The Britishers during the Raj were very fond of Kashmir due to its climate. They wanted permanent residence here but were not permitted by the Maharaja. They were however allowed to stay on the Doonga Boats on the lakes and rivers which they renovated to provide them the convenience and comfort they desired. This was the origin of the luxurious houseboats of today. Ever Since the houseboats has continuously undergone improvements to include a front verandah, a luxurious living room, an elaborate dining room, three or four comfortable bedrooms with attached bathrooms and an upper sun deck. The ambience is hard to believe.
Kashmir was originally a lake called Satisar. The earlier settlers were fishermen and hence there dwelling on the rivers was only logical and practical. Their boats which were covered by thatch roofs, were converted into the Doonga boats over passage of time. They were later also used by the great Mughal kings for excursions. They further renovated and developed them for their pleasure trips on the lakes during moon lit nights complete with music and other pleasures of life. It was however during the British period which converted these boats into luxurious floating palaces with all the conveniences of modern living on the one hand and the treasure house of the best handicrafts Kashmir has to offer. With carved walnut furniture, famous Kashmir carpets, embroidered soft furnishings, chandeliers and other luxurious fittings, the houseboats is like a floating jewel box.
Each houseboat has an attached cook boat at the rear from where the food is served to the visitor lodging in the boat. People outside Kashmir generally have the impression that houseboats are navigated from one place to another with the help of a motor and equipped with a kitchen with gas or electric cookers where he has to cook himself. But the case with a Kashmir houseboat is different. It is moored on the banks of the lake and remains floating but stationary. It is a home away from home. Where all the chores are taken care of and one is free to enjoy ones holiday as one pleases. The houseboat can, however, be moved to a place of choosing on the desire and expenses of the client which is done by means of poles and not by motor. This shifting to another location can be effected only when the visitor intends to stay at the particular spot for a couple of days or more because a houseboat needs proper anchoring, which is a tedious affair:
The cooks are skilled in preparing Continental, Indian and Kashmiri Dishes. The meals served during the day comprise of Bed-Tea, Breakfast, Lunch, Evening Tea and Dinner. The cook boat is moored a stem of the main boat which also houses the servants.
Boats are electrified, and the interior decoration has something typical of what Kashmir has to offer. The charm of staying in a houseboat becomes twofold when you take a ride in a Shikara (Egyptian Gondola) through the canals and waterways of the city. A Shikara is all the time available for crossing to and from the houseboats. Touring the city by a Shikara one gets a bird's eye view of the ancient city laid out on the either bank of the Jhelum spanned by nine bridges and one can observe life on the banks as well as the life of the people who still live on water the Doonga Dwellers.