Kashmir houseboats shut down as health hazard


The romantic houseboats of Kashmir’s Lake Dal, built by British Raj officials as Himalayan holiday homes, are to be closed down as an environmental hazard.

02-House boast owners protisting

A holiday in one of Srinagar’s hand-carved houseboats, moored on the lakeside against a dramatic backdrop of snow-capped Himalayan peaks, has long been regarded as a must-see essential of any Indian holiday. Its popularity soared after Monty Python star Michael Palin visited the houseboat where Ravi Shankar taught Beatle George Harrison to play the sitar for a BBC travel series. Throughout years of heavy fighting in Kashmir’s militant insurgency, tourists have still flocked to Dal Lake to stay in a piece of living colonial history – many have wooden porches where guests can relax while gazing at breathtaking mountain vistas and listening to the calls of the fruit and vegetable-sellers from their floating ‘shikara’ shops.

But while it may appear idyllic, the volume of waste generated by this tourist haven has turned the lake into a latrine. Environmental campaigners say millions of litres of raw sewerage are pumped into the lake everyday.
Ironically, it has in some ways made the lake look even more beautiful. The combination of untreated sewerage and phosphorous and nitrogen in the water acts as a super-fertiliser which has promoted the growth of ferns, duckweed and green algae, which in turn is killing other aquatic life.

Now the courts have called time on the 1200 houseboats it blames for the pollution and ordered their owners to shut down until they agree a new waste disposal system to keep the lake clean.

The Houseboats Owners Association said it will challenge the ban which it says will devastate the tourism industry. “Houseboats have a unique place in Kashmir’s beauty. We agree the lake has been harmed by the houseboats and we’ll ask officials to chalk out a new programme to deal with the issue. But tourists have made advanced bookings for the next six months. Where will they go?” said Mohammad Azaim Tuman, Chairman of the Houseboat Owners Association.
© Telegraph (UK)