Moored on the western shores of Dal Lake away from noisy Boulevard, Clermont houseboats have earned a name for themselves in the annals of Kashmir history. Tasavur Mushtaq talks about the favourite destination of famous and powerful.
Having served some of the powerful people from across the world, Butt’s Clermont, a fleet of seven houseboats is still the most sought after destination of high-end tourists visiting Kashmir. Placed in the waters of Naseem Bagh side of Dal Lake, Clermont houseboats include a garden spread over twenty kanals of land overwhelmed by mighty Chinars believed to be more than four hundred years old. The garden is believed to have been built by Emperor Akbar and called the Garden of the Morning Breeze – Naseem Bagh.
From celebrities to politicians, any who’s who of the world who visited Kashmir in the last six decades has been a guest at the Butts Clermont houseboats.
The place is most famous among visitors from the United States. John McCain- who came close to become the US president in his recent visit to valley beside meeting chief minister Omar Abdullah, spent few hours at GN Butt’s Clermont houseboat to have a photo shoot and feel the breeze of the valley. He was accompanied by his secretaries Christain Brose, Vance Serchuk and Paul Narian.
Before McCain, the influential guests who have visited Clermont include US ambassadors to India- Timothy J Roemer and Johnn R Hubbard, US vice president- Nelson Rockefeller, rock star- George Harrison.
The fleet of seven houseboats out of which only four are functional, are a class apart. The boats are luxurious and aesthetic. Intricately carved cedar woodwork, magnificently stitched crewelwork on the curtains and tinted chandeliers provide a magnificent aura. The flooring is of the Kashmiri carpets making it more adorable. The gaze outside is soothing as it takes up in the deep water of Dal and heights of mountains.
Clermont is witness to some of the significant events of Kashmir History. Famous in the circles of politicians and diplomats, one of the houseboats in the chain of Clermont in 1953 hosted a meeting between Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and American diplomat and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. Before leaving the houseboat, Stevenson wrote, “An enchanted interlude that mended body and mind and that I shall never forget—thanks to Mr G M Butt”.
The guest book reveals even more famous names of history- Yehudi Menuhin, Ravi Shankar, Dilip Kumar, P.G Wodehouse, Peter Jennings, Micheal Palin, Joan Fontaine and family of Lord Mountbatten. The walls of the reception room are adored by the photographs of celebrities who have visited the Clermont. In some pictures figure G N Butt along with the big names of the world.
The history of Clermont in Kashmir dates back to the mid-19th century when an Englishman R. Foster visited Kashmir as a tourist. Coming from Clermont hall, Norfolk, he was a shipping tycoon of the UK. As he came to the valley he fell in love with it and decided to visit here every year. Foster requested the government of the time to provide him land to have his own property which was denied. He was advised by the government to buy a houseboat and the government will provide a place to moor his houseboat. He purchased the same houseboat in which he first time stayed as a tourist.
During his stay in the valley, he met Ghulam Muhammad Butt. Impressed by his honesty, Foster developed a liking for him and soon the relationship turned into a friendship. For seven years, before the partition, the British couple, their friends and relatives were the regular visitors to the houseboat.
In 1947 when the Britishers left India, Foster also had to leave. He kept a condition to Butt, “either you take care of Clermont or I will burn all these.” Butt accepted the offer and started to look after the chain of houseboats. The houseboats were transferred to the Butts and now the third generation of the family is in the command.
“We sell quality here,” says Manzoor Ahmad Butt, the grandson of G M Butt.
The houseboats having water on one side and garden on the other make it unique place in Kashmir. The visitors besides enjoying the water rides take enough pleasure in the picturesque spot.
The Clermont is specialised in providing every type of food to the guests. “we gave them the type of food they want, no matter how many times they ask for it,” says Manzoor.
The senior Butt keeps himself busy in interacting with the visitors. He is optimistic about the future of Butts’ Clermont and the tourist trade in Kashmir. With humility, the senior Butt attributes everything to Almighty.” This all we have is because of the grace of Allah, otherwise, we are nothing.”