SRINAGAR: Taxi Shikara, Kashmir tourism’s brand image, is undergoing a makeover. To cut costs, shikarawalas have started making these iconic boats from economical imported timber than the traditional building material, deodar wood.
Ghulam Nabi Najar, who is a fifth generation boat maker at Chattabal Weir, says a fully-furnished Shikara made of flawless deodar planks costs Rs 1.50 lakh to Rs 1.75 lakh.
Use of imported timber cuts the cost by more than half, he added. In Dal and Nigeen lakes, most of the existing Shikaras are made of deodar.
Nazir Ahmad Karnai, who has been rowing a shikara in the Dal since 1989, told Kashmir Reader that these boats require a lot of maintenance, which costs another Rs 15,000- 20,000 annually.
“Even boat paddles don’t come cheap. They can cost between Rs 800 and Rs 1500. The best ones are made from mulberry wood,” he said.
The most venerable part of the boat, according to shikarawalas, is its hood, which is easily damaged by the gusty winds.
“Hoods have to be repaired quite frequently as they are susceptible to wind damages, hence the reason why deodar was preferred to other varieties of timber,” said Karnie.
Parvaiz Ahmad, who manufactures boats, said a typical taxi Shikara is about 32 feet long. Its central, the widest and hooded part is meant for sofas which seat the riders.
Najar said that the scale of boat making industry in the Valley has narrowed down over the years. Earlier, transportation barges, house boats and doongas were build, but now the industry has largely been restricted to making of Shikaras.
“Orders for Shikaras still come from Dal, Nigeen and Manasbal lakes. Since the rush of tourists has decreased over the years, shikarawalas want to cut the cost of the boats,” Najar said.
Basheer Ahmad, a shikarawala, told Kashmir Reader that every Shikara is registered with the government and new registrations are hard to come by. In case an owner wants to make a new boat, he gets it made on the basis of the existing registration.