Here I am in Srinagar staying on a houseboat looking out across Dal Lake – something I have long dreamt of doing. I can’t tell you how beautiful it is. The shining, mirror-flat lake, the mountains beyond, the birds, the people... and the houseboat. A few fishermen, two to a boat, are quietly paddling their elegant kishtee, fishing for carp, their voices crystal clear across the water. Huge kites circle overhead, hunting for supper, and there are egrets and kingfishers, herons and terns flying about.
When I told the taxi-driver at the airport where I wanted to go, he chuckled and did a little head-wag. “The best house-boats.” he said, and we were off. It was sightly overcast, with a gentle cool breeze blowing. Not cold, but not hot either. Bliss.
I got such a greeting when I arrived from Gumal Butt, owner of Butt Clermont Houseboats, that I felt truly special. He rang me in Delhi, then we spoke at the airport, and he was waiting for me when I arrived with a huge bear hug. We walked through his gallery of photographs and press cuttings. So many people have stayed here.. diplomats and film stars, Lord Mountbatten, Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, Michael Palin... and me. But I am sure that, proud as Mr Butt is of his celebrity guests and the praises they have heaped on him – everyone probably receives much the same welcome. He just loves people and is smiling, welcoming, warm – nothing seems too much trouble. We walked through his garden - of which he is very proud, it dates back to Mughal times - to the line-up of houseboats, each with a boiler outside and an overhead pipe to the bathroom. I meet Ramzan who will look after me, who explained the plumbing.
My houseboat has one double bedroom – some sleep four, one sleeps 10. They are spacious and comfortable, decorated with intricately carved cedar wood, antique furniture, crewel weave curtains and chaircovers and silk rugs. My table was laid for supper and a vase of dahlias and gladioli from the garden. Gumal Butt and I drank cinnamon tea from bone china teacups and I polished off most of a plate of the most exquisite little doughnuts.