The Sukoon houseboat in Srinagar: A floating window into Kashmir’s serene soul

Enjoy the slow life on the Sufi-inspired Sukoon houseboat, where blissful luxury and more spiritual experiences await.

Sukoon. It’s peace, it’s joy, it’s deep contentment. It’s something all of us are seeking. And this elevated emotion is as elusive as it gets. So, when a houseboat in serene Srinagar bears a name like that, it’s certainly setting itself up to be judged. After all, as evolved travellers today, we not only have high expectations, we also have high standards.

The fact that it’s been talked about in travel circles ever since it started, almost a decade ago, or that it has won a slew of awards, only serves to make the reviewer huffy. “We’ll see for ourselves if it lives up to all the hype, thank you very much.”

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Owner Altaf Chapri spent his childhood years on the same beautiful houseboat. Image: Yash Shinde.

We reach Ghat number 19A and are greeted politely by a handsome Kashmiri boatman. Our luggage is stowed away seamlessly, and we are soon gliding on a sliver of a shikara on the mirror-like surface of the Dal Lake.

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Living on a boat has its own charm. There are many in the lakes Dal and Nigeen. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

Scores of houseboats are parked along the periphery. Some are family-owned homes where we can catch glimpses of daily life unfold through the windows as we pass. Others are floating hotels like the one we’re heading towards.

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Getting to Sukoon is half the fun! Image: Priya Pathiyan.

The Sukoon Houseboat hoves into view. The first impression is of tastefully done, understated luxury. The welcome is warm, the interiors plush. We’re ushered through the chandeliered dining room, a long corridor lined with intricately carved wood, and into the largest suite, all of 242 sq ft, aptly named the Shalimar, after the garden of pleasure.

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The Shalimar suite. As grand as it is large. Image: Priya Pathiyan.
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The beautifully carved corridor has all the rooms and suites leading off from it. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

So far, so predictable, the inner cynic scoffs. But look, there’s a handwritten welcome note and fresh flowers, points out the inner PPP (perennially positive person)! And bottles filled with Ayurvedic herbal water, a practice they’ve brought in from their resort in Kerala — Neeleshwar Hermitage. And to have an en suite with a bathtub and a shower, isn’t that special? The heady vanilla-like scent of the tiger lily in the amenities tray permeates the entire bath space, calming the senses and setting the tone for our stay.

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Kama Ayurveda bath products and fresh flowers to give your stay that scent of luxe. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

We have arrived late and are urged to come to the upper deck for the evening high tea. While the finger food and hot saffron-laced kahwa are excellent, the highlight of this experience is definitely the trio of local musicians, performing uplifting Sufi songs. The sounds of the rabab, nut, and harmonium, are almost intoxicating, along with complex vocals that seem to shimmer across the lake, rise to the rose-tinted mountains and dive deep into the depths of the Dal.

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Live performances as you watch the world go by on the lake and consume copious amounts of sukoon ka kahwa! Images: Priya Pathiyan.

Owner Altaf Chapri is a Sufi at heart himself, even though he’s a savvy businessman who has several successful establishments to his name. We can see the appeal of his combination of deeply intentioned soul offerings and all the essentials of comfort that global travellers expect.

An oasis of peace in a land where clashes and curfews have become almost commonplace, Sukoon is a spot that cherishes the true Sufi spirit of purity, harmony, inclusivity, and a retreat into the innermost reaches of one’s soul to tap into a higher self. Go there for the pampering, stay for the upliftment.

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The cosy reception area and community living room. Image: Courtesy AB Chapri Retreats.

What to do around Sukoon

Chapri’s capable team curates some excellent excursions from the houseboat. Everything is planned to perfection and all we need to do is turn up. Here’s how you can spend a typical day understanding the real Srinagar…

5 am | Floating vegetable market

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The vibrant vegetable market only comes together a couple of hours and then casually floats away. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

We step out at dawn, when the placidity of the lake is only broken by faraway snatches of sonorous prayer or the deep-throated laughter of boatmen waiting in the bows.

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Mornings of calm like these. Image: Priya Pathiyan.
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Flowers for sale! Image: Priya Pathiyan.

Ours expertly paddles us to the floating vegetable market where crinkly-eyed men gather on shikaras to buy and sell the freshest produce. It has become a tourist attraction, but it still has an earthy authenticity to it.

