whole family used to sit together and enjoy dinner are always at the back of my mind. It was a golden moment for all of us,” he said.
Muzaffar’s two older brothers Sheffy and Ramzan are his partners in the business. “I was always enthusiastic about trekking and going up trails in the Kashmir Valley. When travellers used to come to the houseboat to stay before going on any trek, I took them as a local guide, often. I would arrange the transport, porters, cooks and horses for their trek,” he said.
Going on different treks on a weekly basis with foreigners, Muzaffar says has helped him develop good communication between foreigners and locals. “My English has become stronger just by talking to them daily. It was like a local learning for me and I never bothered about who is teaching me. I just wanted to learn from people.
The knowledge was coming on its own. It has always helped me a lot. Trekking is a very pure activity of those living in the Himalayas. It shouldn’t be done just for fun. It’s a spiritual journey for me and nature has always given me more than I thought, so I have good faith in my God as well,” he said.
“It was in May 2016, Sheffy met Sherwin at the TRC taxi stand. They both came to the houseboat as Sherwin was searching for a place to stay. He rested that day here with us and had a good time. We talked a lot about the scenario of Kashmir. I felt good after talking to him. Later he decided to make our houseboat a permanent hub for the houseboat experience for his travellers. So that’s how we met. I have seen him coming with a couple of times with a bunch of travellers, ” he said.
“They all love the place and the experience with the evening shikara ride and having a conversation in the hallway freely. It doesn’t take time to get along with any traveller because they are all curious and want to know about the place. Young and old both come to this place.
I like to know them because every person has a story to tell. It creates a bridge between two people. Sherwin’s groups are like our own kids who live here and do their work. I observe how passionately they all are working towards their goal in life. It makes me happy. I wish them good luck ahead,” he said with a broad smile on his face.
How has tourism changed your life?
“In all possible ways. I must admit that most of my learning is from travellers because they all have something to tell. It was all practical knowledge for me. I learn so much just by talking and getting to know them. The major changes in tourism are that the whole approach of meeting people and giving them an experience has changed. I loved the fact that my classroom didn’t have four walls, it was wide mountains and lush greenery with time changing the soul,” he said.
The more Muzaffar went to the mountains, the more he got to know the feeling of what luxury actually is. With changing time, more and more Indian travellers started to coming to Dal Lake to stay.
He said, “It was a good time when we got many local Indian families from different parts of the nation. We shared our Kashmiri culture with them and they taught us about their cultures and traditions. With more and more people coming here, there was a big need of giving them the royal experience of the place. I’m the manager of this beautiful houseboat which gives you a feel of how people live here. I will happily do this all my life because I enjoy lake life.”
How has this place changed over the years?
Muzaffar said, “Srinagar has always had changes happening very frequently. We all love to stay in peace. In terms of climatic changes, over the years where there used to be 5 – 6 inches of snow, now it has reduced to 2 or 3 inches. This has lead to a depreciation in the glacier water levels which leads to water shortage in the area.
The summertime is getting hotter year by year and it is leading to many issues. Now the days are way more hotter than we had imagined. The temperature report is gradually changing year by year. If this continues, we are all going to be tandoori. Be prepared for that. I feel the mountains should be left alone with the people who respect the place. They should not be used for profit-making purpose.”
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