People watching- everyone does it though not everyone admits it. I love that feeling when you’re sitting in a street-facing café or stuck at a crowded airport and you catch an unexpected glance of someone walking by. You get a fleeting glimpse of their life, what they are doing or overhear what they are talking about. It’s not meant to be intrusive, the “fleeting” not “prolonged” element is quite important to separate the people- watching from the stalking. The lack of context- what happened before or the moment after—is important because you get to imagine why that lady is rushing to her next stop (she’s just found the cure for cancer and needs to find a pen and paper) or imagine taking that adorable French bulldog home (I mean, I would never, but it’s just so cute). You’d assume that the best people watching takes place in cities, but the best people watching I’ve ever had was on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Srinagar, Kashmir May 2011
We were waiting for our last mode of transport from the Dal Lake shoreline to the house boat, and were taking in the surrounding views. The flat opal-coloured lake was filled with the reflections from the fast-moving shikaras (wooden boats), the houseboats, the rad (floating gardens), and most spectacularly, the reflection of the snow-capped peaks of the Zabarwan mountain range. The water is extremely still, punctuated only by the fast-moving shikaras transporting their wears: people, vegetables, film for your disposable cameras, the world’s best apple juice.
In the center of Dal Lake, there is a small village ( a floating neighborhood in the middle to contrast the busy Srinagar city life). There are rows of houseboats, docked side-by-side, overlapping with shared decks and gardens, and separated by waterfront canals. The water is so still that when you are on the houseboat, you forget that there are meters of water below you. Our Houseboat, called the Chicago, was a five-room house with a dining room, living room, and three two-person rooms. Each room was more opulent than the next—hand carved wooden furniture and walls, Kashmiri carpets so intricate that you must physically resist trying to steal them, and panoramic views of the Himalayan foothills right out of every window. The best part, however, is the veranda (porch) in the front houseboat that overlooks the canal. After our initial exploration of the floating palace, we settled down on the outdoor veranda with afternoon kehwa (Kashmir saffron-flavored tea), biscuits, ready to watch the thousands of shikaras pass by our the canal street.
This is what we saw: