It’s a crisp June morning, and in one corner of the 24 sq km large Dal Lake, I’m stuck in a traffic jam. I’m in a shikara, surrounded by another 10 shikaras. They are modestly piled with bunches of lake-grown spinach, radishes, turnips, green chillies, and lotus stems. A few are selling patchwork cotton bags and kurtas, fresh hot bread, and paper cups full of hot kahwa. It’s 6:00 a.m. and the floating market of Dal Lake is winding down. Someone forgot to pass that memo to my corner.
Jyotika Jhalani is standing at the bow of our boat, commandeering a haul of vegetables from multiple vendors. They’re doing their best to be heard, but they’ve met their match in Jhalani. A small shikara edges in, full of peonies, snapdragons, lilies, roses, and hydrangeas. In fewer than 10 minutes, we have drifted away, our bow straining under the weight of a generous though motley bunch of fresh vegetables and a vase of lilacs at our feet. We float past a Dal Lake icon, Char Chinar, once known for the four majestic chinar trees situated in the middle of the lake. Today just one remains, the rest having fallen victim to Srinagar’s devastating floods in 2014. The lone tree is a majestic sight, resting in what seems to be a shore-less expanse of still water, watched over by snowy peaks. It’s quiet and almost spiritual, and it’s where Jhalani unveils a new set of grand plans for her luxurious brand of cashmere, Janavi