Updated September 2020
This gallery is hardly one you would associate with danger.
Yet, the instinctive reaction of family and friends when I expressed our decision to travel to Kashmir was one of astonishment at our ‘daring’.
For my non Indian readers, Kashmir is the strife torn region of the Indian republic sandwiched between India and Pakistan, that has had a continually rocky relationship with the centre. Whose strategic geolocation, while the reason for it’s splendid landscapes, is also cause for the devastating tug of war between the sibling nations, and on occasion with China to the North. And whose complex history of insurgency is hard even for R – just a year short of being a ‘Midnight’s Child’ – to wrap his head around, let alone the current generation fed on virulent nationalism and far removed from the trauma of partition. Or the protagonists on the ground born to conflict. Violent student protests against army presence escalated last summer and have consumed national news bytes since.
It is our conviction in the fakeness of WhatsApp forwards and the patent bias in every projection in the media that prompted us to make this journey. And an email brochure of a gorgeous houseboat that clinched the decision. I take pleasure in reporting that we have never felt as safe in another state, or country, as we did in Kashmir this past week. We moved around freely in Srinagar, explored the old town on foot and hired taxis at will. The current social media ban is restricted to local sim cards and although I had issues uploading to Instagram my data card worked just fine on all other platforms after a brief blackout on day one. .
That is not to downplay security threats from militants across the border (this is a frontier state after all.). Nor the underlying tensions and alienation felt by the local population, that to me seems exacerbated by the hostile narrative emanating from the rest of the country. But the situation doesn’t appear worse than it has ever been. The main difference today (for visitors) as compared to the glory years of Kashmir tourism is possibly the existence of a strident media.
You know that Mark Twain quote about travel being fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness? About “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things not being acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime”? I cannot underscore enough its particular significance in the context of Kashmir. I asked every tourist I met, and there were many including foreigners, what made them decide to come despite the scaremongering. It was heartening to note most dismissed media reports. And every single one I spoke to was heartbroken by the tragedy that is Kashmir and the seemingly intractable political mess it is entangled in.
So is it safe to travel to Kashmir now? A most certain yes. One would do well to follow developments closely, preferably through travel forums rather than mainstream media and talk to local contacts like hotel staff before departure. But on the whole, tourist movement remains unrestricted. We never encountered a single police check point. Screening is limited to the Shankaracharya temple, and there is, understandably, very tight security and several levels of baggage screening at the airport (allow a minimum of 2 hours for check-in).
If, like me, you have always dreamed of going, go now. The land is beautiful beyond imagination. The people most kind and gracious. The risks, grossly exaggerated.
Happy travels…..no matter where life takes you.
PS: While I maintain that it is safe for everyone to travel to Kashmir, it might be prudent for foreign nationals to follow their respective government travel advisories.
Update 09/2020: Kashmir is currently open to tourism. All visitors are expected to submit a Covid negative report issued not later than 48 hrs. of the date of arrival along with confirmed return tickets and hotel bookings.
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106 thoughts on “Kashmir – Postcards From A Poignant Paradise”
Lovely set of pictures Madhu. Having been to Kashmir, I can understand what you mean. Was this trip pre-booked before you landed or it also involved lot of exploration on ground like looking out for and booking taxi etc.
Thank you Arv. This was mostly pre-booked. We only used local taxis on one of our leisure days.
Okay. Thanks Madhu. I guess most tourist will prefer to stay away till issue and tension doesn’t subside. Vacation is something that people want to enjoy and relax. When it is coming across the news and media with such negative portrayal, most tourist will look elsewhere whatever ground realities might be.
Of course. But I have to stress that this was one of our most relaxed trips ever. And we are beginning to wonder about the continued negative coverage.
That’s great Madhu!
Oh, what stunning images, Madhu!
Thank you very much. But no credit to me Sue…. that land is called paradise on earth for a reason.
Ah, you downplay your talents, Madhu!
Thank you for reading.
Oh, Madhu, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see and read this. I’ve read several books that take place in Kashmir during days gone by, and the beauty your photos show is the beauty I read about. Thanks so much for bringing this gorgeous place to life for me!!
I am so glad you enjoyed this Janet. Our visit was way too brief and has ignited a desire to explore the valley further. Hoping to return someday soon. Thank YOU for your lovely comment.
Oh it is a beautiful and stunning landscape, and your post is so important to represent those who have no voice.
My pictures do not do the landscape justice Lisa, it is beyond beautiful. As for the post, the one sided narrative was beginning to get tiresome 🙂
It’s your narratives AND photos that make your posts so special!
Absolutely beautiful Madhu, perhaps a bit chilly for me? Midnights Children is one of my all time favourite books. I hope you ‘re well my dear 🙂
Our first daytrip to Sonamarg was so cold, I wore thermals! But it got increasingly warmer by the day.
Yes, as well as can be….thank you Gilly 🙂
Gilly dear, I might need rescuing from your spam folder again 😦
Found you honey, thanks for reminding me to look there x:-)x
I am seriously jealous, those who say Switzerland is beautiful they haven’t been to Kashmir.
Yes, Kashmir is breathtakingly beautiful, and the landscape so incredibly diverse. Have you been there?
I belong to other side of the border 😶😥
Aah, now I understand the ‘jealous’ remark 🙂 You do have access to the Gilgit/ Skardu region don’t you? That seems just as spectacular. A Twitter friend – from your side of the border – is going there next week.
They are not that breathtaking as compared to Kashmir. Even the our side of Kashmir, Neelum valley is good, but your end, is no comparison whatsoever.
Madhu! Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on traveling to Kashmir. The area holds a lot of interest for me in terms of textiles and tribal history, but I’ve been hesitant to go thanks to negative media and messaging. Thank you for a true assessment based on experience.
Glad you found this useful Kelly. The fact that high end travel companies like Wild Frontiers continue to offer tours going against government advisories, should be proof that it is indeed safe to travel to Kashmir. Tourists are possibly safer here than many other parts of India! A worst case scenario might be the sudden imposition of curfew, but that only means Srinagar and its shops are shut. Movement to and from the city will remain unaffected, albeit beyond curfew hours. But with your interest in culture over natural landscape, limited exploration of the city under those circumstances might be an issue. Still a chance worth taking 🙂
The place looks breathtaking Madhu. I enjoyed looking at your photos.
Kashmir was indeed beautiful beyond my expectations and more than these images convey. Glad you enjoyed the photos Colline, have a great day.
I’m glad you decided to go, Madhu. I’ve read of and seen photos, and my heart did a flip when I looked at that houseboat. 🙂
We had cancelled too many trips in the past few months, so we plunged into this on impulse Jo. Hoping things look up from here on. That houseboat ended up feeling like home:)
A spectacular place, beautifully served by your photos and your account of the ease of travel. My daughters were often in trouble spots in their travels, and were completely unaware that there was trouble. Life smoothed on. I always love it when I see theurgetowander in my inbox: I know I’m in for a treat.
Aww, thank you for the kind words Meg. Always a pleasure to see you here 🙂 I admit there is an element of luck involved in travel, but how many places are truly safe these days?
Gorgeous photos! Kashmir is on my list for my next India trip! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thank you Veena. I hope and pray tensions ease further before then.
Kashmir is one of the beauty spots of India and there are many. Thank you for your update and the real picture we don’t get from an excitable media.
Excitable is the right word Ian 🙂 Were you able to visit during your time in India?
It is one of the few places I was not able to visit unfortunately. However I’ve seen countless slides from my work mates who holidayed there. We liked Mussoorie and Kodaikanal for our family holidays in India.
Gorgeous, my heart is breaking. Very much the kind of place I would love to visit again and again.
Me too. This was just a teaser. Would love to rent a remote mountain lodge there for a longish spell someday.
Amazing , Awesome pics from Kashmir . Thanks a lot for sharing.
Thank YOU Rupam for your visit and lovely comment.
What a post! Agree on all points with you there and glad you made the decision to go.
Reminds me of my various journeys to Kashmir and especially from last year when I travelled during the curfew.
Thank you very much for your kind words Shubham. I have read some of your accounts, shall be over to read the rest from a fresh perspective. Your images of the great lakes had me drooling, but we are, sadly, too old and unfit to tackle the high altitude treks. Makes me regret not having started travelling earlier.
Aww, let me tell you its not the most difficult trek. Hehe, thanks for the appreciation! In fact, it can be surprisingly easy once you are on it. If there is one account that I would want you to read, it would be this one :
Thanks Niranjan. It is hard to click a bad shot in such sublime settings 🙂
I’ve been following the recent developments in Kashmir, although not closely. Therefore I was exhilarated when I found out that you went there! Today I read an article about Mexico being the second deadliest country in the world after Syria. Sounds terrifying? Absolutely, if one is oblivious of how vast the country is. It is convenient to overgeneralize the situation in one particular region to that of the entire nation, because it’s easier for the brain to digest. But that will only lead to a life filled with constant fear and suspicion. Understanding the complexity of a problem and experiencing a place firsthand are the way to go. It’s not convenient, it can be exhausting, but it is the right thing to do especially in a world where bad news is amplified and blown out of its proportion in a daily basis.