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Don’t miss the special rose-petal kahwa when you’re at the floating market. Images: Priya Pathiyan.
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Sukoon’s pampering extends to having Danish pouring us hot kahwa and cookies, as well as treating us to freshly baked bread from a local bakery we stop at. Images: Priya Pathiyan.

8 am | Breakfast and day dreaming

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Breakfast is a la carte with the option of going al fresco if you are craving some sunshine. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

We return to Sukoon to shower and then savour a lavish and leisurely breakfast served on the top deck. This is followed by a post-breakfast idyll by my window, watching shikaras glide by in the narrow channel between the boat and the land, and various birds perform their morning ablutions as I allow my soul to soak in some sukoon.

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Enjoying a chance to connect with nature from the luxury of a very comfortable chaise lounge! I had the AC on as it was summer, but these large windows open up as well. Images: Priya Pathiyan.
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A pond heron stays perfectly still and camouflaged as it waits for its breakfast to swim by. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

11 am | Old city tour

Srinagar expert Nisar Malik escorts us deep into the underbelly of the city, giving us insights about the rich history and traditions of Kashmiri culture. We visit the Shah Hamadan shrine, where Islam was first practiced in the valley, and the venerated Hazrat Bal dargah, considered the holiest in Kashmir because it houses a hair of the Prophet Mohammed, where the chanting of the naat or durood brings an over-arching sense of peace.

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Vignettes from the Shah Hamadan shrine. Images: Priya Pathiyan.

He also introduces us to the food culture, explaining in detail about the various Kashmiri breads each eaten at a different time of the day. The market around Hazrat Bal is full of colours, aromas, textures, and tastes. Giant fried parathas with glistening pickle here or beautiful, zari-edged fabric there. This is a place where the locals come to do their festive shopping, many departing via their own shikaras from the lake’s edge.

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Fresh produce that travels by shikara. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

Noon pm | Downtown Srinagar

Later, we go past the famous Lal Chowk in the centre of the city to head north and explore the narrow lanes of the densely populated Shahar-e-Khaas, or Downtown Srinagar, where the first settlers in Kashmir built homes on the banks of Jhelum river almost 2,000 years ago. Many famous mosques and monuments are located here, as well as workshops of various artisans, and we do a ‘craft safari’ of sort, meeting copperware workers, pashmina weavers, aari-work and sozni embroidery experts, hand-knotted carpet makers, papier-maché artists, walnut wood carvers, and many more.

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Skilled artisans live and work in downtown Srinagar. Images: Priya Pathiyan.

2 pm | Uptown Srinagar

Malik also shows us around Uptown Srinagar. We stop for lunch at the iconic Ahdoo’s for some tarami wazwan (a smaller, tasting version of the huge traditional feast) and then browse the posh shops at the Polo View market which entice locals and tourists, and the quirky ones on Bund Road that tempt us to stock up on objets d’art at Suffering Moses. The Bund is a favourite place for upscale Kashmiri youth to hang out, hence we find a number of nice cafes along this stretch. We relax with a pot of salty noon tea at the very pretty Chai Jaai, that’s come highly recommended by all who came before.

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Everything tea and pretty at Chai Jaai. Images: Priya Pathiyan.

4 pm | Shalimar Bagh

Visiting a Mughal Garden when you’re in Srinagar is a must and the Shalimar, like its namesake, my room at Sukoon, is the largest. I’m there towards the end of summer and the flowers are in full bloom and the chinar (sycamore) trees are already hinting at the riot of colour they will be, come autumn. A multitude of cascading fountains, beautifully constructed rest areas that were once used by the royals, and a general spirit of generosity and grandeur emanates from this symmetrically laid out garden.  Others such as Chasm-e-shahi and Nishat are also well worth a visit.

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Shalimar Bagh, the garden of pleasure. Images: Priya Pathiyan.

5.30 | Sukoon

Back on board, you’ll be in time for the evening’s Sufi music, and an elaborate multi-course dinner served in the plush dining room before you retire to your luxurious bedroom for the night.

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The mini ‘tarami’ wazwan is the grand finale of an elegant meal that includes European and Asian courses as well. Image: Priya Pathiyan.
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At a glance

Address: Sukoon Houseboat, Kabutar Khana, Near Rani Mahal, Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir 191202 | Contact: +911244010072 / +919910025022 / +919599286042 | E-mail: | Website: Sukoon Houseboat.

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