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Behind the names of houseboats

Floating in the serene waters of Dal Lake in Kashmir houseboats fancy many a visitors. Most of these houseboats bear foriegn names. Peerzada Arshad Hamid unravels the mystery behind these names.

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Srinagar, Kashmir
Mar 07, 2006:

For many a tourists staying in a houseboat may be the only drive to visit Kashmir.

Floating on the serene waters of Dal and Nigeen Lake for decades houseboats have been hosting visitors , mostly from the west. One can safely allude thier foriegn names to the influence of visitors they host.

Till early fifties Englishmen visiting the valley used to name most of the houseboats. The tales behind the names of houseboats are as mystiftying as the houseboats themselves.

Mohammed Sultan Baktoo, 58, owns the houseboat named Butterfly. Here is the story behind the Butterfly whose first owner was Baktoo's grandfather Gulam Ahmad Baktoo.

"My grandfather, Ghulam Ahmad Baktoo was a poor man and to make his ends meet he would accompany tourists for doing menial jobs besides providing them company. Once a German citizen, Hans Coatman on his visit to valley hired him for the company. On their trip to Pahalgam, Coatman and his fellows went for fishing. Right on the bank when all of them had kept their lines in the running water of river Lidder, Coatman saw a butterfly hovering nearby. The sight of butterfly excited Coatman and he ordered all his companions including Baktoo to stretch their hands out."

According to Baktoo, Coatman announced that he would fulfil the wish of the person on whose hand the buttefly rests.

"The butterfly after hovering around the place for some time rested on the hand of my grandfather, who asked for a houseboat when his wish was sought." relates Baktoo.

Coatman kept the promise and gave Baktoo money for constructing the houseboat. He also asked him to name it Butterfly, says Baktoo.

These names have a great impact on tourism industry of Jammu and Kashmir, chairman of Houseboat Owners Association (HBOA), Mohammed Azim Tuman says,

"Tourism in Jammu and Kashmir flourished only because of houseboats as our names sell in tourism industry and help in bringing lots of foreign exchange," Tuman claims

The houseboat Shielaan was named by a British tourist after his two daughters Shiela and Ann . Likewise Isla, Katherine, Jasie, Marmaid, Monolisa, and many other houseboats were named by the foreigners after their daughters.

From 1955 onwards, houseboat owners of Kashmir started naming their houseboats on their own but the foreign influence continued.

Inspired by Bilquees (wife of Prophet Sulieman/Solomon) from the holy Quran, M Y Chapri named his houseboat Helen of Tory. Another houseboat owner named his houseboat Joan of Arc. A houseboat Alexandra is named after Alexander the Great.

Royal Gory was first named Hill View Queen by its owner, Abdul Khaliq Gassi. Later he renamed it Royal Gory to please his tourist friend Bengeman Brown.

"Bengeman Brown was my client for several years. Our business relations ended up in friendship. Thereafter, once he requested me to rename the houseboat after the name of his beloved, Gory, for it would make him happy." says Gassi.

Yasin Tuman's Houseboat Masacot means good luck. The name was suggested by a British guest, General Dunlop to Tuman's great Grandfather. Tuman says another Briton named a houseboat Coronation because the coronarion of King George II was done in the same year in which the houseboat was built.

One houseboat Australia was named by an Australian and another Austria by an Austrian. Houseboat Buckingam Palace , New York and Lake Victoria have similar stories to tell.

Tuman says one of the reasons behind foreign names of the houseboats, was illiteracy of the houseboat owners.

"the other one was public relations. As our trade relies on foreigners, so in order to keep them happy and in good humour, it was a good technique." Tuman adds.

In between the cluster of western names one can however find some Kashmiri names like Vizmal (lightening), Tarakmall (Galaxy) and Dilruba (Heartthrob) displayed on the houseboats.

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