Absolutely. Besides, which place is truly safe these days? The streets of Paris or Antwerp? Heck, I know friends who lost a daughter in New York on 9/11. Giving in to fear is like giving in to the perpetrators of these crimes. And to some extent, those amplifiers of bad news. It benefits some people to keep us scared. James and you should plan a trip Bama. My reservations about your previous visit were justified, but I can guarantee you will both fall in love with Kashmir and its people.
Wow, beautiful! Didn’t know India has great scenery like this.
Thank you Anna. I guess India is known more for her ‘heat and dust’ 🙂 The Himalayas stretch across much of the far North making for some scenic landscapes, but I think Kashmir is the most spectacular.
Synchronicity is a weird thing … just last night I was perusing the description of a great hike in the Kashmir region! Ill-advised or not, I rarely pay a lot of attention to what the media say about dangers around the world. Unfortunately, my family and friends do, so when I propose a place like this, I get gasps and disapprobation. Your trip looks lovely, and I am so pleased to hear of your comfort level there.
What a coincidence! Perhaps a sign that it is time for you to plan that hike.
We are all – virtual friends – alike in so many ways. Bama just said the same thing. As do other fellow travel bloggers. Sadly, in real life, people remain unconvinced. Their loss.
What an achingly beautiful part of the world, Madhu! When I was still working in Hong Kong, my editor-in-chief told me he’d once had the fortune of traveling to Srinagar for a tourism conference. He was utterly captivated by what he saw, and remarked on how sad it was that most people were staying away because of perceived risks. At one point we published a story about skiing in Gulmarg and I still remember the dreamy photos of snow-clad peaks, coniferous forest, and wood-built cabins. Any reader could be forgiven for thinking it was somewhere in the Alps! I must echo the comment from Colors of my life – why should we (even here in Southeast Asia) spend so much money for a trip to Switzerland when Kashmir exists right on our doorstep?
Indeed James. Achingly beautiful about describes the landscape of Kashmir. it is such a tragedy that a solution to the conflict doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon.
Beautiful place and balanced writing about it. One of my favourite travel quotes is by Benjamin Disraeli: Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen. It seems as if Kashmir can be such a place.
It is indeed Abrie. Apart from the visual feast of its landscape, I am much wiser about Kashmir’s history and that of its conflict. Although I would be lying if I said I understand it fully. I used to be fascinated by the Ireland story and that of the Basques. They were both just as complicated 🙂 Belated thanks for your visit and comment. Have a great day!
If there is a paradise on earth, it is this. Such postcard worthy shots Madhu. The irony of this paradise is the absolute sorrow of its gory past. Thank you for restoring faith in travel and sharing your honest experience. Hope peace always prevails in the valley. You have so rightly said, what is ‘safe’ these days? One cannot even be sure of returning home from work.
Thank you very much Divyakshi. The nature of the world we live in. Manchester wasn’t safe yesterday 😦
I’m with you. I think travel dangers are typically grossly exaggerated. The media feeds on fear.
I think the world needs more travellers and travel bloggers 🙂 Thank you for reading Juliann. Have a fabulous day.
You have echoed my thoughts as we travelled 1 year back and no where felt any insecurity or threat. My posts are still coming up time and again but glad to see that you are back and also bringing on table a different perspective altogether
Thank you very much dear Anindya. For reading, and for the constant encouragement. Much appreciated. Hope all is well with you.
I was bowled over by the beauty shown in your photos, Madhu. You must be so happy that you decided to go there despite the warnings of friends. The houseboat experience looks like a wonderful idea. Winston Churchill was so right when he said, “He who dares, wins.” 🙂
Ha, it didn’t take all that much daring, but yes, those staying back out of fear are losing out big time. Thank you very much for your lovely comment Sylvia. 🙂
Hi Madhu, these spectacular photographs belong in a magazine along with your narrative – you bring life to the region through your lens and discussion. Danger exists, but not every minute, of every day – it’s a shame that it is exaggerated so that the good majority of travelers look right past this beautiful region. Wonderful post Madhu.
