Between Ghat No 14 and 15, a houseboat is anchored to banks of Dal Lake. A unique structure in itself, the houseboat has been serving as post office for more than two centuries. Perhaps, it is the only floating post office of the world.
From the Boulevard walkway, small wooden ladder leads into the post office, named as ‘Floating Post Office’. A cabin studded with Khatambhand or lattice wooden art work, with large size portrait of Kashmir’s romantic poet Mehjoor, tucked in the middle of computers and lockers, forms the office.
Besides Shikaras floating in the lake, with majestic Zabarwan mountain range in the background, a light drizzle makes atmosphere mesmerizing. This short documentary is played for visitors on a giant screen to acquaint them about uniqueness of the post office.
“It is a heritage of over 200 years. It was started by Britishers. Earlier, small boat used to move from houseboat to houseboat delivering dispatches and collecting deposits inside the Dal. Now, we have this officer here,” said Farooq Ahmad Khan, an official of postal services department, who has been posted at the place since 2012, a year after the department changed its name from Nehru Park Post Office to Floating Post Office.
The heritage post office, which has successfully survived chequered history of Kashmir, was given a facelift in 2011 by the department. The office has two cabins, one serving as office and another one as museum with a collection of rare philately stamps at display. Closed for visitors from past two years the museum is a prized heritage held by the postal services department which has nine head offices and 261 sub offices in Kashmir.
Khan explains that though the office was not generating much of revenue for the department, but it is serving as an added attraction for visitors to the Lake.
“The department pays Rs 30,000 rent a month for the houseboat. Though we aren’t able to earn much profit, visitor attraction is our priority. Besides, we have kept philately stamps, special envelopes, books on Kashmir, on display which are provided to visitors at nominal charges,” said Khan.
On a busy day, Khan said they find it hard to manage rush of visitors impatiently wanting to have an inside view of the post office. “We allow them in ones and twos. Otherwise, the boat could capsize,” chuckles Khan.
Around 6000 people living inside the Lake have also invested in different schemes offered by the post office. “They show interest in our fixed deposit, monthly recurring deposits and other schemes,” said Khan, as bespectacled woman enters the office to deposit monthly installment for a scheme she has invested in.
There is also a visitor’s book kept by the department for visitors to note down their impressions about the place, on it. “Seeing is believing. Great to see the floating post office. I am sure that it must be helping the people…” Vishwajeet Kumar, Director CSO, Government of India has written.
Khan claims the department is mulling to revamp the post office and its upper terrace, lying in rickety condition.