Kashmir's famed houseboats hit by conservation rules

Fri Oct 23, 2009 3:29am EDT
 
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By Sheikh Mushtaq

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters Life!) - For nearly a century, hand-carved houseboats bobbing on a placid lake drew millions of visitors to the stunningly beautiful Himalayan region of Kashmir.

But today a grand houseboat where Beatle George Harrison once stayed sits rotting and half-submerged in the mirror calm Dal lake, one of Kashmir's main tourist attractions.

The number of ornate boats is dwindling because of an 18-year-old ban on new construction of cedarwood houseboats and strict rules on renovation.

"Less than 1,000 houseboats are left now and the number is dwindling with each passing day," Mohammad Azim Tuman, president of the Houseboat Owners Association, said.

Tuman said there were 1,500 two decades ago when an anti-India insurgency hit the region, sending tourism numbers crashing.

Separatist violence has also killed tens of thousands of people in Kashmir, a picturesque corner of the world locked between India, China and Pakistan.

Houseboats -- with names such as Noah's Ark, Mona Lisa, Helen of Troy and Queen of Hearts -- were first introduced in Dal Lake by the British nearly a century ago.

Authorities say pollution from houseboats is one of the reasons threatening the survival of Dal Lake.   Continued...

 
<p>The owner of a houseboat rests on the deck of his houseboat on the waters of Dal Lake in Srinagar October 22, 2009. For nearly a century, hand-carved houseboats bobbing on a placid lake drew millions of visitors to the stunningly beautiful Himalayan region of Kashmir. But the number of ornate boats is dwindling because of an 18-year-old ban on new construction of cedarwood houseboats and strict rules on renovation. Picture taken October 22, 2009. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli</p>