Thank you Mary. It is heartening that many of my friends who advised me against the visit have been inspired enough to dream of making the journey themselves 🙂
Stunning, truly. I am so glad I caught this one. Being away for long stretches means I miss so much. Coming back to find this one still here to read in my inbox was such a gift. As always, you wrap words and visual beauty too perfection.
Always a pleasure to see you here Valentine. And thank you for your lovely comment. It’s been a rough few months for me too and I have been absent myself for longish periods. Trying hard to return to a reasonable schedule.
There are many blogs that have been telling us the same thing in different ways but this one particular has been very helpful to us as we have been in search of such blogs. Keep up the great work
Thank you for your visit and comment.
Tranquility dazzled from your first frame of Dreamy Dal Lake…..it truly looked unreal, ethereal! Amazing images, wonderfully framed….thank you.
I’ve lived in the Valley when my father was based there, visited it again with J…….but would love to do so,before I join my Maker…….one last time!
Thank you for your generous praise dear friend. Also for leading Nandu here 🙂 We should all plan a trip together next year.
Am email to your aol address bounced back… when you have time, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
thanks lovely amiga!
Perhaps it is because I have friends who, like you, venture out into areas that others claim are treacherous that I can understand your visit… It is truly spectacular and on my list of places to visit in India… Thanks form the reassurance… always good to visit with old friends. 🙂
Likewise dear Eliz 🙂 Hope you make it to India and Kashmir soon. And do be sure to let me know when you do.
Very nice pictures
Thank you Rajesh. I haven’t forgotten your request…awaiting my friend’s return.
What a beautiful gallery of your daring adventure. I’m glad I got to see your photos.
Thank you very much for reading Ruth.
Thank you Joshi.
Some of the landscape shots could just as easily have come from Austria or Switzerland. It’s beautiful, I can see why you were so excited about your trip.
Indeed. I am already plotting to return 🙂
Srinagar has long been on my travel-to list.
But then many of us are Midnight’s children plus or minus a few years. (Six in my case).
And I like your comment on the sibling countries. When people ask me where I was born, I always answer “India” though I was born on the Sindhi side. 🙂
Thank you for this post Madhu. Glad to be back in touch. All the best to you and your family.
Thank you for taking the time to read Brian. So have you visited Pakistan? I would love to go, even at the risk of being branded ‘anti-national’ in the current hyper-national mood in India 🙂
I was born in Pakistan! 🙂 Technically I am a Sindhi. Karachi. I spoke Urdu before French or English. Forgot all my Urdu of course. A shame.
And another sad thing is the current state of the relationship between the sister countries. Particularly on the 70th anniversary of the Partition. 🙂
It is a stunning place. Hope to visit it some day. I love the photographs of the Shikaras – especially the one with the flowers. It’s beautiful!
Thank you very much. I hope things get back to normal soon and you will get to go sooner than later.
So beautiful! What more can I say…
Ha, Kashmir does leave you speechless 🙂
Diksha, Just as the lynchings in the rest of the country do not define us as a nation, the actions of a few Kashmiris does not define them. Nothing is ever black or white. If you take the time to read Kashmir’s convoluted history, going back to before partition, you might be able to grasp the level of alienation in the valley. Easy to be judgemental from the comforts of our air conditioned homes. Regardless, this post is about the ordinary, apolitical people on the streets who are vilified along with the insurgents. I needed to underscore that difference.
Wow, Kashmir is so beautiful!
I totally get it. I live in Indonesia, a country being largely misunderstood, ‘thanks’ to the exaggerating (if not one-sided) media.
One of my closest blogger friends is Indonesian and I have discovered how many traits – both good and bad – our countries share! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated.
Wow Madhu.. Kashmir has been on my travel-list since a long while.. I can’t wait to visit it..
Hope things improve and you get to go soon. Appreciate your visit and comment. Have a great day!
Beautifully written, and such amazing pictures! My partner and I have been discussing whether or not we should go to Kashmir, and, like many people, that decision has not been an easy one to make based on media reports. We were at a shop in Pushkar last night and the shopkeeper is from Srinagar, and he encouraged us to go. It is serendipitously ironic to read this blog post just the day after to hear you saying many of the same things he said. Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement, I do believe we are going to try and make it happen…we want to get into those mountains!!
Kashmir is a beautiful place. Hope to visit it in very soon. You have shared very beautiful picture with us.
THanks for sharing your experience with us