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Some contend that there have been houseboats on the Dal and Nagin lakes since the 1800s. We do know that in the late 19th century the boat-dwelling Hanji community of Srinagar started building floating homes or houseboats for English visitors and residents, who were not allowed to own land in Kashmir.
Some specifically trace the houseboat phenomenon to around the 1880s, to a shop-owner Pandit Naraindas who used to cater to foreign tourists. When his shop burnt down, as wooden structures in Srinagar are wont to for time to time, it is said Naraindas moved his inventory to a small boat used by the boat-dwelling Hanjis and moored it. With some improvements, his became the first proper ‘houseboat’. Later, Naraindas sold his boat to a European, realised the potential in the idea, and started commissioning boats. He became locally famous as ‘Naav Narain’ and his first houseboat was named Kashmir Princess.
However, the famous British explorer, Sir Francis Younghusband, is known to have credited one MT Kennard with the idea of a ‘floating house’ between the years 1883 and 1888. It is said that for a long time locals used to call these 'the boats of ‘Kennad Sahib’. Younghusband wrote that by 1906 there were hundreds of houseboats in Kashmir.
There is a respectable lineage to the semi-cute, semi-hilarious names of Srinagar’s houseboats; the early European boats were called HB Duke Wells, or New Buckingham Palace, in honour of the settler’s memories and sensibilities. How this led to our contemporary beauty bobbing on the Dal — New Soul Kiss —remains a matter of lively interest, though.
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