Kashmir – Postcards From A Poignant Paradise

Aru VAlley, Kashmir
Aru Valley

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.

Dal Lake, Srinagar
Dreamy Dal Lake, Srinagar
Sukoon Houseboat, Srinagar
View from the Sukoon Houseboat sundeck – Dal Lake, Kashmir
Dal Lake, Srinagar
Shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar
Flower vendor, Dal Lake
Mr. Wonderful Flower Man! – Dal Lake, Srinagar

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.

Sonamarg, KAshmir
Pahalgam, Kashmir
Pahalgam, Kashmir
Mustard Fields, Pahalgam
Dodhpathri, Kashmir
Dodhpathri, Kashmir
Dodhpathri, KAshmir
Aru Valley, Kashmir
Aru Valley

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 28/05/2017: Downtown Srinagar is under temporary curfew due to the escalation of protests after the recent killing of Hizbul commanders, but movement around Dal lake and vehicular traffic outside town remain unaffected. The regional Directorate of Tourism reiterates that “the situation in Kashmir, especially in Srinagar, is under control”. It has established helplines for travellers requiring clarifications and assistance. 

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

106 thoughts on “Kashmir – Postcards From A Poignant Paradise

    1. 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.

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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!

  4. 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.

    1. I think the world needs more travellers and travel bloggers 🙂 Thank you for reading Juliann. Have a fabulous day.

  5. 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

    1. Thank you very much dear Anindya. For reading, and for the constant encouragement. Much appreciated. Hope all is well with you.

  6. 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.” 🙂

    1. 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. 🙂

  7. 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.

    1. 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 🙂

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